Belgium cultural venues to defy indoor ban, reopen illegally

In this April 28, 2021 file photo, spectators, wearing protective face masks and keeping a social distance, watch the theatre play "Jonathan" at the KVS theatre in Brussels. (Photo: Francisco Seco, AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Dozens of cinemas, theaters and other venues in Belgium are defying government orders and reopening their doors Friday to protest the country’s ongoing shutdown of cultural activities.

After more than six months without revenue, venue owners say Belgium’s ongoing ban on indoor cultural events is proof of “an unacceptable inequality of treatment” their industry has experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no evidence that culture should take second place to supermarkets, zoos or any other activity that generates social contact,” owners participating in Still Standing For Culture, an activism collective, said. “The health situation does not explain why the fate of cultural venues has been systematically ignored for months, nor why new conditions are pulled out of the government’s hat when their reopening is finally discussed.”

Belgian authorities are organizing test events but have not yet given venues and their workers a solid green light to reopen. The federal government has said indoor cultural events can resume starting May 8 with a maximum of 50 mask-wearing people in attendance. It has said audiences will be allowed to grow to a maximum of 200 in June only if the pace of infections slows down.

But Still Standing for Culture said some venues plan to reopen starting Friday while following the health protocols issued by federal authorities to guarantee the safety of artists and attendees.

“The cultural spring has finally arrived,” the collective said.

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