The Government’s announcement of a £1.57 billion package of support for cultural, arts and heritage organisations is a welcome and significant step forward for these sectors. It should hopefully provide a lifeline to many across the performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema.
It follows a well coordinated campaign demonstrating the need for urgent support and the value of the funds being made available, including £880 million of grants and £270 million of repayable finance, exceeds the expectations of many of those involved.
However, the speed and effectiveness of implementation of arrangements to access these funds will be as important as the money itself. Many organisations, both not-for-profit/charitable and commercial have embarked on redundancy consultations or will be doing so imminently given the reduction in support provided under the Government’s furlough scheme from August onwards.
In order to have any impact on impending decisions and therefore to preserve jobs, those organisations will need comfort in the near future that they will have access to funds, how much they will receive and on what terms. This will also be the case for organisations which are rapidly running out of cash and need the reassurance of funding in order to be able to continue to trade solvently.
At the moment, it isn’t clear to what extent to which commercial companies will be able to access funds. The bodies charged with distributing the funds, including Arts Council England, may find themselves having to adapt quickly to working in areas which they have historically not had to engage with, such as the commercial sector or with new structures, such as loans as well as grants, which in each case may bring challenges.
Another necessary area of focus is ensuring that the benefit of these funds reaches the many freelancers upon whom the arts and culture sectors are dependent, especially given that significant numbers have fallen outside of the various other government support programmes such as the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. That will necessitate thoughtful design of grant programmes and a willingness amongst organisation recipients to recognise the importance of the wider ecology which makes up the sector and that the benefit of funding needs to be spread.
The launch of the Theatre Artists Fund, pump-primed with a significant donation from Netflix is a helpful short-term measure to provide emergency support for freelancers, alongside other existing schemes such as the Association of Independent Musicians crisis fund for musicians.
Ultimately, this package of support can only be a stop-gap measure until theatres, concert halls and other venues can re-open on a fully operational basis. The Government’s five-stage roadmap for the re-opening of arts venues still does not have a timeline attached to it. A clear timeline is needed for it to have any meaningful effect.
Another big challenge will be the lack of availability of COVID-related insurance cover once productions do restart. At present it is difficult to envisage insurers providing cover against losses if productions are interrupted or closed in the future resulting from COVID-related causes, such as local lockdowns or company members needing to self-isolate. These areas will all need further attention as the arts and cultural sectors start to get back up on their feet.