Government gives recovery funds to the arts: too little too late?

Funds are finally being given to the arts to rescue the dying industry. However, many arts venues and organisations have already closed due to lack of money, is it too little too late for the arts industry?

The Culture Secretary has announced a fund of £257 million for the arts industry. Whilst this will keep the industry alive for a while longer, if the lockdown lasts longer than a month it could be calamitous for the sector.

Coronavirus has devastated many lives, and affected the livelihoods of many businesses. One of the sectors that has suffered the most at the hands of COVID-19 is the arts industry. Without being able to sell out theatres and go forward with such things as performing arts classes, organisations have been struggling to survive without money. 

Due to this, many smaller businesses that are not run by big corporations have had to shut down. The end of the second lockdown could see even more being forced to permanently close their doors.

The executive director of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, Steve Freeman, was quoted a couple months ago stating that “the current economic landscape is desperate for theatres up and down the country”. The executive director also announced that whilst in normal years the annual turnover would be more than £10 million, their company is now forecasting that they may have to make as many as 65% of their staff redundant. 

The Artistic Director for the Manchester Royal Exchange said, in regards to the staff they have had to permanently make redundant, that it is “heart-breaking” and “frustrating” that the government didn’t help them in time to stop the catastrophic change to the arts landscape.

“It’s been heart-breaking to come to the realisation that this is the action we have no choice but to take. Our staff are dedicated, talented, loyal and they don’t deserve this – and neither do the thousands of people in our industry who are facing job loss and  uncertainty. It is an awful time for us all, and it’s also hugely frustrating that government support simply hasn’t reached us in time, despite clear warning signals and cries for help.”

Leeds’ own venues, the Heritage Theatres, had to unfortunately close earlier this year, leading to a 99% loss of its income. The company also had to furlough 96% of its staff. However, the Leeds’ Heritage Theatres have luckily been handed £119,900 by National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will go towards the costs of reopening. The chief executive officer of the group, Chris Blythe, described the grant as a “lifeline” and said that whilst they are extremely grateful to the National Lottery for the fund, without the government grant it just isn’t enough.

The arts industry is clearly evolving and changing to stay relevant during the pandemic, with clubs doing online classes and theatres performing to an empty auditorium, with audiences watching from home. However, out of almost 2000 arts organisations, 578 were rejected for the funding. With more than a fourth of all organisations being rebuffed by the government and redundancies up and down the country, it is inevitable that the arts industry will be completely different and a lot smaller by the time the United Kingdom emerges from the ruins of the pandemic.

Sarah Garraway

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