COVID-19 RELIEF FUNDS FOR THEATRE AND THE ARTS IN HUNGARY
Here is an overview of the help of the contemporary theatre scene as compensation for the lock downtime in Hungary. You can read about the subsidies for umbrella institutions, so-called “National Cultural Strategy Institutions”, about the subsidies (aid packages) for individual artists/ freelancers who do not have a regular income, the ongoing discussions about the subsidies for the city theatres and also about two ongoing scandals involving the cultural field.
Spring 2020, the severe distancing measures and the ‘early’ cancellation of all public events affected performing arts practitioners and venues very severely. In Hungary many city theatres tried to keep their staff busy during the pandemic and assigned them additional tasks to be able to pay them their regular salaries (the state did not cut theatres’ regular funding in spite of the cancelled shows). Workshops were sewing masks in many places and actors offered “virtual literature classes” for schools through Skype/Zoom who were struggling with home schooling. Some theatres rehearsed online and there even were some premieres online (Örkény Theatre), through Zoom. This way actors in a permanent company could keep (most of) their salaries for the period.
With the temporary lift of the most serious bans on public events for the summer came several aid packages for different professions. Thank You Hungary (Köszönjük Magyarország) offers smaller subsidies to individual artists (or groups) to travel across the country and present some small-scale productions, typically for city festivals, summer evenings etc, which is in sync with the promotion of domestic tourism, a national campaign with the slogan: ‘At home is safe.’ These shows are free for the audiences and the venues only have to pay some minor costs. The fees offered to an individual artist are about 300.000 forints (about 900 EUR), but they can group with other artists for a production (dramaturgs, musicians together etc). Here is a list of some of the small-scale programmes: https://oszmi.hu/index.php/tablazat
A government decree (1920/2020 VI. 5.) provides additional financial support to cultural organizations to mitigate the losses due to COVID-19. The total value is about 11 million euros, mostly distributed for theatre, music, film and museums. The subsidies are generally given to umbrella institutions, so-called “National Cultural Strategy Institutions”: National Theatre, Hungarian Academy of Arts, Hungarian National Museum, Petőfi Literary Museum, House of Traditions etc, who then have to publish calls and distribute the funds to the artists and venues. These calls and payments are still in preparation or in progress at the moment. https://net.jogtar.hu/jogszabaly?docid=a20h1290.kor
A second aid package of 14 million euros was announced in June, mostly targeting freelance artists as well. Distributors are the National Theatre (theatre freelancers), Petőfi Literary Museum (musicians), The Opera House, Music Academy, House of Traditions, Hungarian Academy of Arts. These extra subsidies (aid packages) are mostly offered to individual artists for some additional work in their field, the reasoning being that freelancers are most stricken by the effects of COVID-19, since they do not have a regular income. City theatres, although their performances were on pause, could keep their regular subsidies (from state and city) and thus pay salaries to the employees (full or reduced). https://magyarnemzet.hu/kultura/ujabb-mentocsomag-a-muveszeknek-8242473/
However, the subsidies of city theatres are a heated political debate as well at the moment. The state wanted to pull out from subsidizing some theatres where they could not decide on the person of the manager (since the city council appoints the leader of the theatre), even if most of the subsidies were coming from the state. In some cases the question of theatre subsidies has now become a battle stage of state politics between the government and opposition-party mayors (most notably in the case of Budapest). The struggle was somewhat defused in April 2020 with an agreement about the division of ownership between the Budapest City Council and the State.
Consequently the government pulled out from the subsidy of some theatres (mostly in Budapest) and it is now the task of the Budapest Council to fully subsidize these theatres in the future (Katona, Radnóti, Örkény, Trafó), but they can also appoint the leaders autonomously. Some other venues will have a mixed (Vígszínház) or entirely state funding (Thália). https://librarius.hu/2020/04/07/megallapodott-a-kormany-es-a-fovarosi-onkormanyzat-a-szinhazak-finanszirozasarol/. The government raised the yearly subsidies of some theatres outside Budapest (like Vörösmarty Theatre in Székesfehérvár), partly also as a recognition of their social efforts during the pandemic.
Although the issues around COVID-19 relief for performing arts are still topical in the press, their prominence is somewhat eclipsed by two ongoing scandals involving the cultural field: the imminent demise of Index, the largest independent/opposition internet news site, where the whole editorial board resigned because of fears of market and political pressure bound to limit the autonomy of their operation. At the same time in the theatre field there is a large scandal concerning the ‘model-shift’ of the Academy of Theatre and Film, which will be in the future led by an NGO with government-appointed board members. Many of the earlier professors are resigning at the moment and the press is loud of an unprecedentedly heated debate about the reforms needed in theatre education, while it publicly shows the deep political and ideological tectonic lines reaching to the very depths of the theatre field.