How Amsterdam’s Cultural Sector Is Handling COVID-19

by Catalina Reano,

22 October 2020

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How Amsterdam's Cultural Sector Is Handling COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has had major social and economic impacts. Many businesses have seen the need to cut down on spending and costs, and, just like individuals and families, have had to come up with new ways of connecting with their interest groups.

This rings as true for the events industry as for any other, particularly in a city like Amsterdam. Their dependency on tourism is rivalled only by their offer of festivals, concerts, events and nightlife events, which cater to the demand of both foreigners and locals alike.

Amsterdam is famous for some of the greatest electronic music parties in the world, with DJs like Armin Van Buuren pulling in crowds from all over Europe to dance the night away. However, electronic music is just one of the many facets of the cultural scene in Amsterdam. Here you can find cinema and art festivals, international food festivals, museums, ballet, theatre, and classical music throughout the year.


Along came COVID-19

So, what happened when the world came to a grinding halt at the beginning of 2020? What became of all of these cultural activities that were gearing up for a roaring summer bash? Initially, everything was on pause, and hopes were high that the crisis would blow over quickly and life would resume as before. But it quickly became apparent that this was not the case.

As time went on, more and more events were put on hold and then cancelled altogether. Tickets had to be refunded, contracts with vendors cancelled, investments were lost, and employees were sent home. Insurance companies were initially compensating organisers for their losses, but this isn’t sustainable in the long run.

When initial reopening regulations were considered for events, more than just the 1.5m distance was discussed. Festivals are to be the last events to reopen according to the EU’s plan, meaning that this sector won’t see a resurgence in its economy for a long time yet.

Plenty of Amsterdam’s events, festivals and concerts have moved online. Tickets for virtual electronic music festivals have been so popular that many are sold out or have a waiting list. Some festivals are even selling tickets for virtual events in 2021, regardless of COVID-19 developments. Museums, parks, theatres and other cultural activities have also jumped on the virtual bandwagon and you can visit Amsterdam via the internet by booking private tours of palaces and galleries.


The government’s involvement

Seeing the rising difficulties for the events sector, the government announced an initial €300 million support package for cultural businesses. The goal was to protect the businesses that needed to reduce their staff by 20%, support entrepreneurs and the self-employed, and compensate those expecting reductions of income of 20% or more in the coming months.

It quickly became apparent that this was not enough. The crisis was longer and more acute than anyone could have expected. By June, most of the event industry was running on fumes, and what little compensation they received from the government was just not cutting it. In August, the Dutch culture minister Ingrid Van Engelshoven announced a further €482 million in emergency funding for the Dutch cultural sector.

Of this new support package, €200 million were destined to “large cultural institutions”. Another portion was destined to create an ecosystem for artists and the self-employed that work in the industry. The rest was divided up amongst museums, filmmakers and the Brown Fleet of historic ships.

€14 million is also reserved for events and companies who were not awarded subsidies recently by the Performing Arts Fund. These subsidies refer to a government €62 million cultural, multi-year grant awarded to 60 festivals, along with some other cultural sectors such as independent artists, performing arts groups and institutions also benefiting from the grants, albeit on a smaller scale.


What’s next for the cultural sector in Amsterdam?

After a year with millions in lost revenue, layoffs, refunds and insurance claims, it’s very tempting to focus on the havoc. But the cultural sector in Amsterdam is strong and the industries surrounding it have always been able to bounce back. It is, after all, one of the pillars of the tourist industry. 

The Dutch government has been aware of the dangers that lockdown poses for the cultural sector since day one, and have reacted generously to try to keep Dutch businesses afloat.

Despite the challenges, the cultural sector’s ability to adapt so quickly and creatively in virtual settings is quite extraordinary and worthy of praise. Their versatility will only make it easier for upcoming challenges during the COVID-19 crisis.


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