Aid our artists
The country’s live entertainment scene has surmounted more than its fair share of crises, but it has been devastated by the perfect storm that is the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Theaters were shut down, along with bars, restaurants, hotels, and concert halls, leaving thousands of people involved in the performing arts and live entertainment ecosystem out of work and deeply anxious about their future.
The study on the impact of the pandemic on the local theater industry prepared by the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group (Philstage), an alliance of professional companies in the theatrical arts, revealed the cancellation of 94 percent of planned productions for the year among just 11 professional theater companies (33 productions totaling 533 shows). Also scrapped were workshops, events, and partnerships, for a projected gross revenue loss of almost P270 million. Displaced creative and production freelancers who were supposed to be part of these cancelled theater productions numbered almost 1,700.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines, for its part, estimates P90 million in lost revenue following the decision to close all CCP venues and productions as a result of the quarantine. Around 3,000 workers hired for productions were affected, not including workers in subcontracted services such as catering and cleaning.
Initial data from ilostmygig.ph, which was established to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on independent businesses and the arts, culture, and creative industries in the Philippines, paints a grim picture. From March 27 to April 11, the arts sector that includes live theater and dance productions lost almost P25 million in income, with 1,004 projects cancelled and 1,338 people impacted. Add to that the P18.9 million income lost in the entertainment sector, with 970 projects lost and 749 people displaced, primarily in the live music and concert scene.
Given that over 90 percent of performing arts workers are freelancers under the “no gig, no pay” scheme, they do not qualify for the safety net programs rolled out by the Department of Labor and Employment that require an employer-employee relationship. Neither do most of them qualify for the social amelioration program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, since they do not necessarily number among the indigent or the poorest of the poor.
Thankfully, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has allocated a budget of some P3 million for each of its major committees to help affected freelance workers, including musicians, dancers, visual artists, cultural workers, stage managers, and technical crew. Clearly, however, the cash assistance of P5,000 for each beneficiary is not enough to tide them over for the extended quarantine, indeed until live performance is again allowed. That prospect remains far off the horizon, as government authorities have deemed the sector a “non-essential”—perhaps even of the lowest priority because of the critical need for physical distancing and other health protocols until a vaccine is found.
And so the arts sector has dug into its reserves of resourcefulness and improvisation for urgent remedies. Groups such as The Artists Welfare Project Inc., Third World Improv, SPIT, Philstage, and the Theater Actors Guild have raised over P1 million through the Open House online fundraising program to help displaced theater practitioners. The Bayanihan Musikahan drive has provided P1 million for the All Access Initiative, created to help raise funds for musicians, singers, performers, and behind-the-scenes workers of concerts and live shows. The Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit is running the weekly Lockdown Sessions where fans can donate to OPM members, My Bro’s Moustache has raised close to P300,000 for out-of-work folk singers, and idled film workers have found aid through the Lockdown Cinema Club.
Theater companies have likewise been forced to pivot quickly to the digital world, streaming performances and offering lessons and workshops while appealing to the public for help through donations. And that is something that citizens should continue doing as they reflexively turn to the arts—to music, movies, theater shows, creative lessons, etc. on their phones, laptops, and TV screens—to cope with the disruptions and anxieties caused by the pandemic: Dig into their pockets to help beleaguered Filipino artists stay afloat, and able to produce more art for the community. Government can lend a hand, too, not just through financial aid but, say, by considering incentives for businesses that allocate part of their relief contributions to support the arts, thus encouraging more such private-sector goodwill. In the immense national effort to ensure the health and welfare of every Filipino in this crisis, the Filipino artist must not be left behind.
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