The Guardian: “Rishi Sunak’s arts bailout is more divisive than it looks”

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In early July, the Government announced the good news that Britain’s globally renowned arts, culture and heritage industries will receive a ‘world-leading’ £1.57 billion rescue package to help weather the impact of coronavirus. We are still waiting for the details of the grants and loans, and time is of the essence. There are concerns that the monies may not arrive in time to save many venues and institutions. There are also real worries about the huge numbers of freelancers in our industry, many of whom do not qualify for government support.

Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian’s chief culture writer has written an informative article called “Rishi Sunak’s arts bailout is more divisive than it looks” which explains some of the issues with the approach.

Firstly, the article explores how despite the Government’s rescue package, there is a long and difficult route ahead for arts organisations – here’s an excerpt: 

“The government announced a £1.57bn rescue package for UK theatres, heritage sites, museums, arts centres, independent cinemas, galleries and concert halls. This is probably just about sufficient, if spread carefully, to keep a national infrastructure alive. But the package of aid, which the government – in its reflexively and unattractively boosterish way – calls “world-leading”, is no magic bullet. There will be a long and difficult route ahead for arts companies, as they navigate an uncertain future of reduced audience capacity, potential second waves and further lockdowns, and a shaky sense of how soon the public will be willing to partake once more in mass gatherings in confined spaces.

Or take the National Theatre in London. Until the pandemic, it was earning 80% of its own income, made possible by filling its auditoriums to 90% of their capacity. A phalanx of profitable bars, cafes and restaurants supported the effort. It has been pushed to the edge by Covid-19. It’s hard to say which sector of the economy is in more difficulties: hospitality or the arts.” 

It also talks about the huge number of freelancers in creative industries, many of whom do not qualify for government support:

“Indeed, the fate of the British arts workforce in light of Covid-19 is revealing another flaw in the model. Britain has lately prided itself on its self-employed creatives – who are, theoretically, networked, competitive, independent and in charge of their own destinies. But right now those destinies look out of control. These freelance artists, actors, composers, musicians, technicians, stage managers, sound engineers – those who make the work that people pay to see – are deeply vulnerable.

The government rhetoric around the arts-support package is centred on institutions, while they, the makers of art, will be cut loose from the support scheme for the self-employed in August. The always uncertain relationship between institutions and artists – the hardware and the software of the creative field – is being strained as the interests of the two groups diverge. Financially, though certainly not from a public-purpose point of view, it makes sense for venue-based institutions to do as little as possible until better days arrive; but artists are aching to get back to work. Venues, even when they reopen, will need to cut overheads – bad news for creators.”

An interesting read! The full article is available on The Guardian’s website here: www.theguardian.com/cultural-rescue-package-artists-institutions-covid-19