Post-lockdown cultural recovery plans still vague2:26, 16th June 2020
About the only thing that is certain heading into high summer is that uncertainty for musicians will continue for many weeks yet. Wherever you live in Great Britain there is an element of dither in dealing with the restoration of performance or the protection of arts organisations if that is delayed or significantly for several more months.
In England the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) called together a Task Force (there are four in other areas of government too) to report on the requirements for Cultural Renewal. The idea is to find out what is necessary and then take the list to the Treasury. What happens after that is even less certain, despite the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden’s assertion in the London Evening Standard recently that ‘the money is in the bag’. So far in the crisis the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has avoided giving special dispensation to any particular sector. That is, however, what the arts need.
Mark Pemberton, chief executive of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) says, ‘We are just focusing on getting an orchestra back on stage or into the pit. In theory we can already go back to work behind closed doors. There is a desire in DCMS that concert halls and theatres can open from July but practically and financially that is just not possible. It is not helped by the fact that Public Health England want further consideration about how safe playing wind and brass instruments is.’
There is a desire in DCMS that concert halls and theatres can open from July but practically and financially that is just not possible.
As far as the effectiveness of the Creative Renewal Task Force goes, the ABO, along with the Society of London Theatres, the Creative Industries Federation and others, is part of a Working Group that meets frequently with the Minister of State, Caroline Dinenage. ‘The trouble is that DCMS has very little time to report so it tends to think about the issues in a very generic way – but then if you try to apply solutions that work for everything, you end up with something that is nothing.’
The Incorporated Society of Musicians’ (ISM) chief executive, Deborah Annetts, said, ‘We are clear that the music sector needs long-term financial support if it is to survive and thrive. We have seen in Germany and New Zealand that the governments there have taken steps to provide this support. Clearly now is the time for big-thinking and a creative approach that makes use of the full range of policy tools available, such as tax reliefs or subsidies. There can be no one size fits all approach for a sector as diverse as music.’
The Welsh Government passed the request for comment to Arts Council Wales. Nick Capaldi, its chief executive, says that the most important thing is ‘clear guidance on timing, from Public Health Wales as much as the Welsh Government. The arts must not slip off the table when the broader economy is being discussed.’ He says that there is a realisation that arts venues are likely to be ‘at the back end of the re-opening sequence’ and that guidance is being developed as to what practical steps performing venues will have to go through. ‘We have to think not only of presenters, the venues, but of the producers too. Any general help the UK Treasury gives will also come to Wales via the Barnett formula, so the lobbying at that level the Welsh Government can do is extremely important.’
Scotland is in much the same position. It has set up an economic recovery task force, reporting to the Minister (Cabinet Secretary), Fiona Heslop, who is usefully also responsible for culture. The spokesperson commented that, ‘We do not underestimate the devastating impact this pandemic has had on Scotland’s creative industries, particularly those that rely on audiences and live performances. The National Performing Companies have made a number of arrangements to safeguard the incomes of staff, including some instances of furloughing where possible, and of the artists and creative personnel who were working on productions and projects which could no longer progress as planned, and we remain in close contact to help them navigate their way through this crisis. The Creative, Tourism and Hospitality Enterprises Hardship Fund and Creative Scotland’s Bridging Bursaries have also supported musicians and others who work in the music industry, recognising the specific challenges faced by freelance musicians. The Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund has also been a lifeline for many in the music industry. We continue to work with the music industry and venues to develop guidance to help performances resume and venues reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.’
Back in London, DCMS said, ‘We are working closely with the classical music sector through the Entertainment and Events Working Group. We are speaking regularly with other government departments, including the Treasury, on ways the government may be able to further support DCMS sectors in addition to the unprecedented financial assistance already provided. We know that social distancing means that some sectors in particular (like classical music and live performance) may take longer than others to recover, and are discussing with the sectors how we may assist them meet the challenges they are facing.’