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Russia: Ombudsman says event restrictions are “unsystematic”

Russia’s regulation of its cultural events industry has been dubbed “unsystematic and often excessive” by a public ombudsman.

“In a number of regions (for example, in the Voronezh and Irkutsk regions), additional restrictions are introduced exclusively for the non-state cultural sector,” says Olga Shpigalskikh, the ombudsman for the protection of the rights of entrepreneurs in the field of organising cultural events.

In the last couple of months, a number of non-state festivals, including Chernozem in the Voronezh region and Wild Mint in the Tula region, have been called off by local government at the eleventh hour.

“Such decisions finally kill the last chance for our industry to recover,” says Russia’s leading live music association, KTiBO, which warned that the sector is “on the brink of collapse”.

“In a number of regions, additional restrictions are introduced exclusively for the non-state cultural sector”

The ombudsman echoed the association’s concern, adding that, for 17 months, the non-state branch of cultural events has been “practically paralysed”.

“Since the beginning of the announcement of the high alert regime and the complete closure of the industry, at least 10,000 thousand events across the country have been postponed and cancelled. The industry’s revenue fell by more than 90%,” Shpigalskikh explained.

“The heads of these subjects of the Russian Federation were sent appeals to equalise the possibilities of the activities of touring organisations [compared to that of state activities], to prevent discrimination of concert and theatrical touring activities,” she told Russian news agency Tass.


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Russia’s live music industry on “brink of collapse”

The Association of Concert, Theater and Ticketing Organisations (KTiBO) says Russia’s cultural sector is “on the brink of collapse” due to a lack of support from the government.

In the last year and a half, at least 10,000 events across the country have been postponed and cancelled – causing a 90% drop in revenue – according to the association.

The loss has affected more than 3,000 small and medium-sized businesses including event organisers, private theatres, concert venues and ticket operators.

“The lack of constructive dialogue has led to the fact that today the audience has 5 million tickets worth 8 billion rubles [€92m], and the industry cannot fulfil its obligations under the postponed events and is on the verge of bankruptcy,” warns the association.

“The audience has 5 million tickets worth 8 billion rubles, and the industry cannot fulfil its obligations for postponed events”

KTiBO says it has repeatedly appealed to the federal authorities, but targeted assistance for the industry has been denied.

Now, the association is calling for an open dialogue with the government about the full reopening of the industry.

In the meantime, it is organising a series of events under the banner ‘The concert is over’ to raise awareness about the lack of support.

Tomorrow (26 August), KTiBO – along with representatives from SAV Entertainment, Broadway Moscow theatre company, Russian Show Center, Kassir, Eventation, MSM Group, Artistika, NCA group, Tele-Club Group and more – will host a press conference to discuss the consequences of the pandemic for the industry. More details about ‘The concert is over’ will be revealed then.


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Russian fest hit with last-minute ban loses millions

Wild Mint, one of Russia’s biggest festivals, is reportedly RUB 47 million (€539,000) in debt after local authorities cancelled the event at the eleventh hour.

The open-air festival was due to take place between 18-20 June in the Tula region, south of Moscow, but a mere seven hours before gates were due to open, local authorities issued a ban on public events due to a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections.

In a post on Facebook, producer of the Wild Mint festival, Andrei Klyukin, said the cancellation of the festival left the team in “complete despair”. He revealed that as of 2 July, the festival’s debt is RUB 47m but “90% of this amount is in tickets”.

The Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticketing Organisations (KTiBO) has called the local government’s last-minute ban “unacceptable” and is now proposing to introduce a system of regulations at the federal level in order to “completely exclude the possibility of sudden cancellations of cultural events”.  The association tells IQ the details of a possible system are currently under discussion.

“Cancellation of events is not a solution to problems”

“Cancellation of events is not a solution to problems, as it entails huge losses for organisers, job cuts, loss of public confidence in the authorities and the concert industry,” reads a post on the association’s website.

“Only transparent, predictable and trusting relationships between representatives of the concert industry and the state are the key to successfully overcoming the dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and restoring the normal functioning of the country’s cultural life.”

Klyukin says that the festival is not bankrupt and will return in 2022. “We have the strength and desire to continue our work,” he wrote, after outlining support from fans, artists, major media outlets, the festival’s sponsors and even the local government.

Wild Mint’s enforced last-minute cancellation, similar to that of Australia’s Bluesfest earlier this year, underscores the importance of government-backed insurance schemes.

In the last year, schemes have been announced in Germany (€2.5bn), Austria (€300m), the Netherlands (€300m), Belgium (€60m), Norway (€34m) Denmark (DKK 500m) and Estonia (€6m).


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Russian regions permit full capacity concerts

Russia is making a gradual return to live music, with the first handful of regions allowing events to take place at 100% capacity.

At the beginning of February, the governor of the Kemerovo region, in southwest Siberia, signed a decree permitting events to take place with 100% capacity.

While the governor of the Novosibirsk region, in Siberia, recently signed a decree to remove restrictions on the occupancy of venues. Both decrees have now come into force.

Russia’s live industry can now keep up to date with the capacity restrictions and mandatory format configurations in each region, thanks to a database published by a group of Russian organisations including the Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticket Organisations (KTiBO).

The Kemerovo region and the Novosibirsk region are the only areas operating at 100%

According to the database, which is updated as and when local authorities amend restrictions, the Kemerovo region and the Novosibirsk region are the only areas operating at 100%.

Regions including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, Chelyabinsk, Orenburg and Leningrad are currently allowing venues and theatres to host concerts with up to 75% capacity.

In some regions such as Transbaikal, the Republic of Crimea, and the Republic of Mordovia the capacity limit is as low as 30%.

The KTiBO, together with the leaders of the industry of cultural and entertainment events, has been appealing with governors to raise the ceiling in line with the average capacity limit of 50%.


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New associations find common ground in 2020

Way back in April, Stuart Galbraith, CEO of UK promoter Kilimanjaro Live, told IQ that one of the small silver linings to come out of the giant corona-cloud that is 2020 was the spirit of increased cooperation among those who had just a month earlier been bitter rivals. “What has been very pleasant is that, with one or two exceptions, everyone’s been mucking in,” explained Galbraith, who is also vice-chairman of the UK’s Concert Promoters Association (CPA).

Another key takeaway from the then still-young coronavirus crisis, he said, was the importance of industry associations: “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations,” Galbraith explained, but officialdom will deal with representative bodies.

While there are no shortage of those in the UK, representing all aspects of the business – including new umbrella group LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), whose members include the CPA, Entertainment Agents Association and Association of Independent Festivals, as well as One Industry One Voice, a similar body representing the broader events sector – elsewhere the Covid-19 pandemic has spawned the creation of a number of new associations, as industry professionals pool resources to ensure the business is properly represented in its discussions with the powers that be.

In Finland, Kati Kuusisto and Maria Sahlstedt have managed to unite not only the concert business, but the wider events sector, with Events Industries of Finland (Tapahtumateollisuus) – an achievement it took the coronavirus crisis to make possible, says director Kuusisto.

“We’d been thinking about setting up an association for the past two years, but it wasn’t until April 2020, when I saw an industry person on LinkedIn asking if anyone was interested in launching a union for the event industry, that it became reality,” she explains.

“It was important to start talking to each other, because the industry doesn’t exist in the eyes of the government otherwise”

“We started to call around all the different entities in the sector, and within two days we’d set up meetings with 60 different organisations, from sports clubs to concert organisers, theatres, venues, festivals, religious institutions, subcontractors, technical staff and more.”

What unites the diverse members of Event Industries of Finland is that they have fundamentally the same business model, despite differences in the content of what they organise, adds Kuusisto. “We have different formats, different content, but we are all fundamentally running business with same kind of problems and solutions.”

Quoting figures that will be familiar to event organisers across the world, Sahlstedt, the association’s director of communications, says those in government were surprised to learn of the extent of the event business’s losses, which are around 90% compared to 2020, according to Event Industries of Finland research.

“The chamber of commerce told us that restaurants and travel agents have suffered the worst [of any industry] this year because their losses are around 30%!” she comments. “So that was a moment of black humour for us…”

Over the border in Russia, Nadia Solovieva of SAV Entertainment, the country’s leading concert promoter, is the driving force behind the new Association of Concert, Theatre and Ticket Organisations (KTiBO), which largely picks up where the now-defunct Soyuz Concert left off in providing a representative association for the Russian live business.

“When the pandemic started, people started to realise that, believe it or not, we all have common interests,” explains Solovieva, “and there is a need to think about how we can help ourselves and the industry in general.”

“Within two days we’d set up meetings with 60 different organisations”

Unlike state-funded theatres and operate houses, which receive subsidies of up to 100%, private concert businesses have largely been left out in the cold when it comes to state support, Solovieva says, with payments worth employees’ minimum wage in May and June the extent of the help extended to SAV and businesses like it this year.

“It was important to start talking to each other, because the industry doesn’t exist in the eyes of the government otherwise, which is why it was so important to form some kind of organisation,” she continues. “I was the one going to all these government officials and asking for help, but it’s difficult when you don’t have an association – and you want to represent the whole industry, not just yourself and your friends.”

“It’s partly our fault, too,” she adds, “because we’ve tried to stay away from officials as much as possible, which means they don’t have any idea what we do – the economics, and how we survive. But in times like this, we need to be speaking to them and we need their help.”

In Portugal, a new association, Circuito, is fighting for grassroots venues, which have been particularly hard hit by the on-off lockdowns, curfews and states of emergency imposed since March.

The brainchild of three clubs, Lisbon’s Musicbox and LuxFrágil and Oporto’s Maus Hábitos, the association was formed earlier this year to address an “urgent need to secure the survival of grassroots music venues”, says Circuito director Gonçalo Riscado, by calling for “support measures and fight[ing] for the recognition of the circuit” by the Portuguese authorities.

“The timings and the conditions to do it never seemed right before”

“Even though the idea of creating a Portuguese network of music venues was envisaged previously, the timings and the conditions to do it never seemed right,” explains Riscado.

The new association recently organised its first major campaign, #AoVivoOuMorto (#LiveOrDead), to raise awareness of the difficulties facing venues and to encourage government to engage with the embattled grassroots sector.

Riscado describes 17 October’s #AoVivoOuMorto –which saw demonstrators queue outside shuttered venues in four Portuguese cities, forming lines up to five miles long – as a “a fruitful campaign” which led to important talks between Circuito and the government regarding a plan to protect small music venues.

“Being our first public demonstration, it was very important to build the foundations for our current and future work,” continues Riscado. “We had two simultaneous goals with it: to raise awareness for the importance and the value of  grassroots music venues, and call for immediate support measures. With that in mind, placing the grassroots venues circuit within the cultural map and highlighting its importance is the first visible result of this campaign.

“The way artists, the general audience and the media understood, adhered to and enhanced our position was fundamental for us to achieve this goal. In this sense, the ability to overcome this first stage in months, when usually it takes years, is definitely our first big achievement and is an effect of #AoVivoOuMorto.

“Furthermore, after the demonstration, Circuito had several meetings with the central government and city halls and important negotiations were started.”

“I’m glad that people understand that we have common interests”

Sahlstedt says she hopes the spirit of pan-industry cooperation in Finland can continue after the Covid-19 crisis passes, noting that – largely as a result of the work put in by Event Industries of Finland – the events sector is on its way to being officially recognised as an industry in its own right by the Finnish statistical office.

“It’s been a case of repeating the same thing over and over and people finally starting to hear us,” adds Kuusisto. “The whole idea of live events as an industry is totally new and will take some time to understand, but I have a feeling that we’ve finally started to find a framework for the future.”

“I’m glad that people understand that we have common interests,” adds Solovieva, who also says she “absolutely” hopes KTiBO will outlive coronavirus. “The industry needs representation, full stop,” she says. “It’s like a trade union – even in normal times, we need an organisation which can speak on behalf of the industry.”

Circuito, says Riscado, is a “real-life example of the visible strengthening of collaborative networks in the music industry” in 2020. “The sense of collectiveness and association gained renewed importance during the pandemic, given that there is a common need, goal and threat.”

“Keeping it alive when this is all over will be the main challenge,” he adds. “However, we believe many of these ties will not be lost after the pandemic.”


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