Rishi Sunak announces new £1.57billion support package to 'protect' the Arts

5 July 2020, 22:45

The Lyceum Theatre in London is closed and wrapped in tape
The Lyceum Theatre in London is closed and wrapped in tape. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

The Government has announced a £1.57 billion support package to "protect" the future of Britain's museums, galleries and theatres.

Independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues are also eligible for the emergency grants and loans.

The Government said: "Repayable finance (for the loans) will be issued on generous terms tailored for cultural institutions to ensure they are affordable."

Arts Council England, the Royal Opera House, the Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre, and the Music Venue Trust were among those to welcome the funding.

Independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues are also eligible for the emergency grants and loans
Independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues are also eligible for the emergency grants and loans. Picture: PA

Guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors is expected to be published by the Government shortly.

The package comes after some theatres - which are not yet able to stage live performances - closed down, making staff redundant, amid the pandemic.

Museums have also said they face an uncertain future, while 1,500 artists and acts signed a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden calling for a road map for the live music industry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK's cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.

"This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down."

The Government said the money "represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture" and will help struggling institutions "stay afloat while their doors are closed".

Mr Dowden said: "Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast-growing creative industries.

"I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations.

"Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "Our world-renowned galleries, museums, heritage sites, music venues and independent cinemas are not only critical to keeping our economy thriving, employing more than 700,000 people, they're the lifeblood of British culture.

"That's why we're giving them the vital cash they need to safeguard their survival, helping to protect jobs and ensuring that they can continue to provide the sights and sounds that Britain is famous for."

Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota said the package was a "very significant investment".

Creative organisations will be "serving their communities and... helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic", he said.

Music Venue Trust chief executive Mark Davyd said it "warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain's world class live music scene".

"This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to safely reopen live music," he added.

Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre, said it "hugely welcomed" the funding.

"Venues, producers and the huge workforce in the theatre sector look forward to clarity of how these funds will be allocated and invested, so that artists and organisations can get back to work as soon as possible," he said.

"Our industry's united ambition is to be able to play its vital role in the nation's economic and social recovery and this investment will allow us to do so."

Royal Opera House chief executive Alex Beard said the funding was a "vital next step on the road to recovery for the industry and will help to support and sustain the UK's vibrant arts ecology through this crisis".

The "support will be a catalyst for unlocking the extraordinary creativity embedded in the UK's world-renowned creative industries", he said.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said the "news is truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future".

Ben Roberts, BFI chief executive, said it was "welcome news for our independent cinemas, who play a vital cultural role across the country".

Nottingham Playhouse artistic director Adam Penford said the "package recognises just how much our nation values our world-class arts and culture. The devil's in the detail and we await further information, including how it will be distributed, which will be key to its success".

The Government said funding will also be provided to restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites paused as a result of the pandemic

Decisions on awards will be made working alongside expert independent figures from the sector.

The £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England will be made up of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million of grants.

The funding also includes money for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33 million), Scotland (£97 million) and Wales (£59 million), the Government said.

National Theatre director Rufus Norris said: "The National Theatre emphatically welcomes this vital support from Government which recognises the crucial economic, cultural and social impact of theatre and culture in the life of our nation.

"We are extremely thankful to see such a strong vote of confidence from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Culture Secretary.

"Although there will be many challenges ahead to operating in the new environment, the NT and theatre companies across the country stand ready to respond with creativity and commitment, and to reopen as soon as is safe.

A view of the closed Odeon Luxe Cinema showing NHS Tribute Signs in Leicester Square during the Covid-19
A view of the closed Odeon Luxe Cinema showing NHS Tribute Signs in Leicester Square during the Covid-19. Picture: Getty

"We feel very positive that this major investment will reach and sustain the vital talent and infrastructure - both organisations and freelancers - which make British theatre truly world-leading."

Labour shadow DCMS secretary Jo Stevens said: "Whilst we welcome the announcement of a much-needed injection of cash into the sector, for many this is too little too late.

"The Government needs to ensure that this vital funding gets to those theatres and other organisations currently teetering on the brink, and fast - especially those across the towns and small cities where live performance venues and other arts organisations are so valuable to local economies, providing many interdependent jobs, particularly in hospitality.

"What we now need is a Back to Work Budget focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, and for the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme to those who still cannot work while venues stay closed so that organisations can make plans to keep our world-class creative talent in the sector."

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: "This announcement was long overdue, but it's good the Government have finally listened to calls to set up a fund to rescue the struggling arts sector.

"This mustn't be a repeat of the emergency catch-up funding for schools which isn't starting until September. Ministers must ensure this funding gets out of the door quickly to help theatres and music venues stay afloat.

"Struggling arts venues across the country are already on their last legs and cutting jobs, they need this support now."

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