Updated: Jul 27, 2020
By Alex De Boick
After mounting pressure from cultural organisations and a long list of acclaimed actors, the government has finally announced a £1.5bn fund for arts and cultural institutions. The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has described it as an effort to defend the ‘crown jewel’ of the UK’s art sector as well as local venues.
I honestly could not welcome this decision more as the arts is arguably one area where the UK can safely say it remains a world leader. This is particularly true of theatre - can you imagine what the nation would be without Shakespeare? For all the grumblings we might have had about Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or The Merchant of Venice at school, the arts are such an integral part of our culture that we must ensure they survive through COVID-19.
However, a lot of people disagree with this new funding going towards the arts and believe the billion should instead go towards the NHS. While I agree that the NHS deserves all the resources it can get, I feel that the people against this are only looking at the here-and-now. When there are no new cases and we can finally get rid of quarantine measures, this country will simply not be the same if we don’t have cinemas, art galleries or theatres. Maybe I sound too over-sentimental, but the arts will play a critical part (excuse the pun) in the creation of a post-COVID ‘new normal’. The industry has enormous benefits for education and mental health; being able to visit an art gallery, library or theatre is immensely important for everyone’s wellbeing. This is all without mentioning the big draws they create for tourism - ticket revenue alone would be almost enough to cover the £1bn.
Further, this new grant is not just for big-budget theatres and venues - independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will also be included. Surely, everyone can agree that these are places worth protecting? Arguably, independent venues are where passion can be felt the most. For all the talk of monuments and national history recently, it’s never been more important to protect sites of heritage.
Despite the vocal protests from big-name actors that helped achieve the fund, it is not just good for them. There are so many staff behind the scenes that this can help but this money alone will not be enough. Already some places have said that, while they welcome the news of extra funding, they may still have to make job losses. Nearly 70% of all 290,000 jobs within the theatre industry are at risk; if we want to prevent that, it’s clear that these institutions must be open and generating income again soon. If people can crowd onto jets and cram into pubs, I’m sure they should be able to sit socially-distanced within a theatre for a couple of hours. Not doing so would neglect the point of the grant. If the government is serious about protecting the ‘crown jewel’, then opening theatres should be the next step and enforced quickly. Just because they’ve made the right decision here does not deny further criticism - whether talking about the arts or wider concerns about their handling of the coronavirus, there’s still a long way to go.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.