Cultural sector in Romania strives to cope with COVID 19

The unexpected pandemic crisis meant several sectors had to adopt and adjust to several measures in response. In an interview, Carmen Croitoru talks about Romania’s response, particularly within the cultural sector. She is an Associate Professor and Vice-president of the National University of Theatre and Film – Bucharest, and the General Manager of the National Institute for Cultural Research and Training (INCFC). In addition to her role as national representative for the EU Commission for Creative Sectors and a member of the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) at the Council of Europe, she has been engaged in the administration and development of cultural management in Romania for the past 25 years.

How did the pandemic impact the work of your institute? How did you tackle the emergency?

Restrictive measures in Romania, primarily social distancing, entered into force as a first response to COVID-19. The pandemic has affected the whole society, destabilizing our economy, the functioning of our institutions and also the private sector.

In March, some Government Emergency Ordinances were issued by the authorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis and to mitigate its socio-economic negative effects. Through GEO 29/2020, two key tax measures were adopted. The successive GEO 30/2020 included allowances for independent artists and individuals, a compensation equal to the minimum gross salary for 2020 and granting technical unemployment in the case of temporary contract suspension. In particular, GEO 32/2020 followed consultations between the Ministry of Culture and the independent cultural sector has modified and simplified the technical unemployment procedure initially provided in GEO 30/2020.

In Romania, cultural institutions and the sector as a whole have taken steps to meet the challenge of maintaining a connection with the public, despite the pandemic. Most cultural activities have been moved to digital platforms, both for a fee or free of charge, and campaigns launched to connect with the public.

This COVID-19 crisis has proved once again that the field of research should occupy a much more important place in the value system and in the formulation of all policies at local, national and international level. This is why the National Institute for Cultural Research and Training (INCFC) also turned to research, trying to meet the cultural entities in the private domain and the independent artists. As part of its contribution to alleviate the stress generated by the pandemic, INCFC established the Registry of the Independent Cultural Sector concerning the mobility and support of the cultural sector, determining the regulatory needs and ensuring its presence in the future national strategy in the field of culture.

The Registry was launched on an online platform with the purpose to statistically determine the entities/persons that work in the cultural field and part of the following categories: non-governmental organisations and workers (individuals). This endeavour was necessary for the advancement of a support system for the cultural sector and the timing for its launch was vital especially in the unforeseen impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Tomorrow’s culture. About change” debates

The cultural sector is uneasy, even somewhat shaken by the disorders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not surrendering! It seeks solutions, reinvents itself, forms alliances, analyses new cultural consumption practices and adopts without hesitation digitalization, which invades us from all sides.

INCFC organized and broadcasted a first debate recorded in the series Culture of Tomorrow – about change. Thus, a discussion on how the Cultural Sector will be positioned becomes necessary, affected differently and unequally in the forms of manifestation and consumption practices and forced to face the psychological barriers generated by the fear of contamination. On 9 May 2020, on Europe Day, INCFC broadcasted a first debate recorded in the series, Culture of Tomorrow – about change, on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The debate brought together personalities and cultural authorities with sharp and constructive attitudes about the role and purpose of culture in society. It addressed questions such as: how the post-COVID-19 culture will look, unevenly affected and different from isolation measures; how to preserve the diversity of the forms of artistic manifestation; what institutional or independent cultural decision-makers and operators should do to continue the path begun to assert the Creative Cultural Sectors; how figures, statistics and operational data should be used in order to generate flexible rational regulatory frameworks, so as to reduce resource disparities of all categories between the public and private cultural sectors.

We found a way to navigate through the restrictions in order to continue our work and keep the conversation going regarding the Culture Sector despite the obstacles we faced. This led to taking on a more digital approach to what was otherwise a more academic field and opened doors to new possibilities in maintaining a better digital reach within the sector. What was in the process of slowly developing had to be achieved in record time. Although challenging, this effort was worthwhile and productive.

The National Institute for Cultural Research and Training (INCFC) I drect was the lead partner in the country team that implemented the UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS) in Romania, in 2019, with the support of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe. The Analytical Brief and Technical Report are available here. Consultations already started between UNESCO and INCFC to implement in Romania the new set of Culture 2030 Indicators, developed by UNESCO to assess and monitor the impact of culture in the achievement of the SDGs.

UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators. Romania’s Analytical Brief and Technical Report - 2019

What is your very personal experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic?

This pandemic has highlighted the reality of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis that can change not only the course of our individual lives but of everything around us that we once considered to be constant. Culture, while fluctuating in its presence over time has, in our opinion, not been faced with a threat of this magnitude in quite a long time. What we once considered to be immortal is now fighting for survival in a time where self-preservation takes a leading role in our decision-making and lifestyle choices.

Our Institute is on a continuous mission to contribute to the maintenance and observation of the Romanian Cultural Sector. The people who work here are passionate about maintaining and preserving Romanian culture through training and research in the field. This leaves us in a position to make difficult decisions regarding creating a balance between doing our work and the implementation of measures that ensure our personal lives are not neglected in a time of risk and fear for our health.

These are difficult times for every manager. The desire to perform must be balanced with the need to ensure a safe environment for those that ensure our performance. I myself have had to take a step back to see the full picture in order to try and achieve a balanced scheduling of our projects to be able to protect those in the Institute’s employ from a looming invisible threat while still allowing the necessary structure for continuation with our work.

Team of the National Institute for Cultural Research and Training - subordinated to the Ministry of Culture

What do you think are the main implications of the pandemic from a gender perspective?

While a virus does not discriminate based on gender, a global crisis such as the one we find ourselves in, impacts the genders differently. All genders were affected by the change in workplace dynamics due to the strict but necessary safety precautions taken as well as the social environment changes brought on by fear of contagion. Another effect the pandemic has had on all genders was the risk of unemployment or that of a reduced salary for an undetermined period of time.

Women were also significantly impacted by the measures taken by educational institutions. As primary caregivers, the temporary shutdown of schools, kindergartens and day-cares caused them to face the difficulty of daytime childcare. Compounded with the previously stated reasons of distress during the pandemic, this has affected morale by forcing women to have to choose between family and career. What is the main lesson you have learned from this experience?

This experience has taught us that the cultural sector was not prepared at all for a global crisis. This statement doesn’t aim to discredit the Romanian Cultural Sector as it was clear during this period that no cultural sector, or field for that matter, was unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No one was prepared for what happened, but this crisis has forced each field, whether its medical, economic, political or cultural, to implement structures to survive through these trying times. These structures will outlive the crisis to benefit the fields for years to come and provide a foundation for the future. Although sudden and devastating, this pandemic has forced us to adapt and advance. In uncertain times it is vital to persist with the hope and knowledge that we will grow from this and we will thrive.