Berlin Launches Its Grant Program to help Artists and Freelancers during Coronavirus Lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic is having massive economic consequences, with many people in Germany and beyond losing their jobs or facing financial difficulties. 

The Berlin government decided to act quickly, creating an emergency relief program in partnership with the Investitionsbank Berlin, offering €5,000 to individuals freelancers and up to €15,000 to small businesses.

So far, over 50,000 applications have been successfully submitted from creative sectors and other industries, including restaurants, hotels, nightlife, and event businesses. According to a spokesperson from the cultural ministry, a staggering €500 million has already been given out to those affected by the shutdown.

How Do I Get One?

The application process is fairly simple if you live and work in Germany – you submit nothing more than your mailing address, a tax number, banking details, and a legal form with your company’s name. This way, you are entering a queue and waiting for the grant to be wired into your account.

“Pleasantly Shocked”

Numerous artists reported receiving money within just a couple of days of submitting their application, posting on social media screenshots of their queue numbers, or completed transactions.

Berlin-based artist Zuzanna Czebatul has confirmed that €5,000 had been deposited into her bank account, stating that the process was satisfyingly uncomplicated. “I am pleasantly shocked,” she said.

The coronavirus meteor has hit Berlin’s arts community badly. According to the survey conducted by Berlin’s association of visual artists, more than half of the city’s artists anticipate losing at least 75% of their monthly income due to the lockdown. More than three quarters expressed fears they would not be able to make April’s rent or other basic costs. 

But this is not the only help they will get. The federal government has announced that it will deliver a €50 billion bailout package for freelancers and small businesses, including artists. These will be single grants of up to €9,000 available to self-employed artists and businesses with up to five employees, and larger €15,000 grants available to businesses with up to ten employees. They are expected to be ready for applicants in the coming weeks.

Technical Difficulties – Please Stand By

Many artists reported technical difficulties on the program’s launch day. During the opening hours, the system was so overloaded that it temporarily crashed. The local bank IBB told Der Tagesspiegel that 60,000 attempted applications were submitted on the first day; the program is used to handling between 20,000 and 100,000 applications during the entire year.

Unfortunately, this caused panic, so much so that the Culture Ministry’s office took to social media to try to quell that worry, saying that the money was not ‘first come, first serve’. “There will be enough for everyone,” culture minister Klaus Lederer wrote to his followers. “Don’t panic! It’s not a greyhound race!”

On the flip side, the unnaturalized Germans were hesitant to apply for funding for fear that state support would throw the standing of their work visas in jeopardy. The local government has since clarified that this would not happen.

Data Leakage

According to Der Tagesspiegel, a freelance cameraman reported that his data had mistakenly been sent to a stranger. The situation was resolved by Friday with IBB issuing a statement saying that any fraudulent claims will be sorted by the time individuals file tax returns, that is if they do.

Much needed assistance

Berlin’s art community seems to recognize how fortunate they are. The art collective Slavs & Tatars shared on twitter their approved application, saying that they are planning to use the funds to keep their studio running – including salaries for their team and production – during the lockdown, even if they may operate at a “reduced rhythm.”

The fact that this program was undertaken shows us that Berlin knows how important the creative industries are to its economy,” said the art critic Mitch Speed, who also applied for an emergency grant, noting that “it’s a huge privilege to live in a country capable of providing this kind of support.”

The office of Klaus Lederer, Senator for Culture and Europe of the State of Berlin, has also issued a statement on this subject: 

“Our feeling is that the program is working very well right now and that it is addressing the urgent needs of Berlin’s independent artists and creative freelancers,” a spokesman for Lederer’s office said. 

“Their e-mails and messages, which reach us in large numbers, confirm that the program was necessary and fits the immediate needs of many artists and creative workers in Berlin. It is our absolute aim to preserve the overwhelming richness and variety of Berlin’s cultural life for a vibrant future.”

We couldn’t agree more!

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