The long road to recovery – what happens after the Culture Recovery Fund?

Over the last few weeks, it has been wonderful to see nearly 2000 arts venues all around the UK receiving the much-needed funding boost from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. 

This lifeline of over £500M in grants, being delivered by Arts Council England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, aims to help protect our industry and ensure our future survival. For that we are truly indebted. 

There have been two rounds of funding, each with two award totals - under £1M and over £1M. Those lucky enough to be awarded in the first round and those awarded under £1M in the second round have already been announced.

70 per cent of the grants have so far been awarded outside of London, with many theatres and venues in the Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire areas being successful, including: 

The Royal and Derngate (£2,112,891)

The Stables (£847,000)

Bletchley Park (£477,000)

MK Gallery (£250,000)

Other venues receiving under £1M include: Chipping Norton Theatre, Queens Park Art Centre, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Oxford Playhouse Trust, MK Arts Centre and Pagrav Dance Company.

I am absolutely delighted that these organisations have finally been thrown a lifeline. Many of these I have worked with in recent times including MK Gallery, Pagrav Dance Company and the Royal and Derngate, so I feel very relieved for them.

This vital revenue stream will not only help keep these venues alive, but it will also ensure employment in our area, protect livelihoods, continue to make arts and culture accessible within our communities and help grow our local economy. 

The funding is only short term with stringent criteria e.g. the grant cannot be used to cover costs after March 31st 2021. This means that successful applicants will have to rethink and update their business plans for the next six months to ensure they are financially sustainable. Another strict condition is that successful applicants must visibly back the Government’s ‘Here for Culture’ campaign  - essentially thanking the Gov for the delay in their support, which has left our industry in the dire straits we find ourselves.

It will be a tough few months for many with tight turnarounds, but things are looking brighter and I hope they we can come through with some confidence. 

Those waiting to hear if they have been successful for over £1M in round 2, will have to wait until Friday 6 November. That, I am sure, will be a very intense wait. 

It is however bittersweet. On one hand we are celebrating those who have been awarded, but we are also sharing the sheer disappointment for those who were not. 

I have read that out of nearly 2000 organisations, 578 were rejected by ACE as being either not viable or not capable of surviving without financial support. Naturally the DCMS were inundated with applications and those with ‘immediate financial need’ were prioritised. Surely that is all arts venues? 

Several venues in our area were denied support, including popular live music venues MK11 and Unit 9, plus the 56 year old annual Towersey Festival, near Thame, all of which have served their communities for many years. 

The worst thing about this is that it appears that unsuccessful applicants are not eligible to benefit from other funds, nor are they allowed to appeal the decision. It is absolutely heart-breaking, and my thoughts are with all whose future remains unclear through no fault of their own. 

Oliver Dowden has said that the funding announcement is “a vital boost for the theatres, music venues, museums and cultural organisations that form the soul of our nation”. To that I truly agree. But why has it taken so long to hand out if we are indeed ‘the soul of our nation’? What is going to happen now to not only the rejected applicants, but also the many freelancers who continue to miss out on grants and other financial help?

These key people who make up 70% of our workforce are falling through the cracks. It’s fantastic that some of our struggling theatres and arts venues are receiving life changing support, but without our people - freelancers - our productions, projects, exhibitions and more, are just not possible. 

Now that our venues are beginning to be looked after, it is about time our industry friends and colleagues see the same support. Urgent support is needed if our industry is to survive.

During the pandemic we have all been turning to the arts in some form for pure entertainment and escapism. These artists and arts workers helped us all through a very dark time, now it is our turn to return the support and bring them back to work and into the jobs they love. 

Our industry is at breaking point. The funding is not enough, it has unfortunately come too late and it just isn’t a viable long-term solution. We have already lost so many fantastic community venues, groups, workers and more because of this delay. Sadly, we are undoubtedly going to lose more. 

It will be interesting to see what the successful applicants produce over the next few months. Whatever they come up with, particularly our local recipients, it is absolutely vital that we support them. 

However you choose to help, for example visit a theatre multiple times over the next few months, watch online productions, visit exhibitions, hire venue space for socially distanced meetings, trainings and rehearsals, and more; please do what you can. It means a great deal to all of us.

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