Arts venues welcome £1.57bn government support

06-07-2020

The government has unveiled a £1.57bn support package to help protect the futures of UK theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural venues.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Breakfast new grants and loans aim to preserve "crown jewels" in the UK's art sector as well as local venues.

It follows several weeks of pressure, with industry leaders warning that many venues were on the brink of collapse.

Independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will also be eligible.

Guidance for a phased return of the performing arts, starting with performances behind closed doors and rehearsals, is expected to be published by the government shortly.

Mr Dowden said the package is all "new money" and has two broad aims - to preserve "crown jewel" venues like the Royal Albert Hall and national galleries, while also helping local institutions across the UK.

He said institutions applying for the new grants and loans through industry bodies would have to prove how they contribute to wider economic growth.

A string of theatres have announced plans to make staff redundant in recent weeks, after being closed since the coronavirus pandemic took hold earlier this year.

Adrian Vinken, the chief executive of the Theatre Royal in Plymouth told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "impossible to say" if the announcement would be enough to prevent up to 100 job losses there until more detail is released.

The announcement of the new funding comes just two days after theatres across the UK were covered in colourful messages of support.

The rescue package has been warmly welcomed by many arts leaders, some of whom said they thought it to be at the upper end of what had been hoped for. The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, who has been under pressure from the arts and heritage sector to deliver a meaningful funding solution to a crisis brought about by Covid-19, feels vindicated that his behind-closed-doors approach to negotiations with the Treasury has paid off.

As always, the devil will be in the detail. The government has not specified how the money will be divided between competing art forms or regions, nor how the application process will work. There will be winners and losers.

And then there's the elephant in the auditorium: when will the rules around social distancing in performing arts venues be relaxed to allow the show to go on?

Many theatre producers are baffled by what they see as 'one rule for them, and one rule for us', approach by government, particularly when it comes to travel. Why is it OK for people to sit side-by-side on a train or plane for hours but not in a theatre, which they argue is a much more controllable environment? As far as they are concerned, that is the billion dollar question.

Source: BBC News