Tom Plater discusses the UK's arts and culture sector, which has been plunged into a financial crisis due to Covid-19.
Last Sunday Chancellor Rishi Sunak finally announced £1.57 billion emergency support package for the Arts and Culture sector in the UK. I alongside my colleagues in the music industry have warmly welcomed this initiative from the government, however there are still grave concerns as to how this support package will be distributed and who will practically be able to access the money.
The DCMS press release makes it obvious that the government seeks to prop up some of the largest cultural institutions in the UK. £100million of support for the English Heritage Trust and £120 capital investment for paused construction on cultural infrastructure will kickstart some of the UK cultural scene, however there are not any specific measures for cultural venues and businesses in our communities that provide the services that local people rely on.
The music business as a whole specifically fetishises the pinnacle of the industry; the record labels, the pop stars, the west end as being the see all and be all. It is of course where most of the money in the sector is made. West End Theatres alone drew in a huge £799m profit in 2019. This festishisation is something that easily seeps into Westminster politics, as these groups have the money and the lobbies in order to keep the cash flowing for their specific agenda. The true beating heart of the industry however, is in the community grassroots. No matter how big an artist you may become, your first performances will likely have been in your local theatre or community music venue and these are the places that make the biggest impact to community arts and culture.
These are the institutions that deserve the majority of the funding, however they are also disadvantaged in accessing the funding that they need to sustain their work. The fact that these grants and loans include what could be a protracted application process will only benefit larger cultural institutions, in most cases who have full fundraising departments. There is also no word currently on how these grants will be split between the different regions in England - the North East, The Midlands and The South West have been chronically underfunded culturally by the Government compared to London which between 2010/11 and 2017/18 received 47% of English Arts Council and direct DCMS funding.
The government must take quick action to support our community cultural institutions through this tough time. It must ringfence a significant portion of the funding pot for our most historically disadvantaged regions and make the application process accessible and friendly to our smaller cultural institutions. It must make sure this process is completed efficiently and fairly. More crucially, this cannot be the only support that our communities receive.
There needs to be ongoing Government financial support for these venues and community initiatives. One option is that these could take the form of community grants given to small and medium cultural institutions, with conditions to continue to perform and facilitate community projects and equal opportunities inclusion across local areas. The institutions that receive these grants would then be paired with other partners across local areas to share knowledge, practice and events with each other to strengthen local sectors. Other community-based businesses like restaurants could also benefit from these grants whilst being encouraged to take on apprenticeships and be at the forefront of a technical education revolution at the same time. The possibilities are endless, and should be based in long term solutions, not a £10 meal voucher.
Whilst the emergency support package for the Arts and Culture sector is welcome, there are still a lot of extremely important kinks to work out which will inevitably make or break the usefulness of the package. We need to work to hold the government to account for Arts and Culture funding, otherwise UK Arts will take another significant hit and struggle even further to recover.
Thomas Plater is a Labour Activist, Musician and Secretary of North East Hertfordshire CLP. He is also a Trustee of the Grange Community Circle, Vice President at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is passionate about Arts & Culture and Education policy.
He tweets @ThomasPlater