How are Europe’s artists and creatives coping with the corona-crisis? As the winter gets closer and lockdowns are extended, three artists from vastly different creative capitals reveal how the crisis has affected their lives and compare the issues Europe’s creative community is facing.
Raman Aso London, UK
Joan Alturo Barcelona, Spain Illustrator
Elena Andrei Bucharest, Romania Visual Artist
1. What was your initial feeling when you heard there was going to be a lockdown and restrictions?
Raman- I felt really unsure of everything. There are definitely questions of what it would mean to not be able to move around freely, and not work closely with someone if you wanted to. I thought about what that would mean for me, to not be able to go to exhibitions, not be able to connect with creatives, and how much of a marketing affect that would have on me as an artist.
Joan- At first I didn’t take it seriously, I didn't think it would last long. But when I saw how many people were infected, I was really worried about my family and friends and not being able to see them for a really long time.
Elena- My initial feeling was one of fear for my family (my parents are both doctors), then one of insecurity for my future and that of my child. In Romania, it’s incredibly difficult to survive as an artist even in normal times.
2. What were some of the first problems you faced?
R- The biggest one was not being able to give and receive hugs (lol). Some opportunities and ideas suffered at the start of the pandemic, with clients pulling out, people who were talking about commissioning then suddenly not. Not being able to directly meet potential clients or invite them to see your studio and artworks had an effect. Same goes for collaborating with fellow creatives and friends – you just can’t.
J- Not being able to see family and friends, not having enough commissions, not being able to go to the gym. I was also affected by some sleeping problems.
E- In our country, there is barely support for visual artists and we are on our own in general. When the COVID crisis came, both I and my colleagues started panicking that we will not be able to do even those subsistence projects we live off. Most of our projects have stopped, especially because we work in the independent cultural field. The murals were all cancelled. Basically, within a month we saw ourselves without the money for subsistence, food and rent.
3. Have you been able to continue working normally or did you have to adapt?
R- Painting itself is a solitary act anyway and the majority of the time my creative practice involves just myself, but the restlessness caused by the pandemic undeniably disturbed my inspiration. Not being able to study and reference people like I usually did in preparation for my pieces affected what I was translating onto the canvas. Initially, I didn’t feel connected to anything I was creating, probably because I had nothing to reference them to. So I just began referencing my own face and body as it was the main thing that I was seeing during quarantine, day in and day out.
J- In my case I work from home, so I am really used to spending a lot of time in my studio. That’s why at first I didn’t feel that much difference from my normal routine. But the COVID situation has affected the illustration industry the same as many other industries and I had a really long period without any commissions. Therefore I spend more time for myself working on personal projects that I did not have time to finish before.
E- I couldn’t go to my studio where I carry out a large part of my activity, especially because I have a 5-year-old boy and being a single-parent family and not having support from other relatives (my parents live in another city and worked during this period) I stayed at home with him. I did some of my work at home, but 90% of the orders I lived on (small painting commissions) disappeared.
4. What support has the government offered for freelance artists and people working in the creative industry, if any?
R- The government has offered support schemes for freelancers in the form of taxable grants, in which they can receive a percentage of their monthly earnings, although not every self-employed individual is eligible to receive this kind of support. I’ve had friends who weren’t eligible for the scheme, and have had to resort to applying for further support under Universal Credit.
J- In Spain, if you are freelancer and your volume of work was affected by the COVID situation with a decrease of more than the normal average, you didn’t have to pay the self-employed fee and the government offered a free salary of 600 euros during the lockdown period, which was quite helpful.
E- At the beginning of the COVID crisis, together with other artists in the independent artistic field, we created a poll on the needs of artists under the APAC umbrella (The Association for the Promotion of Contemporary Arts). We were amazed to find that more than half of the 500 respondents had no food for the next few days. The most affected field was the visual arts field. After putting pressure on the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Labour, some funds were given for some of the artists. We found out that for the Ministry of Labour, the concept of independent artists or what they do was not even understood, especially because we don’t exist in the nomenclature. The Ministry of Culture had also made a fund for acquisitions of contemporary art worth 400,000 euros, but the criteria for these acquisitions were unclear, despite the fact that we made a letter in this regard and collected over 200 signatures from artists.
5. What has frustrated you the most since COVID restrictions were introduced?
R- What’s frustrated me and continues to frustrate me, is seeing people be more careless and reckless. I do believe the majority of people here are being safe and considerate, but I have witnessed so much hostility too: a lot more impatience and damaging herd mentalities. When we had our heatwave in London a few weeks ago, it was like the majority of people had forgotten about the rules without thinking about the added risks.
J- Not being able to go out at all, except to buy food, was really difficult for me. Also not being able to see family and friends, not being able to do any social activity and the fact all the illustration festivals and art exhibitions were cancelled.
E- I am most frustrated by the lack of empathy and real support from the government for small entrepreneurs and all those who have had to close their businesses. Huge fines were imposed during the lockdown, with colossal sums, sometimes 10 times higher than the minimum wage. This measure was challenged and later proved unconstitutional. Since then, dozens of aberrant measures have been put in place, but support for the economy and all small entrepreneurs is virtually 0. There are more than a million unemployed after the lockdown, out of the country's 15 million inhabitants.
6. How have you tried to keep positive?
R- It’s hard to keep an optimistic view of the world, especially right now, but practicing gratitude everyday has really kept me afloat during these times. If it’s an especially hard day, I will go for a walk around the ends, pick up a bottle of wine on the way back and read a book. Sometimes distraction is necessary.
J- I tried to keep my mind busy. I started doing ceramics, painting with acrylic, spending more time with my housemates, cooking, playing chess and working out at home.
E- I tried to continue working on my projects, to paint, to spend time with my little boy, to focus on survival solutions.
7. What are your apprehensions about the foreseeable future?
R- Not knowing what will happen next week in terms of further restrictions, will they lock us down again? The main concern is unlearning old habits to make way for new and neurotic way of living. I ask myself – how will everything move in this different pace?
J- I’m worried about the future of the humanity and the economic situation. A lot of self-employed people and small local shops had to close their business. A lot of people have lost their job.
E- The future is always uncertain, but for the already underfunded cultural sector I think it will be disastrous. From the money received from the EU, the government has not allocated anything for the restart of the cultural sector and there are no clear solutions in this regard.