After outcry, education minister says popular culture program for kids won’t end

After outcry, education minister says popular culture program for kids won’t end

Yoav Gallant tweets temporary funding will pay for performances, after outrage over further loss of livelihood for performers as well as over schoolkids’ ending access to the arts

Street performers entertain children on the summer vacation on Ben Yehuda street in central Jerusalem, on August 13, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Street performers entertain children on the summer vacation on Ben Yehuda street in central Jerusalem, on August 13, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Saturday he had granted at least a temporary reprieve to the popular Sal Tarbut program (literally “culture basket”) within the education system, which had been up for cancellation, and had earmarked temporary funding to allow schoolchildren to continue to attend performances and exhibitions.

“I have stopped the abolition of Sal Tarbut in the education system,” Gallant wrote on Twitter. “I have agreed to allocate NIS 8 million ($2.35 million) for a temporary solution until the end of the work year.”

A planned protest by performers due to take place on Sunday was called off.

The government-owned Israel Association of Community Centers handles the program, and late last week had announced its cancellation for unspecified reasons, causing outrage within the culture industry, where it is seen as critical to the livelihood of many artists.

The program is responsible for much of the cultural experience of children at schools.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a passing the baton ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Sal Tarbut is perhaps the only opportunity for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to go to shows, see exhibitions, hear concerts and it is not a matter of money but a matter of values,” said Uri Rashtik, director general of actors’ union Shaham. “How can the Israeli government look our children in the eye? This decision also has serious implications for actors who have not worked for five months.”

There was deep concern the cancellation would do further damage to an industry already decimated by the coronavirus pandemic with the closure of theaters and other cultural venues.

“Sal Tarbut is a project established 30 years ago by then-president Yitzhak Navon. Its intention was to allow every student in the country to experience and be exposed to culture from all its angles,” said Hadas Calderon, the artistic director of the National Theater for Children and Youth.

“This enterprise allows almost 30,000 performances a year. Our theater has been operating for 30 years and 90 percent of my theater’s activities are through it. Children get to experience educational, high-quality, non-commercial theater, selected by committees and specific criteria.”

Habima actors and workers demonstrate to call on the government to open museums, theaters and cultural institutions in Tel Aviv, May 12, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The culture industry has been hit particularly hard by government regulations meant to stem the virus’s spread, with most events canceled and some heavily restricted since the outbreak began. Many of those who work in the industry are self-employed and have less access to social benefits than salaried employees.

Heads of cultural institutions have warned that without a plan to enable performances to take place in some form, they may collapse and never reopen.

Culture events, venues, bars and nightclubs are currently closed until further notice. All gatherings are capped at 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors.

Lawmakers indicated last Monday that they would move to ensure public access to cultural events, including in some indoor venues, in the near future, seemingly setting up another brawl with the government. A Knesset committee has already overturned several government closure orders.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

Street performers take part in a protest calling for financial support from the government at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Gallant and Finance Minister Israel Katz agreed last week on a multi-billion-shekel plan for opening the coming school year on time, despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The NIS 4.2 billion ($1.2 billion) plan was backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will now be brought to the cabinet for approval.

Channel 13 reported that NIS 2.6 billion ($762 million) will be diverted to covering the cost of boosting manpower to enable classes to be split into smaller capsules as necessary. A further NIS 1.2 billion ($351 million) will be used to improve the distance learning infrastructure that forms a key part of the plan for older grades. Gallant has previously said the ministry is striving to ensure that every school student in the country has access to distance learning, which is not currently the case.

The rest of the budget package will be for hygiene and protective equipment, support programs for weaker sectors of the population, and information services, the Channel 13 report said.

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