Austria sets example of ways to safely hold cultural events

26 Aug 2021

As Austria places performing arts at the helm of the country’s long-awaited return to normality, the Salzburg Festival concerts have enjoyed capacity crowds over the past month.

As one of the world’s most admired classical music events, the Festival’s Covid safety strategy has been shared with more than 50 institutions to show how to hold cultural events safely.

Large scale indoor events have usually been last on governments’ priority lists to reopen as restrictions are relaxed, yet it has been the opposite in Austria.

Andrea Mayer, state secretary for art and culture told the Financial Times: “There’s no doubt about it — the arts and culture are essential assets of Austria’s economy and society. Austria is a country of artists.”

Around 120,000 people are employed within the sector, which contributed €7.2 billion to the economy in 2019, Mayer added. In 2020, Austria’s government increased its arts spending by 70%.

“The arts and culture have the power to contribute enormously to society’s recovery . . . We need their intellectual stimulation, their inspiration, and the joy, imagination and critical reflection,” Mayer stated.

However, despite the upbeat stance, the number of Covid cases has risen in Austria predominantly due to the Delta variant. Despite declining to a little over 60 new cases a day in June, new cases are now totalling 900 daily.

“It is the big challenge for all of us now to get out of the psychological crisis mode we are all in. We are all still in such a high state of alert, but we have to find a point where we can get back to normality,” stated Lukas Crepaz, co-director of the Salzburg Festival.

“Performances like this are a big part of that — of course we are very focused on safety . . . Society and humanity cannot afford to stay in crisis mode forever,” he added.

Although restrictions may return later in the year, the majority of those in Austria’s music sector are optimistic that the arts will remain a priority in the country.

Chair of the Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Froschauer commented: “It’s an extremely difficult situation right now. There’s a fourth wave coming and it’s scary. Our role is to show politicians what can be done. We are not the world leaders in soccer, but Austria has the philharmonic and with that we really are. We can be an example.”