Pin It
Photography Aaron Paul, via Unsplash

The UK government has pledged over £1 billion to support arts venues

National and independent theatres, galleries, music venues, and more will be eligible for the funding, which has been welcomed by the industry

The UK government has unveiled a £1.57 billion support package to help protect national and independent arts venues, including theatres, music venues, galleries, museums, cinemas, and heritage sites, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement follows weeks of pressure by the culture industry, and comes just days after shuttered theatres across the country were covered in messages of support. Many arts venues, which have been closed since lockdown started in March, have insisted they will be under threat of permanent closure without support.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said the package will preserve “crown jewel” venues like the Royal Albert Hall and national galleries, as well as local and independent institutions across the country.

“Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation,” Dowden told BBC Breakfast. “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.”

Venues, organisations, and arts figures across the country have welcomed the news. Dazed’s co-founder Jefferson Hack said: “An inspired move from the government to stop our cultural institutions from collapse and give our arts and cultural sector the necessary boost to not only survive but innovate through the pandemic. This will help lift all communities, economically and spiritually, from the spectre of mass unemployment and closure of beloved venues towards hope for a brighter future for all.”

Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, said in a statement: “The voice of the creative sector has been heard loud and clear by the government and we warmly welcome their response. This investment acknowledges the mission critical role that the UK’s creative industries will play in recovery and growth of all parts of the country.”

Arts Council chairman Nicholas Serota described the funding as “a very significant investment”, adding: “I know our amazing artists and creative organisations will repay the faith that the government has shown by demonstrating the range of their creativity, by serving their communities, and by helping the nation recover as we emerge from the pandemic.” 

Music Venue Trust chief executive Mark Davyd added: “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.”

Last month (June 23), the Music Venue Trust wrote an open letter, signed by venues across the country, urging the government to support the industry during this time. Just last week (July 2), over 1,500 artists joined the call for action, with the likes of RadioheadFKA twigs, and Nick Cave backing the newly-launched #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, which aims to “show the vital importance of the UK’s live music industry”.  

Theatres have also praised the announcement. In a statement, the National Theatre said: “We feel very positive that this major investment will reach and sustain the vital talent and infrastructure which make British theatre truly world-leading.”

Julian Bird, the chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said in a statement that the government support “is hugely welcomed”. She added: “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.”

It’s currently unclear how the money will be divided between sectors, though it will be made up of £880m in grants and £270m in repayable loans in England, while £33m will go to Northern Ireland, £97m to Scotland, and £59m to Wales. A further £100m will be saved for national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust, and £120m will go towards restarting paused construction on venues.

Although Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said she welcomed the “much-needed injection of cash”, she said it was “too little, too late” for many venues, and urged the government to act quickly to help arts institutions in need, particularly those in small cities and towns.

Julian Knight, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons culture select committee, echoed Stevens’ sentiment: “This money is welcome and should take some out of the danger zone, if only temporarily. To secure their long-term future, there needs to be a targeted sector deal, possibly involving more generous tax breaks.”

It’s been three and a half months since the UK went into lockdown, shuttering arts venues, the service industry, and most offices. Last month, it emerged that more than one in four workers had been furloughed, with the government paying 80 per cent of the salaries of almost nine million people. On Saturday (July 4), the country saw the most significant easing of lockdown restrictions since March, with pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers allowed to open their doors.

Read our feature on UK independent venues’ fight for survival during the pandemic here.