The UK government has announced a £1.57 billion package to fund music venues, independent cinemas, museums, galleries, theatres and heritage sites following repeated calls to save the arts.
The ‘world-leading’ support package, announced yesterday, July 5, offers emergency grants and loans to help the companies and organisations ‘weather the impact of coronavirus’ as the outbreak forced them to close and has left them unable to welcome big crowds.
The money marks the biggest one-off investment in UK culture and comes amid other measures taken by the government to help companies and institutions keep their heads above water, such as loans, business rate holidays and the coronavirus job retention scheme.
The funds include a £1.15 billion ‘support pot’ for cultural organisations in England, comprised of £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million in grants, plus £100 million for national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust, and £120 million of capital investment to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and heritage construction projects in England.
Funding is also included for ‘the devolved administrations’ in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, according to a government press release.
Prime minister Boris Johnson described the UK’s cultural industry as ‘the beating heart of this country’, citing ‘iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries [and] gigs performed in local basement venues.’
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.
Similarly, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden dubbed arts and culture as ‘the soul of our nation’, saying:
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.
I said we would not let the arts down and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.
The news comes after numerous members of the arts community took to social media to protest the lack of funding being given, with music artists using the hashtag ‘#LetTheMusicPlay’ to demand action to save live music and actors sharing stories about losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
Tom Kiehl, acting CEO of UK Music, described the package as a ‘huge step forward’ and a ‘lifesaver for many music venues’.
UK Music has long called for sector-specific support to ensure live music can recover. Eligibility for grants and loans must be as broad as possible to ensure maximum take-up from across the industry from those in desperate need of help.
Those that don’t have a track record of public funding must also not be put at a disadvantage. We are seeking urgent talks with Arts Council England to discuss further.
The government plans to use ‘expert independent figures’ from the arts sector, such as the Arts Council England, Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute, to help it decide exactly which institutions, companies and organisations the money should go to.
However, the latest decision from the government has been met with scepticism for its apparent short-sightedness.
Labour’s shadow culture 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.
More details are set to be announced in the coming weeks.
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