The end of February marked a year of closures for Italy’s entertainment industry due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over the two weeks, thousands of protesters have taken to Italy’s streets to voice their anger at the lack of government aid and opportunities for safe reopenings.
Italy’s musicians, performers, actors and dancers have seen their jobs halted for over a year amid COVID-19 restrictions. In cities across the country, cultural sector workers have come out in force to express their frustration at both their dire economic situation and the lack of a government strategy to reopen venues in adherence with coronavirus guidelines.
Some 300,000 people work in Italy’s entertainment sector. Cinemas, theaters, concert halls and amusement parks have remained closed for more than a year, depriving these workers of a steady income.
Last week, protesters gathered in front of the local government building in Milan. Actors and stage workers began to prepare for a show that would never take place, in an attempt to demonstrate the laborious preparation involved before performances.
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Parallel demonstrations look places across Italy, including in Rome and Turin. Protestors in Rome played instruments, beat pot lids and sang as they marched towards the seat of the parliament.
On Monday, workers of traveling shows, circuses, amusement parks and fairgrounds protested in Rome. They called for government aid, but also lambasted their continued closure considering their events take place outdoors.
Some government grants have been available to entertainment sector workers during the crisis, but it is irregular and many say they have slipped through the cracks. Italy’s prevalent black economy of informal work has also blocked many from requesting funding.
At Italy’s renowned Sanremo Music Festival, currently in progress, a moving tribute was made to Italy’s art and culture sector workers. Alessandra Amoroso, a singer, and Matilde Gioli, an actress, condemned the ongoing closures.
Gioli said, “Now that everything is suspended, that the world has stopped, that the audiences are empty, their lives even more than ours, [entertainment workers] are suspended waiting for a restart that is difficult to imagine or for help that never arrived.” Amoroso added, “These professionals, however, can no longer wait and many of them have had to reinvent themselves in a new job or in the worst case they are left with nothing in the “desperate hope” of recovering their dignity.”
The message protesters want to convey is more than about economic survival. As demonstrators’ signs read, “Culture is not waste”, “Culture, whatever it takes”, and “A country that does not invest in their theater is dead and moribund”.
COVID-19 lockdowns have forced people to stay at home. Films, TV series and live streamings of a myriad of cultural events have been invaluable and a reminder of the human need for culture and entertainment. Protesters want their work to be recognized as essential and problems within the sector acknowledged, such as precarious and informal employment.
Speaking in mid-February, Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi said, “Culture must be supported and naturally the risk is to lose a heritage that defines our identity. The economic loss is enormous, but the loss of the spirit would be even greater.”
Words hold little comfort for Italy’s cultural sector workers now, who want to see a roadmap for reopening entertainment venues safely.