Major classical music and arts organisations lay off almost entire workforces amid pandemic
20 March 2020, 17:40
Amid coronavirus cancellations, workers in organisations from Opera Australia to Cirque de Soleil are being ‘stood down without pay’.
As concert halls close their doors and opera houses cancel entire seasons, major classical music and arts organisations are also being forced to lay off unprecedented numbers of their workforces.
New York’s Metropolitan Opera announced today that they have cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 season. The company’s contracted orchestra and chorus will not be paid while the House is closed for the extended period.
On Thursday, musicians in Opera Australia’s orchestra protested outside the head office of Opera Australia, which is the country’s largest performing arts company.
Playing their instruments, they staged a musical protest against the company’s decision to stand down musicians without pay, just days after it cancelled the rest of the season (watch below).
In their protest, the musicians also asked Australia’s federal government to provide emergency financial support to the performing arts sector devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
LIVE: Opera Australia orchestra performers
Music continues during COVID-19. Members of the orchestra of Opera Australia are performing in the hopes of calling on Opera Australia to reconsider its decision to stand down musicians without pay. They are also looking for the federal government to provide emergency financial support to the performing arts sector devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.Posted by ABC Sydney on Wednesday, 18 March 2020
In a statement, the Met announced its full-time union employees will continue to have health care coverage throughout the crisis, but will only be paid until the end of March. Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, announced he is waiving his entire salary.
Gelb said: “As devastating as it is to have to close the Met, this was the rare instance where the show simply couldn’t go on.”
In the case of Opera Australia, some of the company’s musicians have been told to take two weeks of paid annual leave. The company’s statement did not confirm whether the musicians will receive pay after March.
These devastating decisions are happening all over the world. Cirque du Soleil has also been badly hit, after the pandemic has forced the circus to close all 44 of its shows worldwide. The Montreal-based company said on Thursday it was temporarily laying off 4,679 employees – 95 per cent of its workforce.
They said in a statement: “The company was left with no other option but to call for an unprecedented halt in activity until the pandemic is controlled and its performers, employees and audience members are no longer at risk.”
At this immensely difficult and upsetting time for arts organisations and artists over the world, Help Musicians UK are at hand to offer support to any individuals whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19.
How can you help classical musicians affected by coronavirus measures?
• Point them to Help Musicians where they can find the latest advice on coronavirus, apply for Health and Welfare Support, and access mental health support through Music Minds Matter, in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
• Consider donating the price of your ticket back to orchestras, performers and organisations for any concerts have been cancelled – most will have details of how to do this on their own website, so do look out for that.
• Reach out to any musician, artist, actor or other freelance friend or family member you know – and ask. Ask “How can I help? Where can I go to donate? What can I do for you?” And – crucially – “Are you okay?”.
• Visit the Arts Council England website to find out more about how to help musicians.