Yesterday, the government announced plans to roll out a £1.57bn emergency financial support package for the UK culture sector. A statement on the UK government website said that ‘Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will be protected with emergency grants and loans’ and that money will be used to ‘restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites’ that was paused as a result of the lockdown. In an appearance on BBC News this morning, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the fund was a ‘new, very large pot’ of money which would be used to support the ‘crown jewels of our national life’ like the Royal Albert Hall.
After spending months in the dark about the government’s financial plans, dozens of UK concert hall and theatre directors have issued statements welcoming the news of an emergency fund with a cautious optimism. Back in May, Neil Constable, CEO of Shakespeare’s Globe, said the theatre was in ‘a very precarious position financially’ and would struggle to survive. In response to the fund, Constable said, ‘We at Shakespeare’s Globe welcome this significant investment from the government in our world-leading theatres and cultural institutions. As an independent charity, The Globe needs support throughout this difficult time and will now have the opportunity to plan to reopen fully by early 2021.’
A joint statement from the directors of Tate, the V&A, the Science Museum, The National Gallery and the British Museum echoed Constable’s words, saying: ‘HM government has recognised its duty of care for the national collections, held in trust for the benefit of the people of this country and of the whole world to enjoy and learn from forever.’
In an interview with Sky News, artistic director of the Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah said, ‘We’re just overjoyed… we’ve been scenario-planning in sand, and now to actually hear that this financial package coming towards us, it is a great relief.’
Meanwhile, the Music Venue Trust, a charity founded to support grassroots music venues, said in its statement today: ‘Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain’s world-class live music scene… This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to reopen every venue safely.’
While £1.57bn is a sizeable figure, there are so many venues in need of urgent financial support, and the fund will need to be distributed far and wide. For many, the announcement is too little, too late. Some cultural institutions are already close to financial breaking point and have made redundancies. Last week it was reported that 400 casual National Theatre staff would lose their jobs. Freelancers have already fallen through the gaps of government support, but it remains to be seen whether this money will allow some of their roles to be saved. Without further detail on how and when the support will be received, the future of so many venues remains uncertain.
The key question now is: how will the money be distributed? So far, we know that £1.15 billion of it will be delivered in a mix of grants and loans (with a claim that the loans will be issued on ‘generous terms tailored for cultural institutions to ensure they are affordable’). Another £100 million will go to the national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust, and £120 million investment will be used to restart construction projects that were paused by the lockdown. A further £188 million has been allocated across Northern Ireland (£33m), Scotland (£97m) and Wales (£59m).
The fund must be coupled with clear reopening guidelines for theatres and music venues if this is to serve as more than a temporary financial injection. Just last week, the Royal Albert Hall, which Dowden called one of the ‘crown jewels of our national life’ announced it could be facing closure. In its response to the £1.57bn investment, the Royal Albert Hall’s CEO Craig Hassall said, ‘Realistically, without further detail on a number of factors, we cannot be certain on our future. We need urgent clarity on when live performance with an audience might be possible now that pubs, planes and cinemas are open again, so we are also pleased to see that government is finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts. The creative industries are a vital part of the UK economy – contributing £111bn in 2018, according to government figures – and while this is a very welcome first step, much more work is going to be needed to put the cultural sector back on its feet.’
You can find the government’s full statement about the fund here.
Confused about which venues in London have reopened? Find out more here.
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