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Belgium test events deemed a success

Results from Belgium’s first-ever cultural test events, which took place at the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) and concluded in early May, have been deemed a success.

The two-week test series took place in KVS’s 500-capacity room with 50–250 attendees and examined how the air quality in the room was impacted by the presence of an audience.

The results, which have been published this week, show that the air quality in a half-filled theatre remains unchanged and therefore all spectators can safely attend a performance.

According to the calculations of KVS and its partners, the air quality in a fully occupied hall would not be affected either and therefore there is ‘no objective reason for capacity restrictions at seated events in well-ventilated rooms’.

Now, Belgium’s live sector is asking for a re-evaluation of the proposed reopening on 9 June so that seated events are permitted to take place at full capacity.

“This outcome is a boost for the entire cultural sector”

Artistic director, Michael De Cock, says: “KVS can look back on the test week with satisfaction. Not only was it particularly moving to be able to be in a theatre again – the reactions from the audience were overwhelming – the results that KVS can present today are also encouraging and strengthen our belief that culture can be organised safely. More culture creates more humanity. Something that our society needs today more than ever. ”

Business director, Merlijn Erbuer, says: “This outcome is a boost for the entire cultural sector: what applies at KVS applies in every theatre with an equivalent ventilation system. The KVS is therefore asking for a reevaluation of the proposed reopening, so that from 9 June full houses are admitted for performing arts with a passive, seated audience.

“Test events, however, we have to get rid of as soon as possible, because they are prohibitively expensive and annoying for our audience. You also don’t get tested before getting on the tram or walking into a shopping street.”

Similar live music experiments have also taken place in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the UK. See an extensive list here.

 


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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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Road to recovery: A timeline of pilot projects

In August 2020, Germany paved the way for live music pilot projects with Restart-19, an experiment which saw thousands of volunteers to take part in a concert at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig with singer Tim Bendzko.

Since then, similar experiments have popped up across the globe. From Spain to Singapore, test events with as few as 50 participants and as many as 5,000 have taken place to prove to authorities (and the world) that when it comes to safety and security, the live music industry knows what it’s doing.

Below is a timeline of the pilot projects that have taken place since late summer 2020 – all of which have proved, in one way or another, that the live entertainment sector can reopen safely under certain measures – as well as the tests that are on the horizon in 2021.

August 2020

Restart-19
When: 22 August 2020
Where: Quarterback Immobilien Arena, Leipzig, Germany
Who: University Medical Center of Halle
What they said: “[T]he contacts that do occur at an event do not involve all participants. Therefore, events could take place under specific conditions during a pandemic.”
Participants: 1,500

November 2020

Konzerthaus Dortmund (study)
When: 2–3, 20 November 2020
Where: Konzerthaus Dortmund, Germany
Who: Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute Goslar, ParteQ
What they said: “Concert halls and theatres are not places of infection. […] With our study, we want to ensure that concert halls and theatres may again admit sufficient audiences when they reopen.”

December 2020

Primacov
When: 12 December 2020
Where: Apolo, Barcelona, Spain
Who: Primavera Sound, Germans Trias Hospital, the Fight Aids and Infectious Diseases Foundation
What they said: “A live music concert, staged with a series of security measures that included a negative antigen test for Sars- CoV-2 done on the same day, was not associated with an increase in Covid-19 infections.”
Participants: 1,047

Philharmonie de Paris (study)
When: 16 December 2020
Where: Philharmonie de Paris, France
Who: Dassault Systèmes
What they said: “The combination of face masks with a fresh-air supply built into every seat gives the indoor Philharmonie a similar profile to that of an outdoor space, with a very limited risk of spread from one side [of the venue] to the other.”

Back to Live (SG)
When: 18–19 December 2020 Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay, Singapore
Who: AEG Presents, Collective Minds
What they said: “[T]he outcome of such pilots will be critical to our ongoing efforts to allow events of a larger scale to resume in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Participants: 500

February 2021

Because Music Matters
When: 10–14 February
Where: Rockhal, Luxembourg
Who: Rockhal
What they said: “Building confidence among all our stakeholders that live events are a safe environment is so important.”
Participants: 100 per night

Back to Live (NL)
When: 15, 20, 21, 28 February & 6, 7, 20, 21 March 2021
Where: The Netherlands
Who: Fieldlab Evenementen
What they said: “We can now show that we can organise events in a very safe way. […] We hope this can lead to a tailor- made reopening of venues.”
Participants: Varies between events

March 2021

Love of Lesbian
When: 27 March 2021
Where: Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona
Who: Festivals per la Cultura Segura
What they said: The event had no impact on Covid-19 transmission among attendees, despite the lack of social distancing observed.
Participants: 5,000

The Berlin Philharmonic
When: 20 March 2021
Where: Chamber Music Hall, Berlin
Who: Pilotprojekt, Berlin department of culture
What they said: ‘Zero infections among the 1,000 people who attended the show is further proof that events can be organised safely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.’
Participants: 680

April 2021

Jonathan theatre performance
When: 26 April–9 May 2021
Where: Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS), Belgium
Who: KVS and Belgium’s Ministry of Culture
What they said: “An important observation is that the CO2 value and the relative humidity have barely increased. We saw the figure increase from 500 ppm to 600 ppm, while the maximum permitted value is 1200 ppm. This is of course only a first indication.”
Participants: 50–250

May 2021

Events Research Programme
When: April/May 2021
Where: Sefton Park and Bramley-Moore Dock in Liverpool, Brit Awards in London, The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and more
Who: Festival Republic, Circus, BPI, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and more
What they said: “These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing. We will be guided by the science and medical experts but will work flat out to make that happen.”
Participants: 300–21,000

TBC 2021

Denmark Trials
When: TBC 2021
Where: Denmark
Who: Dansk Live, Divisionsforeningen
What they said: “This should very much lead to a much-needed festival summer and many great concert experiences across the country in 2021.”

Paris test
When: TBC 2021
Where: Accor Arena, Paris
Who: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Culture, St Louis Hospital, Prodiss
Participants: 5,000

Marseille test
When: TBC 2021
Where: Dôme, Marseille
Who: The city of Marseille, Inserm, Béatrice Desgranges (Marsatac, SMA)
Participants: 1,000

 


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Belgium holds ‘first-ever cultural test event’

The first-ever Belgian test event took place last night (26 April) at Brussels venue Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS).

The owner of KVS had previously stated that the venue would open its doors on 26 April regardless of any Covid restrictions that might be in place but ultimately, the government decided to turn yesterday evening’s performance of Jonathan into a test event.

All 50 attendees, as well as the KVS employees, had to undergo a rapid test and wear a mask at all times inside the 500-capacity room. They will also be required to take a PCR test the following week.

Tonight, the venue will host an identical test event, before scaling up to 100 attendees from Wednesday onwards.

The following week, the number of attendees will increase again if the air quality monitoring yields good results. On Tuesday 4 May, the hall will be filled to 40%, on Thursday 6 and Saturday 8 May, it will be further scaled up to 50% with a maximum of 250 spectators.

The purpose of the test events is to measure how the air quality in the room is impacted by the presence of an audience

The purpose of the test events is to measure how the air quality in the room is impacted by the presence of an audience. To do this, the CO2 content and the relative humidity are measured every minute with specialised equipment.

If these CO2 values ​​remain good (CO2 below 1200 ppm and relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent), this shows that the chance of transmission of infectious diseases via the air is very low.

At any point in the test series, if the air quality monitoring shows that the risk of airborne contamination is becoming unacceptably high, there will be no further upscaling. The decision will be made at 11 am the day before the performance.

Around 30 test events are planned for the next two months but Belgium’s minister of culture Jan Jambon says that the government will conduct as many as necessary: “As long as we can learn good things from them, that is important, but at a certain point the learning curve stops, and we will the cultural sector.”

Details of the test events are yet to be announced but Belgium’s Corona Commission says they will span culture and sports.

 


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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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