Theatre and arts leaders have welcomed the government’s £1.57 billion cultural investment package, expressing relief that the sector is receiving much-needed support to help it survive the coronavirus crisis.
Among the first to respond to the announcement were National Theatre director Rufus Norris, playwright James Graham and composer and West End theatre owner Andrew Lloyd Webber, who described the emergency funding commitment as "truly welcome".
The £1.57 billion package includes £880 million of grants for arts and heritage organisations and £270 million of repayable grants.
It also comprises £100 million earmarked for national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust and £120 million for paused construction projects.
Norris said the NT "emphatically welcomes this vital support from government", which he said "recognises the crucial economic, cultural and social impact of theatre and culture in the life of our nation".
The NT director has previously warned of the perilous financial situation facing many organisations, including the National Theatre. Earlier this week the venue announced hundreds of casual staff would be being made redundant as a result of the pandemic.
Responding to the government’s announcement, Norris added: "We are extremely thankful to see such a strong vote of confidence from the prime minister, the chancellor of the exchequer, and the culture secretary.
"Although there will be many challenges ahead to operating in the new environment, the NT and theatre companies across the country stand ready to respond with creativity and commitment, and to reopen as soon as is safe. We feel very positive that this major investment will reach and sustain the vital talent and infrastructure – both organisations and freelancers – which make British theatre truly world-leading."
Graham, who has warned that theatre would not survive the coronavirus crisis without "aggressive" government intervention, said: "I am so incredibly grateful that the government has listened to the outpouring of not only concerns but also of great passion from audiences and artists over the threat to a much-loved part of our national life.
"Theatres and live performance venues play a vital economic and social role not just in places like London’s West End, but in every town and city across the country, and I am so relieved that Oliver Dowden, DCMS, and the Treasury recognise that this is a prize worth saving and celebrating."
Lloyd Webber added: "This news is truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future. I know how hard Oliver Dowden has worked to secure this support. It is absolutely critical that Britain’s cultural sector is restored to health as soon as possible, and I look forward to seeing the details of the rescue package and working further with Oliver and the government to get all of Britain’s theatres – both large and small – open as soon as possible."
No details have yet been shared by government about potential timelines for reopening, however it is understood that guidance is being finalised.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon said in a joint statement that they were "very pleased and relieved to hear the news".
"Thank you to the DCMS, HM Treasury and the many people in the sector who have worked together to demonstrate the critical role the arts play in our economic well-being and public life. We hope this investment will provide meaningful support for the whole sector: for the skilled workforce who create world-class theatre, and for theatres and companies at every scale throughout the UK," they said.
"We are all ready to be part of a powerful civic, emotional and economic recovery for the country, and will be invaluable contributors to the UK’s ability to re-emerge from the pandemic locally, nationally and on a world stage.
“We look forward to receiving the detail of the support package when we will see in full how this will help the survival of the sector, and support our next steps to welcoming audiences back to live theatre.”
Other theatres welcoming the announcement include Shakespeare’s Globe, which has said it faced permanent closure without emergency support. Chief executive Neil Constable said: "As an independent charity, the Globe needs support throughout this difficult time and will now have the opportunity to plan to reopen fully by early 2021.
"We will of course be taking opportunities, if social distancing allows, to reopen earlier, and until then this investment allows us to offer our world-class performances and education online for audiences and students across the world, before safely bringing our actors, creatives, staff, and visitors alike together in our wonderful iconic theatres."
BECTU also welcomed the news, with the union’s head Philippa Childs saying: "At long last the government has woken up to our warnings and those of the whole creative sector, that without support, we stood to lose a huge amount of our world-beating creative industries.
“We will now be scrutinising the details of this package to make sure it lives up to the real needs of our sector.
“We must see the most rapid action to stem the tide of redundancies and closures that are emerging in the sector. For some this is already too late and we will be pushing government to get this funding out there within days.”
The union warned last week that it was already aware of around 3,000 redundancies planned in theatres across the country.
It said the terms of the package’s grants and loans must also recognise "that there is still a long journey to recovery for theatres and live events".
Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, who also sits on the government’s Culture Renewal Taskforce, said she was "delighted and relieved" that the government had listened to the "urgent need for action".
"We are looking forward to seeing further details on the guidance for the phased return of the performing arts and thrilled to be on the road to bringing our dancers, performances and audiences back safely," she said.
Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota described the package as a "very significant investment in the future of arts and culture", while SOLT chief executive Julian Bird also praised the plans.
Bird said: "The government’s announcement of a £1.57bn package of support for the arts, culture and heritage sector in the UK is hugely welcomed – for the theatre and performing arts sector, we have worked intensively with DCMS and HMT to seek this clear commitment to our world-leading industry and we thank them."
Bird added that the theatre sector looked forward to clarifying how the funds would be allocated and invested so that venues could reopen as soon as possible.
"Our industry’s united ambition is to be able to play its vital role in the nation’s economic and social recovery, and this investment will allow us to do so," he said.