Of the cultural organisations affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, 70% estimate a 40% fall in revenues, while 13% predict losses of over 60%. Just 22% envision a future return to normality, whereas 50% envisage downsizing and restructuring their activities. These were the findings of the 2020 report by Federculture (Italy’s national association of public and private entities operating in the fields of culture, tourism, sports and leisure).
The crisis is imposing a change in pace, perspective and vision. Sharing this conviction are Giacomo Poretti, well known to Italian audiences as one of the Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo comedy trio, who is now an actor and founder of the Oscar theatre in Milan, don Davide Milani who presides over the Ente dello Spettacolo foundation, and Andrée Ruth Shammah, director of the Franco Parenti theatre.
Theatres, cinemas and many other arts sectors were all engulfed by the pandemic … or were they? “No, not all of them,” Andrée Ruth Shammah explains, “and not all by the Covid-19 crisis.” The director of the Franco Parenti theatre, one of the key cultural hubs in Milan and Lombardy, explains that theatres “introduced safety measures and developed excellent risk management skills.”
After all, “we are not just actors, directors or administrators, we work with spaces, on spaces and in spaces. We know what social distancing means and we are well aware of what is at stake. We have acquired a set of skills during the course of our careers, and over the past few months we have shown how we can place them at the service of the community, its welfare and the safety of everyone.”
The skills at work in a theatre are part of a bigger picture, and as such they will increasingly be called upon to integrate with other local organizations
This very spirit of service has the potential to bring a glimmer of light to future roles within the theatre and culture in general. “The theatre,” Andrée Ruth Shammah continues, “is first and foremost a community. And as such it is an educational community that is, and has always been, at the disposal of other educational communities, like schools. The future lies in the interaction between these places.”
You don’t need to take the theatre to school or school to the theatre, “but we do need to leverage their potential so that it serves the community. Thanks to the skills we are building in our sector – a blend of organisational, managerial and risk management skills – this potential can make a valuable contribution to other places where people gather and interact: school and the theatre, for example, should be increasingly interconnected.”
People with this new expertise will have to work to build these interconnections, Shammah adds, “and this will open up the way for new skills and those new skills will create new jobs.”
Among the cultural skills of tomorrow, Giacomo Poretti – who cofounded the Oscar theatre together with Luca Doninelli and Gabriele Allevi – clearly sees a place for the creativity of craftspeople. “We talk a lot about innovation, but so often innovation only exists on paper. I would like to stress the need to reinvent things and reinvent ourselves. Let’s innovate to reinvent ourselves and reinvent ourselves to innovate. We had only just opened the Oscar theatre when … the pandemic broke out. We immediately reinvented ourselves and … we created the world’s smallest stage on an Ape car that toured to parks and courtyards.”
The culture industry needs to learn new codes and develop a new language
If the culture industry survives, Poretti explains, “it will be thanks to this capacity to blend together the managerial skills that Andrée Ruth Shammah referred to and the expertise of craftspeople: the people who build up and take down stages adapt them to each event. This is one of the skills that makes up the craft of the theatre but it must – and it will – become a skill everyone needs to have.
For the future, Poretti concludes, “We need to learn how to be disruptive and blend genres. In our case it means this: the theatre is closed and we don’t know for how long. But in the meantime, we have made a deal with our audiences: we will go digital and we will try to develop a new language – which will include brevity and other skills that are specific and appropriate to the medium – and a new programme. This is something very similar to television and many people do not like it: but we have to create a hybrid language as we wait to welcome people back to the theatre, which is all important in our world.”
Culture, Poretti concludes, “has an abundance of ideas and resources to bring to society.” Don Davide Milani, president of the Ente dello Spettacolo foundation also has some very clear ideas: “to overcome this current situation, we need connections, networks and purpose, as well as a healthcare plan.”
Culture is what gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us understand why we do what we do. It’s not just about entertaining: it is our life, work, and social undertaking.
Culture – and the cinema in this case – is a part of this network. It makes no sense to imperiously shut down all cultural activities. Nowadays, these activities, businesses and the culture industry are essential resources to get us through this pandemic. During the first wave, Milani concludes, “We got by, culturally speaking, because we discovered resources that we did not realise we had any more: solidarity, courage, helping each other out. But we have seen that volunteering is not enough. A strategic investment in culture is what is needed. Culture is what gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us understand why we do what we do. It’s not just about entertaining: it is our life, work, and social undertaking.” Culture has ideas and resources to bring to society, “let’s not squander them.