Cultural Associations: The Sound of Silence...

14th Apr, 2021

Concert halls, theatres and universities’ corridors have never been so quiet. Associations dealing with live events and academic mobility were not euphemistic when describing this crisis in the cultural sector. It was bad and it is not over yet! For this edition, HQ sought to understand the tribulations experienced by some European associations, the support they have received and the new objectives for 2021. Give the floor to the connoisseurs...

1) One year into the pandemic, what impacts has it had on your sector?

2) What kind of support or cooperation have you tried to develop in order to survive in these difficult circumstances?

3) What do you think 2021 holds for your association and sector?

European Live Music Association (ELMA)
by the president, Vicenzo Spera

1) The pandemic has had devastating effects on the live music sector, with an  evident drop in turnover of around 95%. Suffice it to say that, according to a recent study conducted by  Ernst & Young, the total turnover of cultural and creative industries in the EU  fell to €444 billion in 2020, registering a sharp drop of €199 billion  compared to the previous year. 

2) The European Union and the Culture Commission have made some contributions in terms of layoffs and indicated to  member states how to use public funds for culture. Other proceedings have been prepared by individual  states, with - depending on the country - non-repayable loans and guarantees for  the current year, in the eventuality that the season will not take place. In general, we have maintained closer coordination and tried to bring individual  governments back to common action.

3) The association's line is to continue to put pressure on the member states and  the European Union so that the funds made available are used in a way more  appropriate to a post-pandemic period like the one we are experiencing. Above all we work on designing ideas that have a medium-long term vision, also  because it will take a few years to completely get out of this crisis.

European Theatre Convention (ETC)
by the executive director, Heidi Wiley

1) To put it bluntly: the impact on the theatre sector has been catastrophic. The cultural and creative industries is the worst hit sector in Europe alongside air travel. Theatres in many countries are closed, with their staff on furlough. There are real concerns about people leaving the industry, especially those who already struggle to access roles in the sector.

With so many theatres closed, there is a 'production jam' effect. Shows have been postponed after they were produced. When theatres open again, there will be fewer opportunities for the next generation of artists.

Nonetheless, we and our member theatres have adapted well. We transitioned to online events and became skilled at livestreaming our activities. Our political activity and lobbying has become more effective. With other European networks we have collectively stressed that the performing arts are not simply entertainment, but are fundamental for healthy democratic societies.

2) We are grateful that the EU has increased funding for Creative Europe by €600 million, up to a total of €2.2 billion.

We are happy to see that the EU is taking the situation very seriously. It is in constant dialogue with us to understand the challenges the sector faces. In November 2020, at the first European Theatre Forum we organised, the European Commission launched the European Theatre Initiative, a genuine new instrument to lobby for the arts in Europe, to support theatres in the dreadful times of the pandemic.

The programme of the Forum was developed in partnership with 11 other European performing arts networks. This was the first time our various organisations came together to collaborate. Together we created policy recommendations for the sector with a strategic action plan, known as the Dresden Declaration. 

3) 2020 threatened the very foundations of the creative sector and sent shockwaves that risk undermining the progress made on diversifying our staff and our stages. These shockwaves will continue to affect us in the years to come. 

2021 is the year the European Union decides on funding for the next four years, so we must work out how to continue international collaboration in theatre. As a European network and association, we will set plans for the next decade, taking on board the lessons learned and the challenges that remain with us like the climate crisis,  the transition to digital and the necessity to move towards a more socially inclusive society.

We will do all we can to help our members make this time count. 


Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l'Europe (AEGEE)
by the president, Diederik de Wit

1) AEGEE-Europe is mostly focused on intercultural communication and exchanges between young people based on physical events, trainings and travelling. Now, we have a lack of live events, practically no travelling, difficulty with member recruitment and financial struggles common to most  youth organisations. This made us focus on a smooth and efficient transition from physical to virtual, on raising awareness of mental health among youth. We had several successful online general assemblies, adapted our projects, supported our local organisations with online exchanges, and helped them in their development. The COVID-19 crisis showed us the importance of still being connected and emphasised our vision of a borderless Europe.

2) With the already ongoing projects, we adapted to have online events. We were successful in finding new partners who are added to our pool of policy and advocacy, project, and knowledge experience partnerships. Sharing best practices on how to survive is one of the best ways to improve the organisation and save the bonds between each other. 

3) 2021 holds a lot of challenges for us, especially in terms of human resources management. A lot of work is being stopped because we had physical events and projects, but that also gives us an opportunity to spend time on our internal improvements to adjust to this crisis and possible future crises. We have to keep our members motivated and give them opportunities to work in this ‘new normal’. Our goals will continue to be supporting our member organisations in the smooth transition from physical to virtual to hopefully physical again, in finding new creative ideas, changing perspectives on how to recruit new members and help with their local and European projects.

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