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1Since March 2020, performing arts are dead arts”. This is how a Brut video [1] begins, in which artists and employees of the sector express their concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on their work.

2 This article analyses the effects of the public management of the Covid-19 crisis on performing arts associations, which employ more than 239,000 people [2] in France and are greatly affected by the crisis due to the closure of performance halls. While the political intention of massive public support is affirmed, actors are mobilizing to express their unease and concern. This discrepancy between public and associative actors shows the importance of a systemic understanding of crisis management in terms of its objective, subjective, collective and institutional dimensions. How do the different actors of this sector perceive the health crisis management? What implications can be drawn for the construction of public support systems?

3 The qualitative methodology is based on interviews and testimonies collected in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Spectacle Vivant survey (AURA-SV, 2020), which reveals the effects of the crisis on associations and press articles. The analysis shows that the public measures aimed at the short-term financial survival of associations are seen as necessary but insufficient by the actors. Indeed, such efforts do not consider the destabilization of well-being at work. We use the SLAC model (Abord de Chatillon & Richard, 2015), which proposes four dimensions of well-being at work: Sense (meaning at work), Link, Activity and Comfort. The destabilization of meaning at work is different for employees of large and small organizations. The first can work without an audience while the last cannot. Beyond the financial concerns, crisis management perceptions depend on the possibility of maintaining a link with the audience. The managerial implications are discussed with regard to co-constructing public support systems better adapted to the sector’s needs.

1 – The Covid-19 crisis, performing arts associations and public support

1.1 – Performing arts associations and public funding

4 Performing arts associations are heavily dependent on public subsidies, particularly those from local authorities (Opale/CRDLA Culture, 2020), which represent more than 2.3 billion euros annually in operating and project aid. The uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of these payments is an issue due to the cancellation of a large part of these associations’ activities because of the crisis. Associative actors call for a commitment from public funders to postpone actions. Public subsidies for performing arts are conditioned by the associations’ accountability (Amans et al., 2010) and ability to demonstrate their economic and societal impacts through cultural and territorial development actions (Horvath & Chabrillat, 2015) via evaluation tools (Nicolas, 2010). In the current context, the submission of new applications for project support is hampered by uncertainty about the evolution of the health situation.

1.2 – Public measures to respond to the Covid-19 crisis are essentially financial

5 At the national level, an emergency solidarity fund for the cultural sector was announced as of 18 March 2020. The terms of access to short-term working schemes valid for companies were extended to associations to deal with the inactivity of workers. It is estimated that 38,000 people are in a situation of prolonged total inactivity (Prodiss, 2020). On 6 May, the government announced a “blank year” for intermittent workers in the entertainment industry, who could continue to receive unemployment benefits in 2020–2021 even if they had worked less than 507 hours during the period affected by the health crisis. Associations can access the state-guaranteed loan to cope with cash flow difficulties and benefit from the deferral of social security and employer contributions, as well as for the payment of tax instalments. On 3 September 2020, the Ministry of Culture announced a recovery plan of more than two billion euros, with artistic creation as a priority. On 28 January 2021, the General Secretariat for the Social and Solidarity Economy created an emergency fund for associations with fewer than ten employees as a one-stop shop.

Table 1

The four dimensions of well-being at work from the SLAC model

Objectives DimensionsLinkLink encompasses inclusion in a work group, recognition and support from colleagues and partners.
ComfortComfort refers to the feeling of physical, functional and psychological well-being in terms of the working conditions and the satisfaction of basic needs.
Subjectives DimensionsSense (Meaning at work)The meaning of work has three dimensions: the subjective dimension of work, the direction that guides the work collectively in its activity and, finally, the coherence between identity, values and the work performed.
ActivityActivity is characterized by the feeling of being able to “do one’s work well” by mobilizing the resources of the group and by deploying one’s power to act to achieve a work objective.

The four dimensions of well-being at work from the SLAC model

Source: Based on Abord de Chatillon and Richard (2015)

6 These national schemes are complemented by public schemes at the territorial level (for example, regarding the City of Paris and the Greater Paris area, see Anheier et al., 2021). The public support systems for the performing arts are essentially financial in nature. They overturn the logic of public subsidies conditional on the demonstration of an assessable economic impact: public financial aid is disconnected from the act of creation.

1.3 – The crisis-induced loss of meaning in work: an unthought-of aspect of support mechanisms

7 The extra-economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis on workers in performing arts organizations are underexplored in the literature and little considered in public measures, which are essentially designed as a financial response to the emergency. This could explain the discrepancy between the mobilizations of the sector’s actors, who express their discontent to public actors [3], and the numerous measures put in place. It is therefore interesting to analyse the public management of the crisis by integrating the subjective and collective dimensions of the actors and the question of the effects on the work of performing arts associations. The SLAC model developed by Abord de Chatillon and Richard (2015) appears relevant when doing so. Four dimensions of well-being at work are identified, two of which are more objective (link and comfort) and two more subjective (sense and activity).

8 We use the SLAC model both as an observation framework and to establish our diagnosis. We emphasize the subjective dimensions of well-being at work—meaning and activity—which are less considered in public support schemes for performing arts organizations than the objective dimensions.

2 – Methodology and results

2.1 – Methodology

9 The qualitative methodology combines semi-structured interviews, the use of 100 testimonies from the AURA-SV survey (2020), representing a corpus of more than 200 pages, and the collection of documents (see Appendix 1). The data are subject to a floating analysis divided between the three researchers and a cross-analysis of the three corpora using a coding of the dimensions of well-being at work based on the SLAC model.

2.2 – Results

2.2.1 – Loss of meaning at work for employees of large cultural associations

10 The perception of the management of the crisis is different depending on the size of the structure to which workers belong. Employees of large cultural associations have experienced few or no prolonged periods of inactivity. The economic model of these structures, which is heavily subsidized and structurally in deficit, makes it possible to mobilize staff, particularly for video recording and other alternative methods of dissemination.


“As long as he can ensure distribution, the theatre director does not hesitate: he produces, even behind closed doors, without an audience and without a box office. This broadcasting is, for example, France Musique, which will broadcast an opera, as well as the video recordings, which will then be broadcast on other channels.”
(Guillaume Tion, broadcast on France Musique, 29 January 2021)

12 The public systems allow work to be maintained but do not prevent the questioning of meaning by the workers, induced by the closure of the performance venues: “For whom do we create in the absence of the public?”.


Despite the closure of the performances to the public, activity at the Lyon Opera remains normal: all the performances are maintained for video recording. The employees feel that there are contradictions between the very fast pace of work demanded by the management (up to three performances per day), the health regulations in force (encouragement to telework) and the absence of the public for whom the performances are created.
(Interview with Christophe H., technical and stage manager, 10 November 2020)

14 Initiatives to maintain the link with the public at a distance [4] are limited in terms of preserving the meaning of the work, and the level of comfort is degraded.


Living means direct contact. It is very difficult to maintain contact through a screen. There are undoubtedly new forms to be found, and it is interesting to observe what is happening today at this level. (…) We are therefore acting in a provisional way, waiting. We can only try to maintain links, to show solidarity. Pretending to bring the show to life is something else entirely…
(Frédéric Roz, Director of Le Tremplin, AURA-SV survey, 9 April 2020, p.30)

2.2.2 – Loss of work activity in small associations and for intermittent workers

16 For employees of small organizations affected by prolonged inactivity and making significant use of short-term working, the question of activity is central to the perception of the crisis. The loss of work affects activity, bringing with it the feeling that they no longer have the capacity to do their work well and engage in artistic creation: “Are we still artists if we no longer create?”.


“Since the first lockdown, the Bergamasque Association has only given one concert, outdoors, during the summer. Since then, the seven musicians have stopped rehearsing together, with one concert after another being cancelled. The members are concentrating on their teaching activities, at the risk of losing their connection with the public and creation. Aware of the possibilities offered by digital technology, they do not invest in it, due to a lack of financial means but also because they do not see it as an opportunity to give meaning to creation: [Digital technology] greatly reduces the spectrum of what can be experienced and heard during a concert.
(Nathalie Cornevin, Artistic Director of Bergamasque, interview on 4 September 2020)

18 Many small associations are experiencing a spiral of resource depletion: the loss of activity leads to a loss of meaning and a loss of connection. The loss of comfort is only cushioned by financial support mechanisms, which are powerless to stop this vicious circle.


The absence of a vision of the date of resumption and of what will happen afterwards makes it impossible for us to anticipate our financial situation regarding the structure and the members of the intermittent team, preventing the resumption of rehearsals.
(Marion Gatier, Deputy Director KompleX KapharnaüM, AURA-SV survey, 31 March 2020, p.13)

Table 2

Summary of the results for the four dimensions of well-being at work

Objectives DimensionsLinkLink with the work group distended or absent (small structures at a standstill or experiencing very reduced activity, intervals without activity); link with the public distended or absent.
ComfortComfort undermined by the application of sanitary measures (large facilities) and the decline in activities (small facilities).
Subjectives DimensionsSense (Meaning at work)Degraded sense of work resulting from the absence of an audience in the room.
ActivityPower to act undermined by uncertainty about the outcome of events.

Summary of the results for the four dimensions of well-being at work

Source: Analysis of the data from the interviews and testimonies and the document collection

3 – Discussion

3.1 – Thinking about the impacts of Covid-19 on work: a challenge for overcoming the crisis

20 Beyond their financial difficulties, the crisis is also destabilizing the work of performing arts organizations. This implies building support measures that go beyond financial support. Emerging from the crisis implies considering the effects it has had on artistic creation and even on organizational and professional identities. The perception of the crisis and its management depends on the capacity of the measures to consider (1) the central role of the link to the public as a specificity of the work in this sector and (2) the diversity of the impacts of the crisis on the associations, differentiated according to their size and economic model.

3.2 – Towards the co-construction of public support

21 The context of the crisis can be an opportunity to rethink new local engineering adapted to the different territories and actors. New spaces for deliberation could be created to co-construct a network of the different engineering systems in a territory. The exploration of territorial dynamics requires the institutionalization of new spaces for the construction of meaning and adapted artistic creation activities: third places, experimentation with digital and artistic uses, new collaborations, etc. To overcome the crisis, public management must reinvent itself by using methodologies in which artists, administrators of cultural venues, citizens, inhabitants and elected officials are considered key players in creative practices.

22 New public management practices exist that use these collective intelligence processes stemming from design thinking and call on collaborative logics and the rapid prototyping of innovative projects (Coblence & Pallez, 2015). However, few studies analyse the transformations in the practices of public managers required to conduct these co-creation/co-construction processes. The crisis has destabilized public policies, but its management represents a real opportunity to renew the roles of public managers towards more multidisciplinarity (artists, citizens, designers, elected officials, researchers, etc.), experimentation that is as close as possible to the territory and local actors and support for multi-actor projects (associations, public actors, private companies, citizens, etc.), beyond a strict budgetary logic.


23 As a sector strongly affected by the crisis, the performing arts are a privileged field when it comes to discussing public support. The discussion on considering the specificities of the work and the possibilities of co-constructing adapted measures would benefit from being extended to the cultural sector, and even to other public policy areas. As many artists emphasized in the AURA-SV survey (2020), beyond the difficulties encountered, the Covid-19 crisis represents an opportunity to reinvent oneself and to experiment with new ways of creating that are more sustainable and supportive (Cusset, 2021). It could also accelerate the construction of more collaborative public policies, which is fundamental for the resilience of territories.

Appendix 1

Analysed data

Interviews and testimonies9 interviews and more than 100 testimonies of performing arts professionals collected within the framework of the AURA-SV Survey (2020).
Documentary collectionSurveys and events on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on associations bringing together public and associative actors:
  • LMA, Recherches et Solidarités, DJEPVA, CNEA and France Générosités (2020), Survey “Facing Covid-19 crisis”, March and May 2020.
  • RNMA 2020 National Meetings online, including the Round Table “Analyser l’impact de la crise sanitaire sur le secteur associatif pour alimenter les politiques publiques de soutien”, 9 and 10 December 2020.
  • Union des Employeurs de l’ESS (2020). Webinar “Les associations employeuses à l’heure de la crise Covid-19”, 15 December 2020.
  • CPNEF-SV (2020). Note: Conséquences de la crise sanitaire dans le spectacle vivant Constats et risques. Série: Points de vue - 30 September.
  • More than 40 regional and national press articles on the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on cultural sector actors.
  • Governmental plans to support associations and official public declarations concerning support for the world of culture and reactions of the actors concerned.



This article analyses the effects of public management responses to the Covid-19 crisis on performing arts associations. How do actors perceive the management of the health crisis? We base our research on the analysis of interviews and testimonies collected in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Performing Arts Survey. The mobilization of the SLAC model – Sense, Link, Activity, Comfort – (Abord de Chatillon & Richard, 2015) opens up avenues for reflection regarding the co-construction of public responses aimed not only at the organizational survival of associations but also at maintaining well-being at work.

  • associations (non-profit)
  • public management
  • performing arts
  • culture
  • meaning at work

Gestion publique de la crise de la Covid-19 dans le secteur culturel : perception des dispositifs publics et bien-être au travail dans les associations du spectacle vivants

Cet article analyse les effets des dispositifs de gestion publique de la crise de la Covid-19 sur les associations du spectacle vivant. Comment les acteurs perçoivent-ils la gestion de la crise sanitaire ? Nous basons notre recherche sur l’analyse d’entretiens et les témoignages recueillis dans l’enquête Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Spectacle Vivant. La mobilisation du modèle SLAC (Abord de Chatillon et Richard, 2015) permet de proposer des pistes de réflexion pour la co-construction des dispositifs publics visant non seulement la survie organisationnelle des associations mais aussi le maintien du bien-être au travail.

  • associations
  • gestion publique
  • spectacle vivant
  • culture
  • sens au travail


  • ABORD DE CHATILLON, E.; RICHARD, D. (2015). “Du sens, du lien, de l’activité et du confort (SLAC). Proposition pour une modélisation des conditions du bien-être au travail par le SLAC”, Revue française de gestion, 41(249), pp.53‑71.
  • ANHEIER, H.K.; MERKEL, J.; WINKLER, K. (2021). Culture, the Arts and the Covid-19: Five Cultural Capitals in Search of Solutions, Hertie School Publisher, 154 p.
  • AMANS, P.; MAZARS-CHAPELON, A.; VILLESÈQUE-DUBUS, F. (2010). “De la politisation à l’instrumentation d’un outil de gestion: le cas du budget dans les théâtres associatifs”, Management Avenir, 10, pp.234-253.
  • AUVERGNE-RHÔNE-ALPES SPECTACLE VIVANT (2020). Confinement, ma vie de professionnel.le du spectacle, avec le soutien du Ministère de la Culture / Drac Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes et la Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, 218 p.
  • BARBÉRIS, I.; POIRSON, M. (2016). L’économie du spectacle vivant, n°3972, Que sais-je?
  • COBLENCE, E.; PALLEZ, F. (2015). “Nouvelles formes d’innovation publique”, Revue française de gestion, 251, pp.97-114.
  • CUSSET, F. (2021). Génie du confinement. Les liens qui libèrent.
  • EUZÉBY, F.; MARTINEZ, C. (2012). “Spectacle vivant et internet: Exister en ligne pour accroître la fréquentation en salle”, Décisions Marketing, 66, pp.59-71.
  • MAZARS-CHAPELON, P.; VILLEQUÈQUE-DUBUS, F. (2010). “De la politisation à l’instrumentation d’un outil de gestion: le cas du budget dans les théâtres associatifs”, Management & Avenir, 10, pp.60-79.
  • HORVATH, I.; CHABRILLAT, J. (2015). “Une LOLF socio-économique: appropriation de critères d’évaluation et élaboration d’outils de gestion dans les entreprises de spectacle vivant”, Gestion et management public, 3(1), pp.73-92.
  • NICOLAS, Y. (2010). “L’impact économique d’une activité culturelle comme motif au soutien public: définition et conditions de validité”, Revue d’économie politique, 120(1), pp.87-116.
  • OPALE /CRDLA (2020). Enquête Impact de la crise sanitaire du Covid-19 sur les associations culturelles employeuses, mai. Disponible sur [URL:].
  • PRODISS (2020). Étude d’impact du Covid-19 sur le secteur du Live. Disponible sur [URL:].
Caroline Demeyère
Chaire Économie sociale et solidaire de l’Université de Reims Champagne Ardenne − Laboratoire REGARDS EA6292
Campus Croix-Rouge, BP 30, 57 rue Pierre Taittinger 51571 Reims Cedex − Chercheuse en sciences de gestion et ingénieure de recherche de la Chaire
Stéphanie Havet-Laurent
INSEEC Grande Ecole − INSEEC U. Research center − 25 rue de l’Université CS 90725 69367 Lyon Cedex 07 − Enseignant-chercheur/IaeLyon School of Management − Université Lyon 3, Centre de recherche Magellan
Damien Richard
Inseec Lyon − 25, rue de l’Université CS 90725 69367 Lyon Cedex 07 − Enseignant-chercheur
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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