When it was announced back in June, the government in the persons of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Culture Minister Oliver Dowden launched its Cultural Recovery Fund of £1.57 billion amidst a fanfare of forced praise.
The fund was created to provide emergency funding to save cultural organisations across the United Kingdom. In the case of the arts it was to be administered through Arts Council England and its equivalents in the other countries.
Given the revenues that UK plc derives from the arts, this was little more than a pittance but at least it was something.
Many theatres began opening shows, apparently encouraged behind the scenes by the government and/or the Arts Council. In every case, theatres knew that they would be losing money but decided that they should do take action for the good of the country by boosting spirits and diminishing bank overdrafts of at least a few needy employees and especially self-employed workers who were receiving adequate financial support and, in far too many cases, nothing at all.
It took a very long time for the first allocations of funds to be announced but they will have helped to keep the wolf from many doors and therefore have been welcomed by theatres up and down the country, mainly using weasel words seemingly provided verbatim by a government press officer.
The man in the street might very reasonably assume that the whole of the £1.57 billion has been dispersed, given that eight months have elapsed since the day on which theatres were ordered to close their doors by the Prime Minister.
That assumption is very far from the truth. As shown by the latest information on the Arts Council England web site, “to date, we have announced £427 million of investment, with more to come.”
That is under half of the amount that they have available for this purpose. Anyone working in the arts would be fully justified in asking “what’s going on?”.
Unless this writer has missed something, the National Theatre of Great Britain, which has almost certainly only applied for a loan rather than grant funding anyway, has not received a penny. As a direct consequence, it has been forced to lay off 400 employees and, after an eight-month income famine, its financial position must be parlous.
Perhaps it is the intention of the government and/or Arts Council England to kill off as many arts organisations as possible, thereby making the money go a lot further. Alternatively, maybe this is just a result of incredible inefficiency or some kind of three-card trick intended to reduce funding in the future.
Indeed, we are not that far from the end of the period that this emergency support is supposed to cover, which ends in March 2021.
The vaccine news has been very encouraging over the last couple of weeks, but anyone who believes that theatres will be back to normal in 3½ months’ time is either an optimist or a government minister.
At the current rate, the funding for this year will not have been dispensed in full before its end, while to date the government has made no statement about any support from April Fools’ Day 2021 onwards.
The situation is dire and Arts Council England is not making things any better. Perhaps it is time for a further concerted protest designed to force this public body to fulfil the promises of its political masters?