Thursday 28 May 2020

The Covid-19 Crisis, or, What Should the Arts Sector Do?

Over the last ten days or so the scale of the crisis facing the Arts has at last started to be brought before the public. The Globe, the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, a group of major organisations, and now the Southbank Centre have spelled out in stark terms the financial doom staring the sector in the face as it is forced to spend through its reserves just to survive. The Financial Times provided a good overview yesterday. Already venues have failed in LeicesterSouthampton and in Southport. If major organisations like these are facing collapse, consider how much worse the situation will be further down the food chain where organisations have little or nothing in reserve. Yes the Arts Council is doing its best with emergency grants to organisations outside the national portfolio (my twitter timeline in recent days has had plenty of groups issuing thanks) and now with emergency grants to freelancers (a group ill-served by government support mechanisms in general during this crisis and whose support at the moment is scheduled to be cut off completely at the end of May). But it is horribly clear that the crisis in its scale and likely duration dwarfs what support the government has so far offered.

Yet the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and his Department have been slow to respond and reluctant to acknowledge just how deep the crisis is. As a regular audience member very worried about the fate of venues and art forms that are a huge part of my life I have had little sense that the government is particularly engaged by the crisis. Only on 20th May did Dowden, rather oddly sent out to lead that day's press conference, address the situation in a prominent public forum. Unfortunately all that he announced as far as the arts was concerned was a "renewal task force". Some criticised the membership. While not being wholly convinced on that point, the much more serious problem was the proposed focus of the task force which was "to develop creative drive the return of sectors." The only mention of finance offered no sense of the scale of the crisis facing the sector: "the Taskforce will look to see how creative new approaches could help sectors thrive in future, building on existing channels of government support...".