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More than 130 Belgian venues reopen illegally

Some 130 cultural venues in Wallonia and Brussels have reopened illegally after six months of closure, in protest of government restrictions.

Since 30 April, the venues have been welcoming the general public for a number of cultural activities including concerts, screenings, shows, debates, performances and public rehearsals.

The nine-day protest, which is being held by the campaign group ‘Still Standing for Culture’, culminates on 8 May when 50-capacity outdoor events are permitted.

According to the group, all activities will be carried in accordance with the health protocol, which includes social distancing, mask-wearing and the separation of household bubbles.

“We will do this without underestimating the dangerousness of the virus, but we recall that experiments and studies show that the opening of cultural places has only a minimal impact on the contamination curves in the face of the effects attributed to the activities. businesses, shops and services,” reads a statement on the Still Standing for Culture website.

“We will do this to defend the diversity of places and practices”

“We will do so to refuse that certain sectors of activity and certain categories of the population are the only ones to carry the weight of measures on their shoulders. And to defend the diversity of places and practices.”

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) was the first Belgian venue that pledged to open its doors regardless of any restrictions in place but ultimately, the government agreed to turn its scheduled performances into test events.

According to Flemish business newspaper Tidj, the Flemish region is not participating in the demonstration as the regional government has provided a range of support measures for affected culture workers, artists and cultural entrepreneurs – including a €60 million safety net for festival organisers.

However, the Flemish events sector may be inclined to join the demonstrations if the regional government does not provide a reopening plan after the next meeting of the Consultation Committee on 11 May.

The full programme of activities for the Still Standing for Culture protest can be found here.


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Yvonne Stausbøll joins EMMA as exec director

The European Music Managers Alliance (EMMA) has appointed Yvonne Stausbøll to the newly created position of executive director.

Stausbøll will be based in Brussels, from where she will be responsible for the general management of EMMA and the organisation’s engagement on policy issues in Europe and internationally. With over 25 years’ experience working in public affairs in Brussels, Stausbøll brings extensive knowledge of the European public policy environment – including 15 years combined in the European Commission and European Parliament – to the organisation, according to EMMA.

Formerly head of energy sector trade association UPEI, Stausbøll has in recent years been working with music and culture organisations including Freemuse and Music Without Borders.

“Yvonne’s extensive experience will … ensure music managers have representation at the heart of European policy discussions”

Commenting on the appointment, Per Kviman, chair of EMMA, says: “I am delighted to welcome Yvonne as our new executive director and look forward to working with her.

“This is a significant step for EMMA. Yvonne’s extensive experience will help take our organisation forward, ensuring music managers have representation at the heart of European policy discussions and expanding our engagement with other music-based organisations.”

EMMA brings together Music Managers Forums (MMF) in Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK, and has links to allied organisations in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Its members represent more than 1,200 artist managers in Europe.


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Brussels venue to reopen regardless of restrictions

Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) plans to open its doors on 26 April, defying current restrictions, in a bid to increase pressure on the Belgian government to reopen the cultural sector.

The country’s strict lockdown measures are set to ease on 25 April but venues may not be permitted to welcome audiences until 1 May at the earliest, after the government withdrew its decision to allow outside performances of up to 50 people during April.

The venue’s operators want to demonstrate that it is possible to organise events safely and plans to host 50 people in a 500-capacity room on five consecutive nights for a theatre performance.

According to organisers, the performance will take place under strict precautions concerning ventilation, measuring CO2, guiding and controlling public flows, registering visitors, keeping a safe distance, mandatory mouth mask and disinfection gel.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously,” KVS says in a statement on the venue’s website.

“This is a signal to the government to finally take our industry and our efforts seriously”

In the statement, KVS refers to crowded parks, squares and trains: “It is revengeful: after a year of pandemic, we as a society have still not succeeded in organizing what can be organized safely. Culture can be part of the solution. And there are indeed alternatives. And there is indeed a great social need for safe encounters and culture.

“To prevent public support from completely eroding, to prevent dangerous, badly organised gatherings from occurring too often, there is a need for safe ways to enjoy culture.”

Opposition party Groen has called on the minister of culture Jan Jambon to turn the performances into a test event, according to De Tidj.

“By turning KVS’s plans into a test event, people are not forced to take the risk of prosecution just because they want to do their job in complete safety. It is also a constructive signal to the cultural sector and we can use the information later. This could well be a win-win,” says Groen MP Elisabeth Meuleman.

Jonathan will play from 26–30 April at 8 pm in KVS. Tickets, which are priced at €25, have sold out for all five nights.


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Flemish government earmarks €60m for festivals

The Flemish government has designated a total of €60 million to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.

Flemish minister of economy, Hilde Crevits, has allocated €50m in repayable advances for the broader events sector to “to get the engine going and offer insurance against the risk of organising an event in uncertain times”, she says.

This is in addition to the €43m worth of repayable loans Crevits has already released, which went to 150 organisers including music festivals such as Sfinks, Laundry Day and Gent Jazz.

For the new round of funding, the maximum amount an organiser can apply for has been raised from €800,000 to €1.8m and larger organisations will be eligible to apply this time.

All events that secure funding must comply with the measures applicable at the time they take place and, according to Tidj, in most cases, the advance is non-refundable if the event is cancelled.

The remaining €10m from the €60m pot – allocated by Flemish minister of tourism, Zuhal Demir – will subsidise Covid measures for small music festivals, such as the construction of rapid test villages, additional entrances and exits, or the rental of a larger site.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe…it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer can take place”

“Smaller events with a total cost of at least €250,000 can count on the support of up to €75,000, while larger players with budgets of at least €7.5 m can count on support of up to €500,000,” says Demir.

The application process for corona-proofing grants is already open on Event Flanders. Organisers can combine both types of support.

Demir is working with Event Flanders, which sets out the event policy for Tourism Flanders, along with virologists and festival organisers, to work out the conditions under which festivals can take place safely. The plan should be ready by the end of this month.

“Flanders has the best festivals in all of Europe,” says Demir. “From large mass manifestations to the more intimate niche events, it is in everyone’s interest that the festival summer of 2021 can take place in the best possible way, for organisers, for visitors and for the rest of Flanders.”

Flanders is one of three Belgian regions which encompasses major cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, and is home to the country’s biggest festivals including Tomorrowland (pictured), Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter.

Last month, Flemish prime minister, Jan Jambon, also responsible for culture, announced that there will be clarity for festivals by mid-March at the latest.


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Brussels’ Centre for Fine Arts to close after fire

Brussels’ Centre for Fine Arts (cap. 2,100), also known as Bozar, has closed for at least a week after a fire broke out on the roof of the building yesterday afternoon (18 January).

Nearly 100 firefighters attended the scene after eyewitnesses reported large plumes of smoke coming from the roof of the multi-purpose venue at around 4:15 pm CET.

The blaze, which did not spread beyond the roof, was under control by around 9 pm local time. Two firefighters were injured during the process though no other casualties were reported as the building was closed at the time.

“Around midnight, most of the means deployed left the scene, but a fire engine remained on site all night to ensure a fire picket,” said the spokesman of the Brussels fire department, Walter Derieuw.

While the fire did not damage any major work in the Centre for Fine Arts, a complete review of the damage is yet to be undertaken. The cause of the fire remains unknown but investigations are expected to commence today.


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EU urged to support live in recovery planning

Brussels-based industry body Pearle* has called for the live industry to be included as a “priority sector” in the European Union (EU)’s post-pandemic recovery package.

In a position paper entitled Give Live Performance a Future, Pearle* (Performing Arts Employers Association League Europe), which represents more than 10,000 venues, theatres, festivals and other ‘live performance’ organisations, calls for support for “a sector on the verge of collapse […], and for which a comprehensive recovery package is needed.”

Quoting European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who said last month that “this is definitely not the time to withdraw support” for member states’ economies, Pearle* suggests the EU back “targeted support” for live entertainment businesses, as well as introducing other continent-wide initiatives such as lowering VAT on tickets and taxation on artists crossing borders.

In its introduction to the paper, Pearle* describes the situation heading into the autumn as one of “reduced income in ticket sales, fewer performances, less (or no) income from bar sales, sponsorship contracts on hold, much less touring in Europe and nearly no touring outside Europe, reduced size of productions, (very) short-term planning, less freelance work needed [and] less extra services needed.”

“There are a wide range of possibilities for governments to help the sector in its recovery”

Combined, these factors put “real pressure on the preservation of cultural diversity, which is rooted in the European Treaty,” the organisation adds.

The latest proposal by the European Parliament is €39 billion for “flagship programmes” – of which culture is one – in the next budget, though this must still be agreed with the European Council leadership. (Other flagship spending includes health, digital, security and the ‘Green Deal’.)

Anita Debaere, director of Pearle*, says the recovery plan for live should be “built on three main pillars: survive, invest and resilience.”

“There are a wide range of possibilities that governments can use to help the sector in its recovery in the coming years, so there is no excuse to ignore the needs of live performance,” she comments.


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Guillaume Brevers launches Hometown Talent

Booking agent Guillaume Brevers, formerly of ATC Live, has launched Hometown Talent Agency, returning to life as an independent after a year and a half at London-based ATC.

Brevers joined ATC Live in 2018, having spent the previous seven years operating his own booking agency, BFOS Booking, in Belgium.

“In early January, I made the choice to leave ATC Live and return to my first love, leading my very own agency,” he explains. “I’m grateful for the time I had at ATC, but this independent spirit I have since day one has always been strong, and I decided to go back to what has worked successfully over the years and position myself as an alternative on the agency map.”

“My goal is to represent an agency that is very unique and ideally placed for the multiple challenges our society is facing, while constantly adapting to today’s music industry changes,” Brevers adds. “I want to offer the artists I represent a safe and healthy home where they’ll be able to express all their creativity while fulfilling all their expectations. Say hello to Hometown Talent Agency…”

Hometown Talent’s roster includes Princess Nokia, Boy Pablo, Phum Viphurit, Pi’erre Bourne, C. Tangana and Sunset Rollercoaster, among others.


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“I thought it was a joke”: Brussels taxes dancing

A Brussels venue has been hit with an unexpected tax bill this month – for a little-known levy on dancing.

The tax, on “dancing parties” (parties de danse), has been on the city’s books since 2014 but is apparently only now being enforced.

Nicolas Boochie, of the 170-cap. Bonnefooi, tells local magazine Bruzz the tax is based on the number of people dancing: 40¢ per person per night. “At first I thought it was a joke, but it is apparently real,” he says. “The city has several times sent people round incognito to count the number of dancers.”

“I would prefer to spend the money on  artists who come to perform for us”

Bonnefooi says the inspectors found an average of 50 people dancing per night at weekends. “That means €20 per night and €160 per month,” he explains. “So, per year, we have to pay almost €2,000 in this tax – money I would personally prefer to spend on the artists who come to perform for us.

“I would assume that there is a good reason [for the tax] to exist, but I have no idea what it would be.”

According to the city of Brussels, events involving dancing “entail additional expenditure [for city authorities], in particular on safety, public peace and public order”.


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Belgian live music market hit by terror fears

Rock Werchter, Belgium’s largest and most successful music festival, is struggling to sell its 2016 ticket allocation as foreign visitors stay away following the Brussels bombings in March.

Belgium’s terror threat level currently stands at level three – indicating a “serious and real threat” – and Nele Bigaré of Live Nation says that while ticket sales to Belgian and Dutch visitors have remained stable, “the consequences of the attacks are clearly palpable”, leading to “significantly fewer ticket sales abroad”.

It’s not just Rock Werchter: Paul-Henri Wauters, programme director of Brussels’ 2,000-capacity Botanique and co-president of pan-European festival association De Concert!, tells IQ his venue has “perceived a slowdown in ticket sales” (“about 6–7% compared to a normal situation,” he says) since the bombings and the previous attacks in Paris, especially for showcase events and special projects.

“As for Les Nuits Botanique” – an annual festival featuring 60 concerts and 160 bands across five venues, and the first big event in Brussels since the March attacks – “there was some average loss of audience,” he continues, although it was only around 2% “thanks to [our] compensating with more attractive headliners”. (Jack Garratt, Tinie Tempah, Bejamin Francis Leftwich, Ty Segall, Cocorosie, Field Music and Andrew Bird were among the big names.)

“The consequences of the attacks are clearly palpable, leading to significantly fewer ticket sales abroad”

Gate receipts are also down at Brussels festival Couleur Café, which has so far shifted 30% fewer tickets than last year, according to yesterday’s De Tijd, and Gent Jazz in Ghent, which has sold “3,500 fewer than usual”, says spokesman Bertrand Flamang.

One Belgian mainstay bucking the trend is Tomorrowland, which, according to press coordinator Debby Wilmsen, sold its entire inventory of 180,000 tickets (60,000 per day), in a single minute. It is worth noting, though, that tickets for the ID&T dance music event sold out in early February – or, as one prominent Benelux promoter puts it, “when people had forgotten about Paris”.

The same situation applies to one-day Rock Werchter sister event TW Classic, headlined by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which sold out in mid-February.

But what about other festivals hoping to sell out before the summer? Patrick Keersebilck of smaller event Cactusfestival (cap. 9,000), tells IQ that “at the moment it doesn’t look like threat of terror has had an effect on ticket sales” for the Bruges event, which this year is headlined by Damien Rice, Wilco and Air. “As presales are running well, we [haven’t felt] the need to adjust the original marketing campaign.”

“All we can do is provide a good feeling of security and non-stop programming”

Julie Vermeire of Zeebrugge beach festival WeCanDance says “tickets are selling” but typically don’t pick up until later in the year: “As we’re very dependent on the weather in August, we’re not sure yet if the figures are due to that or to the terrorist attacks,” she says.

She adds that bag searches will be “much more severe than usual”, but has not yet communicated that to fans.

Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland will also, along with Graspop Metal Meeting, TW Classic, Dour Festival and Pukkelpop, be implementing stronger security on the gate, with “thorough” bag inspections and metal detectors the norm at all six events.

The festivals will no doubt be hoping the new security measures will go some way to assuaging fans’ fears, but what else can promoters and venue owners do to keep them coming at a time when even government officials are saying there could be as many as 100 IS fighters currently active in Belgium? “All we can do is [provide] a good feeling of security, including metal detectors and daily contact with police, and non-stop programming,” says Wauters, “and give, show after show, our audience the pleasure of attending concerts.”