The five demands of Poland’s Citizens’ Forum of Contemporary Art
by Jan Jiřík
On Monday 30 March 2020, the Citizens’ Forum of Contemporary Art, Poland’s professional organisation of culture workers, submitted an open letter to the Polish Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and National History and representatives of local government. In it, they react to insufficient consideration of the impact of the government’s measures to contain coronavirus on the field of culture.
“The government is promising many millions of aid to businesspeople, to protect them from bankruptcy in the coming economic catastrophe. In these announcements, however, we’re not seeing any programme of protection intended for workers in culture. Due to COVID-19, exhibitions, concerts and theatre performances have been cancelled, all cultural institutions have been closed and a wide range of projects planned for the coming months have been postponed. Like many citizens in our state, the majority of artists find themselves in a dramatic situation.
Years of neglect and underfunding of the public sector has meant that these cultural sector workers have had to deal with lower rates of pay and unstable financial conditions. Artists (and not only they) work without permanent contracts or social security, without stable incomes and often only for the promise of their work being presented. This is the reality of working in the culture sector. While other countries are protecting culture with millions of pounds (£160 million in the United Kingdom) and billions of euros (€50 billion in Germany) […] the Polish government approaches the whole problem with silence. The exclusion of culture workers from the government’s emergency measures awakens in us a feeling of futility. Zygmunt Bauman speaks about similar groups of people, pushed to the margins by capitalism, as akin to ‘human waste.’ It is sad that we have to recall his words here.” (Forum Sztuki Współczesnej)
The Citizen’s Forum of Contemporary Art, which was established over 10 years ago and which brings together representatives from all performing arts fields, attached five demands to the letter:
- We call for the creation of a programme that will pay all artists who find themselves in difficult situations a non-returnable stipend for a period of at least three months, with the possibility to extend this period, depending on the evolution of the situation, to six months or more. We propose that the monthly sum corresponds to 80% of the minimum wage.
- To unconditionally guarantee health insurance for all artists. This is also essential from a public health perspective. For many years, a system has been in the works to enable access to social insurance for artists, many of whom are uninsured. During the current epidemic, it is in the interest of us all to not have people wondering if they have the right to go to the doctor.
- We demand the suspension of rent and other payments for artists’ studios and other spaces used for artistic creation; we demand the suspension of rent and other payments for artists who work from home, and, further, we ask that artists who rent spaces on other legal bases are guaranteed the possibility of applying for housing benefit.
- We feel it is vital that freed-up funds from grants awarded by the Ministry of Culture and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute be redirected for the assistance of artists; artists with cancelled projects should have priority in accessing this support.
- We ask for the maintenance of higher budgets for cultural and art institutes and a guarantee that they will continue to operate to protect the interest of their employees and for the simplification of procedures to enable funding from suspended programming to be used to support the artists and individuals who collaborate with the given institution without being their direct employees. This request applies to institutions which fall under the Ministry of Culture, as well as institutions falling under local governments.
The demands of the Citizens’ Forum of Contemporary Art should address all affected cultural workers, regardless of whether they are employees of public institutions, collaborators of public institutions (including independent contractors who should really be classified as employees) or freelancers. It should also apply to all professions within the cultural sector: “artists, independent curators, choreographers, composers, directors, writers, translators, editors, critics, pedagogues and producers of culture.”
“We know only one thing,” the Citizen’s Forum of Contemporary Art wrote in closing, “COVID-19 is changing us, it is changing the shape of our economy, the crisis is touching everyone. […] We must come together, so that during this epidemic when the number of cases and deaths is increasing, no one is alone and without assistance. Perhaps thanks to this, the world in which we will live will be fairer and take into account the needs and health of millions of citizens and not only the needs of corporations and banks. Only through solidarity can we survive this crisis!”