Culture

#SaveTheArts

By Caitlin Parr

Though a £1.5 billion emergency support package has been made available to arts, culture and heritage venues following the #SaveTheArtsUK campaign, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has publicly stated that this sum will not be enough to protect all arts venues and creative spaces from closure or severe economic detriment. 

With the grant aiming to support these venues that so many rely on for work, cultural immersion and entertainment, we originally held out hope that the grant would be enough to uphold the majority of the sector – especially after PM Boris Johnson promised that the emergency funding would be enough to “help safeguard the sector for future generations”. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately not, as already organisations such as Arts Council England, who have also recognised the underfunding, have pledged to donate an additional £33 million to the cause; and similar campaigns for specific industries within the sector have had to launch their own funding initiatives.

Though the #SaveTheArts campaign has now ended, and the funding sum has been decided as a result, theatre and arts fans are still dissatisfied with the amount of respect and support that the Government are giving to the industry. Throughout lockdown, households have become increasingly dependent on the arts for entertainment, escapism and also company in unfortunately lonely times. Although it has been an unprecedented time for all industries, it has been made unmistakably clear that the culture sector is once again being left behind.

Pubs, shops and tourist attractions are all gradually reopening in an attempt to entertain the UK post-lockdown, and also to rejuvenate our economy. But why not theatres? London’s West End brought a staggering £51 billion to the UK economy in 2019, with this figure alone showing that the economic benefits from supporting the industry are invaluable. 

Many theatre fans have argued that if it is safe to see the return of team and contact sports, then why can we not implement measures to ensure actors and performers working in close proximity on stage are safe too? This can only be answered by each theatre company individually, and it is recognised that no pressure should be applied to any productions who are uncomfortable in returning to work just yet. With West End hits such as Wicked, Six, and Dear Evan Hansen not opening until Winter Season 2020 at the earliest; and the much anticipated Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella pushing back opening to April 2021, it is understandably a desperately sad time for fans and performers whose careers already lie in constant uncertainty within the industry that is the performing arts.

Campaigning for More

Many other campaigns to save the arts, theatres, museums and music industries we love have launched during lockdown – all fighting for the same cause. Following the launch of the ‘Missing Live Theatre’ campaign, organised by the community for stage designers ‘Scene Change’, what appeared to be recycled crime-scene tape branded ‘Missing Live Theatre’ was found wrapped around empty theatres in Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh and London’s West End.

Another popular, and essential, campaign that launched during lockdown was #LetTheMusicPlay – organised by UK Music and supported by organisations such as the Musicians’ Union and PRS for Music following the realisations that the UK’s live-music industry will lose at least £900 million if it remains closed until the end of 2020; and that 90% of grassroots and local venues are at threat of having to close. #LetTheMusicPlay proposed three main asks to the Government –

  1. A clear timeframe for when venues will be reopening without the need for social distancing measures
  2. Access to finance and a support package for careers in place immediately
  3. A full exemption from VAT on ticket sales in the months following reopening, to make attending gigs and performances more affordable in our current economic climate

Once again, it is clear that the arts have been left behind in the economic evaluation of what necessities need support in this pandemic. Though, I can guarantee that those who forget to recognise the importance of funding the arts industry will enjoy the odd television series, trip to a museum, or gig in their spare time.

These requests from UK Music are reasonable, and aim to support those who work within the production and organisation of live music events – now one of the UK’s biggest social, economic and cultural industries is at risk. World renowned venues such as Manchester’s Gorilla and Deaf Institute have already been threatened with closure, but have received a life line from new owners willing to save the heart of one of the UK’s most rich and diverse music scenes. Though we will never be able to predict an accurate date as to when it will be completely safe for venues to reopen without social distancing measures in place, the security of knowing the industry is supported is a good start. #LetTheMusicPlay are also asking fans to write to their local MPs to rally support for the industry. By supporting your local venues and musicians post-lockdown, you can also contribute to the rejuvenation of this essential and incredible industry.

What Does This Mean for Wales?

Following recent news that Cardiff’s iconic Wales Millennium Centre will be closed until at least January 2021, it is estimated that our Capital’s economy is set to take a £70 million deficit, as well as the city losing approximately 1.6 million visitors. In this devastating time for Cardiff Bay, Welsh theatre and the 250 members of staff at risk of becoming redundant, many are demanding to know what the Welsh Government is doing to avert further crisis.

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart can provide these answers, as he unveiled that the Welsh Government “doesn’t have the firepower to support the arts in Wales”, so the UK Government are instead providing an additional £59 million to support the Welsh culture and arts sectors.

How to Help

During these troubling times it’s crucial that musicians, performers, artists and fans do not allow our culture and arts sectors to be left behind in the UK’s industry-wide race for economic stability. You can find out more and help at the following – 

#MissingLiveTheatre Project GoFundMe – https://bit.ly/MissingLiveTheatreGoFundMe

Supporting the West End – https://bit.ly/LondonTheatreDirectDonationLinks 

Theatre Professionals Support – https://theatresupport.info/

Museums – Search your favourite museum for more information on their donations process

#LetTheMusicPlay asking to write to local MPs – https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP

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