Following weeks of mounting calls for support from arts venues, the UK government has finally unveiled a £1.57 billion support package for cultural, arts, and heritage institutions.
Whilst pubs, cinemas and restaurants have all been allowed to reopen as lockdown measures ease, the majority of cultural and arts venues remain closed. The threat that the creative industries simply will not recover from the virus resulted in increasing pressure on the government to take action.
More than 175,000 people signed a parliament petition demanding more support for the arts amidst Covid-19, whilst many within the industry shared their concerns on social media. Dame Judi Dench recorded a video stating that the arts “are a necessity” and that those in the industry “need backing and we need help from the government”.
The government has finally recognised the need to provide urgent and significant funding
With more than 700,000 British people employed in the sector, it would appear that the government has finally recognised the need to provide urgent and significant funding. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the UK’s cultural industry as “the beating heart of this country”. He was echoed by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who labelled it as “the soul of our nation”, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who called the venues that would benefit from the support package “the lifeblood of British culture”.
The size of the investment has been met with praise and gratitude from theatres, art, and music venues. Former director of the National Theatre and founder of London’s Bridge Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, called it “a much better plan than anyone expected”. He said the only proper response was to congratulate and thank those who undertook “tenacious and detailed lobbying” for government support.
UK theatres alone create an annual ticket revenue of approximately £1.2 billion, making VAT payments of £133 million per annum. With more than a third of all employees in the arts working in theatres and 70% of jobs at risk, this funding was absolutely vital to ensure the survival of British theatre.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre warned it would not survive the year without a cash investment of at least £5.7 million
The investment was not only necessary to save jobs, it was vital to protect elements of culture for which the UK is globally acclaimed. Indeed, prior to Mr Sunak’s unveiling of support for the arts, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre warned it would not survive the year without a cash investment of at least £5.7 million. Similarly bleak warnings were also issued by the Old Vic, the Royal Academy, and Royal Albert Hall.
The London Theatre Consortium claimed that putting on performances with social distancing measures simply would not be economically viable, nor would repeatedly opening and closing if there were new outbreaks of Covid-19. With the threat of the closure of many of Britain’s most famous historical venues and popular tourist attractions, the government’s support package can be deemed a vital decision, both for culture and the economy.
However, whilst expressing relief and gratitude, many have warned that the arts remain in a dangerously precarious position. Gavin Barlow, chief executive and artistic director of the Albany performing arts centre in London, said: “Although this financial support is welcome, our future remains far from certain.” He was echoed by Dame Judi Dench, who said: “It will probably be spread very thinly, but nevertheless we are all incredibly grateful.”
The UK government stayed quiet on the matter
However, the government has also received criticism for delaying its announcement for such a long period of time. Whilst other nations were issuing funding for the arts throughout the month of June, the UK government stayed quiet on the matter. Leaders of many other countries such as France, Germany, and Canada announced support for creative industries several weeks earlier than Mr Johnson. The government’s delay resulted in increased redundancies, which could potentially have been avoided if the relevant organisations knew that they would receive financial support.
Yet it cannot go unnoticed that the amount of UK funding for the arts due to Covid-19 is significantly larger than in the vast majority of other countries. Whilst the extent to which the virus is devastating the UK has meant that the arts have also suffered more than in many other countries, creative industries are welcoming the substantial support that has now been offered.
Whilst the arts industry remains in a vulnerable position, the £1.57 billion support package is a vital and widely appreciated decision. It reflects that arts, culture, and heritage have finally been recognised by the government as crucially important to the UK.