Rescue package – too little, too late?

9th July 2020

We are absolutely delighted with the governments unveiling of a £1.57bn support package for the arts. The pressure we as a collective put on the Culture Secretary and our constant fight has not gone unnoticed. Our industry has finally received the public acknowledgment it deserves as the lifeblood of British culture.

The arts sector has been given a great package - more than we ever thought - but, thinking realistically, £1.57bn isn’t a lot to go around and how will it be distributed? What is the plan? What is the application process?

As great as it is to finally get this support, is it also just too little, too late?

It has been an extremely tough few months for our industry. We are now in a critical condition, having witnessed the closure of many theatres and a huge number of redundancies. 

In Europe it’s a totally different story because the arts are heavily subsidised. In May, France supported their cultural workers by covering them under a national unemployment plan until August 2021. Germany, in June, announced a €1bn investment to their culture sector. Already some orchestras in Europe are performing and theatres are announcing their come back. 

However, back in the UK, Oliver Dowden has mentioned that the ‘essence’ of our support package is to protect the UK’s cultural buildings/institutions. 

This is fantastic for some theatres and their people, but for others, such as the National Theatre, which has had to make 400 of its workforce redundant, they are not in a position to reverse this decision even with this new investment. If this theatre giant is unable to turn things around, what hope do the smaller theatres in a similar situation have? 

Arts Council England (ACE) has also recently revealed a £33m funding package, which will provide ‘critical relief’ to 190 UK National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) that needed financial support by September.

The funding has been split as follows:

  • 39% London
  • 27.3% North
  • 17% Midlands
  • 9% South East
  • 8% South West

To find out more about NPOs receiving this support and also how it has been broken down see the What’s on Stage news article.

There’s a lot of information so far about theatres and organisations, but what about the key people? What about the creative freelancers who make up around 70% of our workforce? 

Dowden says that freelancers can take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme. Sadly, this opportunity is not available to all, which is leaving many of our industry out of work and struggling. 

Supporting the theatre workforce is crucial. As Christine Payne from Equity quite rightly says:

If this investment does not reach creative workers – the actors, dancers, stage management, singers, variety artists, directors, designers, choreographers and many other highly skilled workers in our talent base, we risk the diversity and success of the wider creative industries – worth £112 billion to the economy.

There are additional sources of hope however for freelancers. 

Film and stage director, Sam Mendes, along with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, has launched the Theatre Artists Fund, to reinvest in the industry and focus on supporting theatre freelancers. It already has £500,000 in the pot from Netflix. Read more here from The Stage.

Some great news here and fantastic to see organisations putting our people first. 

The next piece of news we’re waiting on is timescales. We’re scrabbling around in the dark, trying to plan a way forward with no idea of how or when we can come back. This is the part many of us are finding excruciatingly difficult. 

During lockdown, it has been proved that our sector is vital and heavily relied on by the world. Think about the plays you’ve watched online, the opera you’ve listened to, the musicals you’ve sung along with! We have been able to open ourselves up to a much wider audience - of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.

Therefore, when we do come back, I believe it to be vital that we provide a more diverse offering. We need to keep this new audience engaged and jump start our sector so that more people can access the arts, enjoy it and allow it to enrich their lives.

It’s time for us to be even more innovative, to take even more risks in what performances we put on and really listen to what our audiences want. It’s about creating opportunities, inspiring people and making theatre for everyone. Let’s not fall back on the same safe choices. Now let’s make sure we do have gender parity. That we really embrace diversity. Now more than ever we need to hear new voices.

I have a good feeling about the future. The next few months are going to be challenging and we still have a long way to go, but things are looking a lot brighter.