“Culture is a service to the public": Musician on proposed cuts to art in Czechia

Roughly 150 musicians took part in a public concert at Prague’s Main Railway Station on Sunday evening to raise awareness about the underfunding of culture in Czechia. The campaign, titled Let’s Not Let Culture Go Silent, is backed by two dozen important cultural institutions, among them the Czech Philharmonic, the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK, and the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. To find out what they are striving for, I spoke with Jan Nykrýn, a member of the Czech Union of Musicians, and started by asking him why they chose a concert as a form of protest:

Prague’s Main Railway Station | Photo: Mélanie Vigneau,  Radio Prague International

“The concert was organized because it is important to bring attention of the public to the cultural situation in the Czech Republic. There are three main reasons why we organized this protest. The first reason is that the Ministry of Culture is trying to reduce the amount of money that is supposed to go to the cultural sphere. The second reason is the salaries in the cultural industry, and the third is the concept of a public cultural institution, which is supposed to be a new subject of Czech law, and it is very hazardous to the institutions that should become part of this. So these are the main reasons.”

I want to talk about the state budget. There is a proposed decrease to the Ministry of Culture’s budget to 16.58 billion Czech crowns for 2024, and that’s down from 18.5 billion this past year. What impact would these cuts have on the cultural sphere here in Czechia?

“The impact would be very drastic. Czech culture has had problems with financing for many decades, and it has always been the last area to get attention. Since the financial crisis in 2008, it has not fully recovered. The workers in culture are the worst paid of the public sector employees in the country. For example, the starting wage of someone who becomes a part of an orchestra is around 25,000 crowns. If we compare this to other state paid employees like elementary school teachers, they get around 5,000-6,000 more. This is a discrepancy that has gone on for many years, and it becomes very difficult to raise families and pay bills on this salary. Many musicians have to have two jobs to survive today.”

I can imagine that if wages are low, it’s going to turn people away from the industry, and that would impact Czech culture and the ability for people to see concerts, is that correct?

“Yes, that is absolutely correct, and that is why the title of this protest is called Let’s Not Let Culture Fall Silent, because in culture there are many highly skilled professionals that are well-educated. Most of my colleagues are university graduates, and it is difficult to achieve this level of proficiency, and for young people it’s not intriguing to become such a professional with such amount of effort if they won’t get paid enough. It’s very easy to destroy this history of culture and orchestras in the Czech Republic, but it would be very difficult to get it back once the state realizes that cutting budgets was not the best idea. There won’t be enough well-educated people who are willing to work in this profession.”

What else are you and the other participants hoping will come from this initiative? What cord are you trying to strike amongst the society?

Photo: Barbora Navrátilová,  Radio Prague International

“It’s not about getting more money into culture, it’s about keeping the amount of money that’s been set. The Let’s Not Let Culture Fall Silent movement is about getting public attention because we think the public should know about these issues. Culture is a service to the public, and we are bringing a service to the public that is quite difficult to achieve. If people started to support their orchestras, theatres, galleries, and museums more, it would be so much better. I think it’s very necessary for every nation to keep their culture and support their culture.”