Country reports


Expert author: Rod Fisher
Last update: September 12th

Government loans and related support for culture
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has launched a GB£270 million repayable finance scheme to assist cultural organisations that can demonstrate national or international significance, as well as prove they can engage with local communities.  The money comes from the GB£1.57 billion arts funding package previously reported. Organisations will be able to apply for a minimum GB£3 million, with a repayment period of up to 20 years at 2% interest per annum. A repayment “holiday” can also be applied for the first four years. Applications will be assessed initially by Arts Council England, the British Film Institute, Historic England and the National Lottery Fund, with decisions made by an independent Culture Recovery Board that has been set up.

Among other announcements by DCMS is a GB£3 million fund for music venues, many of which are in serious danger of closure permanently. Further funding support includes a GB£50 million from Historic England intended to restart construction and maintenance of heritage sites.

COVID-19 impacts on cultural sector jobs and income
Further proof of the dire situation facing the cultural sector includes 400 job cuts by London’s Southbank Centre (which comprises the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Hayward Gallery and National Poetry Library). The Southbank Centre is not expected to open before Spring 2021. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications & Theatre Union (BECTU) estimated that at least 5,000 jobs had been lost in the cultural sector by the end of July. The commercial West End theatre in London has been particularly badly hit, with some 2,700 redundancies and there are fears that some theatres will never reopen. Theatres in other cities, including Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle on Tyne, Sheffield and Southampton, have also been forced to make some of their staff redundant. The number of job losses is likely to escalate once the Government’s emergency furlough scheme – which initially provided 80% of worker’s salaries to prevent companies making them redundant (reduced to 70% from August) –  finishes at the end of October. Although performing arts venues have been able to reopen since August, the requirement to comply with social distancing rules means audiences cannot exceed 20-25% of capacity and thus it has not been viable for most to do so. In November the Government is scheduled to review the number of patrons that can be admitted to theatres and concert halls but, unless restrictions on attendance are substantially eased to make their operations financially viable again, the likelihood is that most venues will remain closed.  Indeed many are not planning to reopen before Spring 2021.

More than 15,000 theatrical performances were cancelled during the first 12 weeks of lockdown, resulting in a loss of GB£300 million in box office revenue according to the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee. In evidence submitted to the Committee, one of the largest theatre producers, the Really Useful Group, indicated that 27 of the 31 productions and tours it had planned for performances in the UK and 15 other countries in 2020 had been cancelled or postponed.

According to the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) over GB£6million was being lost by its members each month because of cancelled performances. More than 1,000 freelance orchestral musicians had been furloughed the ABO said and a similar number of freelance musicians had been reliant on the Government’s self employment scheme, but this is unavailable to some 30% of freelance performers. Sir Simon Rattle, director & conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, pointed out that even if music ensembles escape closure in the short term, many may face insuperable obstacles to remain solvent in the longer term.

Museums and galleries open but….
Many major museums and galleries have now reopened, but COVID-19 restrictions resulting in a serious reduction in visitor numbers, reduced opening hours, the requirement to make advance bookings for timed visits and the closure of in-house cafes and museum shops etc, is having a serious impact on their income. According to The Art Newspaper daily visitor numbers for London’s National Gallery will fall to some 3,000 in the high season compared to a daily average of 19,000 in the summer of 2019. Further evidence of the impact that the loss of income from commercial activities is having is illustrated by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which normally raises 80% of its income through its commercial services. The absence of such activities has prevented it from bringing staff back from being furloughed and thus it has insufficient personnel to be able to reopen.

The survival of smaller organisations is also at stake
It’s not just larger cultural and organisations that are facing an uncertain future.  A recent example is that of Earlyarts (UK), which has closed after 18 years of operating as a network that supported arts and cultural professionals, teachers and families to engage in creative activities with very young children. Its founder, Ruth Churchill Dower, has recently published a new book – Creativity and the Arts in Early Childhood (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London) – which looks at research behind creativity in children’s early years and offers practical ways of exploring art forms, materials and learning environments.

Criticisms of the Government’s response
The UK Government has been criticized by leading figures in the cultural sector for what is increasingly regarded as a response to the pandemic that was too little and too late. Moreover, criticisms have not been confined to to the sector, with Julian Knight, Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, warning that the UK was in danger of becoming “a bit of a cultural wasteland”.

Two major cultural events go-ahead, but not as normal
Meanwhile, two of the UK’s largest cultural events have been presented in a very different manner than usual.  The BBC Proms, considered to be one of Europe’s largest music festivals, went ahead in a slimmed down form, with musicians socially distancing and very limited or no audiences in the Royal Albert Hall.  Europe’s largest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival was presented digitally for the first time in its 54 years history over the late August Bank Holiday weekend. More than 200 events were shown over four broadcast channels.

Research launched into impact of the pandemic on performing artists
Joint research from Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Buenos Aire  is to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on performing artists. Dr. Cecilia Dinardi from the Institute for Creativity & Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths and Professor Ana Wortman from the University of Buenos Aires aim to discover how cultural policy can support the recovery of the performing arts in their respective countries. Through in-depth interviews, focus groups and policy workshops with performing artists in the UK and Argentina, together with secondary analysis, the project will examine how the pandemic is affecting cultural workers from a sociological perspective. It will look at the strategies musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists are deploying  to establish how policy can best support the recovery of the sector.  (Further information:

July 11th

1.  The UK Government has announced that it will make available an additional GB£1.57 billion for the cultural sector in the UK to help it cope with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown.  This will be a combination of grants and loans.  GB£189 million of this will be for the devolved administrations: GB£97 million for Scotland, GB£59 million for Wales and GB£33 million for Northern Ireland. A sum of GB£120 million has been set aside for capital projects and GB£100 million for museums. The remaining monies are to be divided between soft loans (cGB£270 million) and grants (cGB£880 million). Decisions on the allocation of the latter will be made by the Government in conjunction with Arts Council England, the British Film Institute, Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The announcement of the funding came following lobbying from the cultural and creative sector, which has been warning of the dire impact on the sector as a consequence of the lockdown. Institutions such as the Royal Albert Hall, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Old Vic theatre are among those who had indicated they were on the verge of permanent closure due to the crisis. While welcoming the rescue package of funds, there remain concerns that it be insufficient to meet the full needs of the sector, a point acknowledged by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who admitted the money would not save all cultural and creative jobs, but would preserve “the crown jewels” of the sector.

Meanwhile an emergency fund for theatre practitioners has been established by the film and theatre director Sam Mendes. One–off grants of GB£1,000 will be available to freelance theatre workers through a new Theatre Artists Fund. Freelance practitioners have especially suffered as a consequence of the closure of cultural facilities.

2.  Following major concerns in recent years that cultural subjects were being axed from the school curriculum in England as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) exam, there are new concerns that music could be dropped entirely from the school curriculum in England to give more time for schoolchildren to catch up with core subjects English and maths as a result of school closures due to COVID-19. We will follow the developments.

June 27th

1. Research for the Creative Industries Federation, conducted by Oxford Economics, has predicted a cultural catastrophe with more than 400,000 jobs being lost in the UK due to measures taken during the COVID-19 lockdown. This would represent one in five jobs in the sector. It says the UK creative industries are set to lose GB£74 billion in 2020, some GB£1.4 billion revenue each week.

2. The Music Venue Trust has warned that more than 90% of grassroots music venues are facing permanent closure before the end of September 2020. It has called on the Government to inject GB£50 million to prevent this and also a reduction in VAT on ticket sales for the next three years to aid recovery. Such venues contribute to the GB£5.2 billion the UK music industry generates annually.

3. In the context of the pandemic, UK Government Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has established a Cultural Renewal Task Force to identify creative ways to get the cultural, entertainment, broadcasting, sport, events, tourism and hospitality sectors functioning again. Dowden leads the eight member Task Force that will seek, among other things, to:
– identify guidelines that can be developed in line with government health requirements to enable the sectors to be appropriately secure when they are re-opened;
– develop solutions, including digital ones, to drive the operational return of the sectors;
– facilitate access to ministers of key sector stakeholders.

The Task Force includes Sir Nicholas Serota, Chairman of Arts Council England; Mark Cornell, Chief Executive of the Ambassador Theatre Group Europe; Lord Grade, former Chairman of the BBC and Independent Television; and Neil Mendoza, an entrepreneur, publisher and philanthropist who was a former Commissioner for Historic England. Mendoza will be Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal.

The Culture Secretary has been criticized by Julian Knight, Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, among others for what is regarded as the unrepresentative composition of the Task Force.

4. Arts Council England (ACE), in conjunction with the Crafts Council, has distributed activity packs to some of the children and young people most in need of support during the COVID-19 lockdown. The “Let’s Create” arts and crafts packs contained art supplies, a scrapbook and an activity pack designed by art teacher Andria Zafirakou, winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2018.  Initially, 25,000 packs were being distributed via ACE organisations and local partners, local authorities and charities.

5.  Commercial galleries were expected to open in June providing they follow social distancing rules and visitors make an appointment. There is a strong indication that museums and public galleries will reopen in July, subject to ensuring social distancing rules are followed given that they have much larger numbers of visitors. However, there is concern that members of the public may be slow to return if some of the facilities that museums generally provide are not accessible, while the decline in the number of COVID-19 infections has been slower than hoped.

6. Historic England launched an Emergency Response Fund to help heritage organisations survive the impact of the pandemic and prepare for recovery. The focus is on skilled craftspeople and small heritage businesses, with grants up to GB£25,000 to address financial difficulties and up to GB£50,000 for projects that seek to reduce risks in heritage.

April 18th

Arts Council England has launched two emergency funds to support individual artists and independent cultural organisations, including museums and libraries, during the COVID-19 crisis. To release money for these funds, ACE has suspended some of its existing funding streams. It is to hold back around GB£57 million, representing more than 50% of its National Lottery Project grants budget for 2020/21, as well as stopping its ‘Developing Your Artistic Practice’ programme. The intention is to protect as much of England’s cultural ecology as possible. An additional emergency fund, worth GB£90 million, will also be launched shortly to assist the Council’s National Portfolio Organisations, i.e. more regularly funded clients. Generally such organisations depend on high levels of earned income, which has ceased due to the enforced cancellation of arts performances, exhibitions and closure of venues. ACE is also working to ensure the emergency measures the Government is making for businesses are relevant to the cultural sector.

Meanwhile, the BBC has launched a ‘Culture in Quarantine‘ project, with ACE support, to bring arts and culture to people’s homes while the public is in lock down. These highlight BBC programmes on TV, radio and social media in areas such as music, dance, theatre, exhibitions, film, literature, architecture etc. The aim is to utilise broadcast and digital technology to make the arts/culture available in different ways during the closure of cultural facilities.

March 30th

Along with the travel and hospitality sectors, the cultural sector is considered especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. Theatre productions, concerts, exhibitions, film presentations, festivals and other events in the UK have been cancelled or postponed as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums, galleries and other venues/events have been forced to close. An analysis by Arts Professional suggests the closure of venues could cost the sector more than £1 million a day in lost revenue. This was based on a sample survey of public and commercial venues in London and the regions.

Both the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and the Museums Association have expressed their concern about the impact on museums, with AIM pointing out that many independent museums have only limited reserves and the crisis threatens their survival.  

The Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledged that the cultural sector would be one of those seriously affected by the impact of the virus and promised support measures worth £330 billion for businesses, including those in the creative and cultural sector. This will include loans, exemptions from business rates for a period and, significantly, paying companies up to 80% of employee salaries for three months if they do not make staff redundant. It is understood that British Actors Equity petitioned the Chancellor to include performers and managers on standard contracts to be included in the Government’s job retention scheme.

Particular concern has been expressed about the position of freelance workers, who constitute about 40% of the creative and cultural workforce. The Chairperson to the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee requested the Culture Secretary indicate what financial assistance would be given to freelance workers in the sector. Subsequently, the Chancellor promised freelance workers in the sector would be entitled, for three months, to 80% of their average monthly earnings over the past three financial years, but with a ceiling of £2,500 a month, The Government expectation is that up to 95% of freelancers in all areas will be covered by this arrangement. However, as so much work is involved, there are concerns that the payment calculations could take several weeks or months before the money feeds into bank accounts.

On March 25th, Arts Council England launched a £160 million Emergency Relief Package for creative organisations and artists. The package includes £20 million specifically for individual artists and freelancers. The British Film Commission (BFC) has confirmed it is working closely with the British Film Institute (BFI), the UK government and its industry partners to mitigate the impact of the overwhelming ongoing disruption to the sector caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 24th, BFI announced a new partnership with the Film and TV Charity to create a new COVID-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund. Established with a £1m donation from Netflix, the new fund will provide emergency short-term relief to active workers and freelancers in the UK who have been directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the Society of Authors Fund has set up a 330k emergency fund for authors affected by COVID-19. The fund is in conjunction with the Author’s Licensing & Collection Society, English PEN, Amazon UK, the Royal Literary Fund and T.S Eliot Foundation. It is intended for writers, poets, translators, illustrators and journalists.