Darwinising darwinism

Dear friends,

You probably have a lot more to do than wonder why your favourite newsletter hasn't reached you yet. The most "addicted" among you (I currently count two and a half) must think it's quite normal that the Faenza's newsletter does not arrive, since so many things, nowadays, are not happening the way they used to do. So many tasks postponed, impossible shopping and trips, concerts cancelled or rescheduled...

For my part, "confined" - I like this word, which has also become "viral" - in my small office, I have been working for several days on a text that I have not been able to produce, even in this period that some commentators believe is propitious for the emergence of ideas. I am in that quite different from the turtledove, also confined, that has boldly decided to set up her nest in the gutter right in front of my window, and whose efforts should be - barring a big storm - crowned with success.

But, finally, it's always the same story for me: I can't be where I think I'm expected. "Back to school" newsletter, "New Year" newsletter, "confinement" newsletter : each of these obligatory passages plunges me into such abysses of perplexity that procrastination takes on the appearance of trench warfare for me !

You will tell me that it is seasonal: are we not at war, as our President said, and is this "war" very different from that of 14-18, of which it was thought for a time that it would last only the time of a lightning before getting trapped in long months of painful waiting?[1]

In the "non-essential" world of the live performance, we first began to believe that it was possible, for the more moderately optimistic, that our activities could restart at the beginning of May. Then, step by step, we adopted the idea of working as if the "de-confinement" was not due to take place until June. As time passed, a few programmers began to make us understand that we shouldn't necessarily have any illusions about the inevitability of our July performances, or even those in August. Finally, yesterday evening, our President announced that the concerts could not resume until at least mid-July and, just this very moment, we learn of the definitive cancellation of one of our August concerts!

As our brains can only function by projecting curves from the past to the future, we are beginning to tell ourselves, in this beautiful mid-April, that we may learn, next month, that even the autumn would be threatened by bans on "non-essential" gatherings ...

I do not intend to pity you for the difficulties specific to our sector, since I have every reason to believe that, whatever your sector, you will not emerge unscathed from the economic crisis that is coming, which seems to me to be much more dangerous than the health crisis. However, before going into other considerations, I would nevertheless like to point out that it is very complicated, in a sector of activity that plans its events six months to several years in advance, to work on organising a future that is more uncertain than ever.

Of course, since we have been assured since March 16 by our Président Emmanuel Macron that "no company will be left at risk of bankruptcy, no French citizen will be left without resources", that appropriate measures will be taken "according to needs, economic realities, sector by sector"[2], why should we be worrying?

Not because we have just learned - as I write these lines - that Bercy is questioning the eligibility of subsidized associations to resort to "partial activity", which alone would save our unemployed artists from the economic slump and our structures from bankruptcy...

Why worry if we have known since that same March 16 that, within the confines of confinement, "reading is important", as well as recovering "this sense of the essential", if we are assured, in high places, that "culture, education, the meaning of things is important"[3]?

Since culture is important, essential, just like other sectors of our society, we can be sure that it will not remain confined any longer than necessary, and that we can resume our activities as soon as the State has been able to build up a sufficient stock of basic supplies: masks, gels, tests, hospital beds, and fresh, well-equipped nursing staff.

Our cultural network will therefore be very severely damaged, by the forcing of the whole branch of the "performing arts" to rest: this is now a proven fact. The question is: how will it recover? It is far too early to imagine, since we do not know how long the epidemic threat will last, nor when and how the lockdown will be lifted. What is certain is that our sector will only recover if it stands together, both horizontally and vertically. Concertation between companies - unionized, organized in federations or not - but also taking into consideration the different levels of a pyramid which, deprived of its base, will collapse.

To get an idea of the complexity and fragility of this edifice, consider one of its pillars: the hundreds of festivals that dot our magnificent cultural landscape and constitute one of its greatest riches, many of which are run and administered by volunteers. These festivals are dependent not only on their ticket sales, but also on the subsidies they can receive not only from the State and their Region, but also from local authorities.

As a programmer recently remarked to me, "the real problem, which nobody is talking about at the moment, concerns the local and regional authorities, which cannot currently meet to vote. And without a vote in the assembly, there is no subsidy! "Moreover, a programmer told me that some of the private sponsors of her festival had decided to withdraw this year, because of the... pandemic!

The festivals will therefore remain for a long time under the "sword of Damocles" of a forced cancellation of their concert season. A festival that doesn't employ paid staff can, I imagine, relatively easily close down for a season, with the idea of starting again the following year, when the funds and the audience return. But how can a company, even a well-established and subsidised one, survive a cascade of cancellations over several months without compensation?

That is why it is essential that at every level of the building we fight for compensation that allows the whole structure to hold, without leaving anyone on the ground: the guardians[4] and the unions to get the State to keep its commitments, the programmers to get their financers to maintain their patronage and subsidies[5], the companies to get programmers and guardians financial compensation, the artists and technicians to get the companies to be put on short-time work to get at least part of their lost wages rather than the only income from intermittent work (French system for our artists, so that they can earn money even without concerts in a month), not always enough to live on.

Otherwise, when the next season of spring and summer festivals returns, a large part of the companies (and the artists who make them up) may well have to switch to another activity. If the women and men who govern our society were ready to learn the lessons of this crisis and of all those that are taking place simultaneously - at the slightest noise - on the planet, all I would ask is to insert myself into a new, sustainable world, conscious of the inevitable exhaustion of its resources, by modifying my activity accordingly, or even by changing my profession, if necessary!

While we are waiting for the improbable advent of this new world, a better one because it is viable in the long term, and even though we have been promised that "the day after, when we have won, it will not be a return to the day before"[6] I wonder with some worry if some cultural leaders will not find themselves relieved, in the months and years to come, of not having to choose which companies will be funded and which will no longer be? When, instead of having to push - reluctantly - the older ones out to welcome the new ones (a movement that is already taking shape) they will only have to wait, without being able to do anything about it, for the fall of the most fragile ones?


At Faenza, we have created some neologisms. One of those we like more is the verb "to darwin". It comes from an artistic director who had the gift, from the very first time she listened to the first bars of a composition, of deciding whether or not it was wise to include it in our programme. We immediately named this person "Darwin", since she had introduced us to the virtues of natural selection, and we subsequently used the verb "to darwin" and its derivatives ("darwining", "darwined") every time we had to exclude a piece from a concert programme.

Thanks to the solidarity of all the actors of our wonderful cultural edifice, let's hope that the coming crisis will not "darwin" any show organizer, any company, any artist!

And in the meantime, we continue to work hard to imagine new programmes and to find ways of putting them together and broadcasting them in the coming months and years, however cloudy the future may appear to us at the moment.

Confined or un-confined, live free and happy!


1] See the article by historian Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau in Médiapart: «Nous ne reverrons jamais le monde que nous avons quitté il y a un mois».
2] Emmanuel Macron's speech of March 16, 2020.
3] Emmanuel Macron's speech of March 16, 2020.
[4] DRACs, Regions, Departments...
5] Some festivals even appeal to their audience not to ask for the refund of tickets already bought!
[6] Emmanuel Macron's speech of March 16, 2020. 

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Translations by Sally Gordon Mark

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