The last few months have felt odd
Some ten days ago, the first meeting of the Government's Cultural Renewal Taskforce took place, just two days after its official launch during the coronavirus press conference of 20 May.
It is one of five minister-led taskforces, the others being pubs and restaurants, non-essential retail, places of worship and international aviation.
In making the announcement, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, said, "I know people are also eager for news on the return of live sports and arts. The last few months have felt odd without them, and our calendars strangely bare.
"Finding creative, crowd-free ways to navigate coronavirus is the biggest challenge for our recreation and leisure sectors right now."
He promised a team made up of "the brightest and the best from the creative, tech and sporting worlds [and] experts in their fields ", so who are the unpaid members of the taskforce?
- Ambassador Theatre Group chief executive officer, Mark Cornell
- Co-founder of LastMinute.com, crossbench peer, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho
- Former chair of the BBC and of ITV, Lord Grade
- Mellors Group Events managing director, Edward Mellors
- Commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal, entrepreneur, former publisher and philanthropist, Neil Mendoza
- English National Ballet artistic director, Tamara Rojo
- Award winning sports broadcaster and former footballer, Alex Scott
- Chair Arts Council England, Sir Nicholas Serota
The appointment of a representative from "our world class tourism sector" is awaited, though it is important to note that they, like the other members, represent themselves and not their employer or affiliated organisations.
Dowden chairs the Taskforce which will be "providing key sector stakeholders direct access to ministers" and "creative solutions" as to how and when venues and business can reopen whilst maintaining safety for all concerned and in line with the government’s National COVID-19 Recovery Strategy.
The immediate reaction to the announcement seems to be one of dismay.
The Times's Richard Morrison called the formation of the Cultural Renewal Taskforce "a pathetic response to a massive crisis", and The Bookseller (business magazine of the book industry) reported "Trade 'baffled' by exclusion from Cultural Renewal Taskforce" particularly given its contribution to the economy, quoting Meryl Halls of the Booksellers Association who said, "with the publishing industry accounting for over 10 per cent of UK creative industries employment, and contributing over £11bn per year to the UK economy, it is a vital part of the cultural economy in the UK, and a significant employer."
Also in The Bookseller Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors' Agents, raises a concern "that the taskforce doesn’t seem to represent a full national regional spread", a position also voiced by the Local Government Association (representing councils in England and Wales) which points out the "taskforce includes representatives predominantly based in London".
The LGA's Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said "[it] removes the local voice on cultural renewal", which appears a significant omission given councils spend over £1.1 billion on museums, theatres and libraries, as well as investing over £1 billion a year on sport, leisure and green spaces.
The Guardian asks—whilst also pointing out that the taskforce has only one member under the age 40—why there is no representative from the music industry.
I have tried to find information about the eight working groups chaired by DCMS Ministers whose endeavours will support the taskforce, and minutes or a record of the first or second weekly Cultural Renewal Taskforce meeting online but in vain.
But perhaps at least at the present it doesn’t matter. What the sector needs now is funding not talking.