England arts bailout a ‘gamechanger’ – but some will miss out | Culture

The government’s allocation of £257m in funds to support arts organisations and venues has been welcomed as a “gamechanger” for struggling venues, but there have been calls for urgent support for freelancers and those who missed out on grants.

On Monday, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) confirmed the 1,385 arts organisations across England that had been successful in their applications for funds designed to secure venues and arts organisations until April 2021.

John Gilhooly, the artistic director of Wigmore Hall, which received at £1m one of the largest grants on offer, said he was thankful for the money but that the government still needed to work out “how the arts operate” while ensuring arts workers do not fall through the cracks.

He said: “This is brilliant and the culture secretary has said – and we’ve got to take his word for it – that he will look at the plight of freelancers. They are foremost in my mind today: musicians, actors, artists, anybody who can’t work.”

Wigmore Hall reopened in mid-September with socially distanced performances, and has also been hosting virtual concerts while asking for donations. The 50-seat Finborough Theatre, which has been completely shut since the pandemic started and was awarded a grant of £59,574, is on the other end of the spectrum.

Neil McPherson, Finborough Theatre’s artistic director, said the grant is a “gamechanger” that would secure the venue’s future and pay for its two members of staff. “We’re not totally out of the woods, but it will make a massive difference and mean we are able to come back,” he said.

Other successful grants included The Clapham Grand (£300,000), Bradford’s Kala Sangam (£123,000), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (£843,000) and the Brudenell social club in Leeds was given £220,429.

The Music Venues Trust (MVT) said about 90% of the grassroots music venues, such as the Brudenell, were given grants. “We’re looking at a really incredibly positive major intervention by government that’s going to have massive impact on the grassroots sector,” said Mark Davyd, the CEO of the MVT.

Others were less enthusiastic and warned that even with the grants, arts organisations were going to have a difficult winter with no reopening date in site for many theatres and venues.

Jon Morgan, director of Theatres Trust, said that the arts support package was never going to be enough to support all the venues and theatres and it was important that attention was paid to the losers as well as the winners. “We had hoped that November would bring good news about when theatres might reopen fully, but with the prime minister’s announcement of a three-tier lockdown system that now looks unlikely,” he said.

“There is still a real danger of more redundancies and ultimately losing theatres that add so much to their local areas, to people’s sense of place and to town centre economies.”

The plight of arts freelancers not eligible for government support since the pandemic started was also raised. The Incorporated Society of Musicians, an industry body, said the funds would not create a “cultural bounceback” and called for a freelance performers support scheme.

This would include a cultural exemption on VAT for tickets and a guaranteed fee for each performer.

On what should have been a day of triumph for the government and the DCMS, the culture secretary Oliver Dowden was forced to distance himself for a government-backed advert that encouraged those in the arts to “reskill” and retrain in tech.

Critics said the campaign represented “cultural philistinism and bad governance in one ad”, while Dowden tweeted that the “Cyber First” campaign did not come from the DCMS and said he wanted to “save jobs in the arts”.

A No 10 spokesperson added: “This particular piece of content was not appropriate and has been removed from the campaign. The government recognises the challenge to the cultural industry.”

So far just over £360m of the £1.57bn has been allocated, with 42 cinemas sharing £650k, and 445 heritage sites splitting £103m. Grants of between £1m and £3m are still to be announced.

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