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Avignon Festival

Avignon Festival says financial support on track despite covid-19 cancellation

Avignon Festival director Olivier Py at a press conference in March 2016 to announce the programme for the 70th edition.
Avignon Festival director Olivier Py at a press conference in March 2016 to announce the programme for the 70th edition. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

The directors of the international theatre festival in Avignon have announced a plan to bounce back from the cancellation of the 74th edition of the event due to covid-19.

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To counterbalance the massive economic fallout all state sponsors and a key private sponsor have said they will guarantee funding.

Following their meeting on Monday, the board of directors issued an action plan to salvage the 2020 edition of the event and prepare for the future with the help of all current partners.

"The state partners (City of Avignon, and various regional councils) have confirmed their intention to maintain their funding at 100 percent," according to the communiqué released on Tuesday.

"We are also pleased to announce that our key sponsor, the Crédit Coopératif, immediately confirmed it would guarantee its full initial funding."

On 14 April, the day after French President Emmanuel Macron's speech declaring an extension of the lockdown, effectively banning large public events of festivals before mid July at the earliest, a ripple of fear rushed through the minds of Avignon Festival Directors Olivier Py and Paul Rondin.

"We held out hope for as long as we could but the conditions no longer allow us to hold the 74th edition of the festival," they said, referring to the original schedule from 3-23 July.

Since it's creation in 1947, the Festival has only been cancelled once, in 2003 due to a dispute with non-permanent contract workers.

Millions of euros on the line

Held annually in what is known as 'the city of popes', the festival can draw crowds of up to 700,000, generating an estimated 100 million euros in revenue.

Some 25 million of that comes from the main event known as In, the rest coming from the Off event which is even bigger with over 1,500 shows by 1,000 companies in some 200 theatres.

The fallout from cancellation poses a threat to the region and the thousands of technicians and artists involved, many who are not employees on a fixed salary.

In order to stave off this dire situation, the board of Avignon Festival has promised to accompany and provide support and advice to the 432 staff and contractors already involved in the preparation of this year's event, guaranteeing their salaries until 31 July.

70 percent of these workers come from the region around Avignon, so the measures will be a boost to the local economy.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best"

Borrowing an expression from the astronaut John Young, the organisers are keen to emphasise that the spirit of the event is well and truly alive and they promise to maintain a minimum of artistic activity moving forward despite the difficult and unpredictable circumstances.

This means upholding funding for any shows already commissioned for 2020, and rescheduling the performances for later in the year or 2021, and reimbursing or rebooking theatre companies if necessary.

The planned artist workshops and residencies at 'La Fabrica' will be pushed forward to September, with teams of technicians provided.

The show must go on!

Other initiatves include an online programme in partnership with France Culture, France Télévisions and FestivalExpériences, a week-long art exhibition, as well as other educative projects in the region throughout the remainder of the year.

Avignon is not the only festival to be affected by the lockdown rules and the French government has pledged a financial aid package to help the cultural sector get through the crisis.

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