The U.K. government has unveiled a £1.57 billion ($1.96 billion) support package for the country’s beleaguered arts sector.
U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted news of the package on Sunday evening: “We’re introducing a world-leading £1.57 billion rescue package to help cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the impact of coronavirus.”
The lifeline follows months of lobbying by unions and industry orgs on behalf of the arts sector, which is in dire circumstances as a result of the pandemic and close to four-month shutdown of cultural venues, which aren’t able to operate normally, even with reduced social distancing requirements.
The deal includes £880 million ($1 billion) in grants for the financial year to April 2021 — a package that will be shared between theaters, music venues, heritage sites, museums, galleries and independent cinemas. The government is also offering £270 million ($336 million) in repayable loans.
Elsewhere, £100 million ($124 million) of targeted funds will be distributed to national cultural institutions in England, while a separate £120 million ($149 million) will go towards restarting construction at cultural sites. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland will receive £33 million ($41 million), Scotland will get £97 million ($121 million) and Wales will receive £59 million ($73 million).
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the U.K. can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed.”
More than 350,00 people have been furloughed across the leisure and recreation industries since mid-March. The sector employs a workforce of around 700,000.
The relief package comes at a make-or-break moment for countless arts institutions across the U.K., and particularly theaters, which are especially hard hit by social distancing requirements. A small number of regional theaters have already gone into administration while redundancies have begun at organizations small and large, including leading West End producer Delfont Mackintosh, which revealed in June that productions including “Les Miserables” and “Hamilton” won’t return until 2021.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden provided a five-point roadmap for theaters in late June, but failed to provide potential dates for reopening or any sort of timetable that would allow organizations to prepare for the months ahead. The timing is critical for theaters that rely on Christmas pantomimes to fund their year-round seasons — many of which need to begin prepping in the summer months.
According to a recent report commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation, the pandemic is projected to cost the theater sector around £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in revenue, with up to 70% of jobs lost.
Industry org Society of London Theatre’s (SOLT) 2019 ticket sales data revealed that the London theater audience alone generated £799 million ($995 million) in box office revenue. The West End drew more than 15.3 million in admissions — nearly one million higher than Broadway — and filled a record 80.7% of available seats.
Commenting on the government’s relief package, Julian Bird, chief executive for SOLT, said: “The government’s announcement of a £1.57 billion package of support for the arts, culture and heritage sector in the U.K. is hugely welcomed — for the theatre and performing arts sector, we have worked intensively with DCMS and HMT to seek this clear commitment to our world-leading industry and we thank them.
“Venues, producers and the huge workforce in the theater sector look forward to clarity of how these funds will be allocated and invested, so that artists and organizations can get back to work as soon as possible,” said Bird. “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.”
DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP called the package “the first step to help prevent some of our major cultural institutions from going under.”
“This money is welcome and should take some out of the danger zone, if only temporarily. But to secure their long-term future there needs to be a targeted sector deal, possibly involving more generous tax breaks,” he warned.
“We know that one metre social distancing doesn’t work economically for most theaters and venues in the U.K. We ultimately need to have a means by which these organizations can open safely and gain the confidence of the public.”
Elsewhere, entertainment union Bectu, which has been lobbying for bespoke support for the arts since March, has said the government has “woken up to our warnings and those of the whole creative sector, that without support, we stood to lose a huge amount of our world-beating creative industries.”
Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, said the union will be scrutinizing the details of the package “to make sure it lives up to the real needs of our sector.”
“We must see the most rapid action to stem the tide of redundancies and closures that are emerging in the sector. For some, this is already too late and we will be pushing government to get this funding out there within days,” said Childs.
“The terms of these grants and loans must recognize that there is still a long journey to recovery for theaters and live events and this package is the first cautious step towards reviving the sector. While this support was necessary, the government also needs to think again on support for the forgotten freelancers. They have fallen through the gaps in government support, and it is a scandal that they have been ignored by the government so far.”