PARIS - The Louvre is closed tight, but visitors can still see its most popular masterpieces — including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa — without being sandwiched between selfie-snapping tourists.
The Berlin Philharmonic is similarly shuttered, but classical music buffs can relive Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, under chief conductor Kirill Petrenko’s baton.
And anyone stuck at home and longing for some exercise can log into the Dutch National Ballet’s dance class on YouTube.
As the coronavirus forces Europe's cultural institutions under lockdown, artistic expression is nonetheless thriving — online and free of charge.
From a virtual tour of the Gustav Klimt paintings at Austria’s Belvedere Museum to chamber music livestreamed by the Bavarian State Opera to rock, jazz and amateur balcony concerts in Italy, the offerings amount to a massive, movable feast.
Yet even as the pandemic indirectly opens new opportunities for creative expression and expansion of audiences, it is delivering a financial tsunami to the industry.
“For a lot of museums, it’s a very sad moment. And for private museums, it’s an economic tragedy, because they can’t sell tickets,” and in many cases, they can’t access public emergency funds, said David Vuillaume, executive board chairman of the Berlin-based Network of European Museum Organisations.
More than entertainment
But Vuillaume also points to a raft of museums now promoting online visits, thanks to technology as ubiquitous as a smartphone.
“Right now, visiting a museum online is entertainment for those with time on their hands,” he said. “But I think art can really help people to go further, to think about very important values for the community and society.”
In the French capital, the Paris Philharmonie has joined European counterparts in rebroadcasting some of its greatest concerts.
“A concert is different than just going online to find music. You really feel the atmosphere and the tension. It’s an activity families can share,” said Hugues de Saint Simon, the Philharmonie’s secretary-general.
The philharmonic has seen new audiences accessing the virtual concerts, “and when they come to Paris, they may go to a real concert,” he added.
Still, the lockdowns are devastating Europe’s cultural industry, despite a smattering of financial lifelines to date.
The Italian government, for instance, approved $143 million in emergency aid for the country’s film and TV sector. In France, Culture Minister Franck Riester, who contracted coronavirus, announced an initial $24 million for culture.
Industry members say such sums are a small fraction of what will be needed, although the size of the impact will depend on how long the lockdowns and the pandemic last.
“It’s going to be tough,” said de Saint Simon. “The major point for us is what to do so artists are not too fragilized.”
The Philharmonie has reimbursed audiences for canceled concerts, but compensation for guest orchestras and others is unclear. Most events cannot be rescheduled; the next season already is planned out.
And while the French government promises to cover losses, “we’re not sure exactly how and when,” de Saint Simon said.
Vuillaume of the European museums network said he also was worried about the financial hit, especially on freelance workers.
“It could be very hard for them in the coming weeks,” he said.
For Paris-based actress and dancer Claire Tran, France’s lockdown that started mid-March came as a shock. It caught her wrapping up final rehearsals for a lyrical opera at the Champs-Elysees Theater. Hours later, she got notice the show was off.
“I honestly did not imagine for a second that we would shut down,” she said. “I was hoping we would do the show in front of fewer people, but it would go on.”
Tran has been promised full compensation, but friends working at smaller, less prestigious venues may not get paid for canceled performances.
Her homebound colleagues are now powering up computers and smartphones to express themselves.
“The principle is solidarity,” Tran noted. “They’re offering classes and artistic pieces on social media and Zoom for free, because nobody is making money right now. There's a good spirit in all of this.”