Country reports

UNITED KINGDOM

Expert author: Rod Fisher
Last update: 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.