Theatre figures and organisations are urging the government to ensure its support package reaches all areas of the industry, including freelancers and the independent sector.
The £1.57 billion government support package was announced last night, but full details of how it will be distributed are yet to be revealed.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the heart of the package would be about protecting cultural institutions, which he described as the “crown jewels” of the sector, but said the government wanted to ensure the money reached all areas of the country.
Asked how freelancers will be able to make claims for the funding, he added: “Freelancers are already able to benefit from the freelance furlough scheme. I have to say that the essence of this package is about preserving those cultural institutions.”
The announcement of the package and Dowden’s comments have prompted many to demand that self-employed creative workers and the independent arts sector are not forgotten.
Speaking on behalf of the Freelancers Make Theatre Work campaign, theatre and opera director Adele Thomas called for freelancers to be involved in the decision-making process for how the funding is distributed.
Thomas told The Stage: “We’re hugely grateful for the scale of the bailout and that government is listening to the needs of the sector.
“Our big question going forward is how will this money be distributed, because while freelancers have been mentioned in conversations, there doesn’t seem to be a clear concrete plan as to how that money will be disseminated to freelancers [...] and who controls that.”
Thomas added: “What we would passionately shout for now is that freelances have a place at the table not in the stages after this, but now.”
Equity general secretary Christine Payne also demanded more clarity about how the money will reach freelancers, while professional body the Incorporated Society of Musicians welcomed the support but warned that without additional and direct support for freelancers there was a risk of “a flood of talent leaving the industry”.
Talawa Theatre company urged the government to ensure the fund is distributed in a way that protects the progress made in diversity in the industry.
In a statement on Twitter, the company said: “The funds committed by the government offer the hope of economic regeneration for the whole sector. That will only be possible with a timeline in place for the recommencement of live performance.
“We believe it is vital that the fund is distributed in a way that also protects and promotes progress made in the representation of black artists and all areas of diversity.”
Playwright Chinonyerem Odimba also called for “clear, strategic, inclusive thinking about where the money goes”.
She added on Twitter: “Those that have been going to those meetings to fighting for representation, inclusivity, visibility, disability, and freelancers, these voices are more important than ever.”
National Rural Touring Forum director Holly Lombardo said it was “very important” to ensure the bailout fund directly benefited independent and non venue-based organisations too.
She added: “They represent an essential part of the creative food chain and the large scale can’t survive without them and vice versa. Arts Council England understands this very well. If it manages the bulk of the bailout, rural touring and rural arts will be ok. If the fund has to filter out via large venues and institutions then we will remain in trouble.”
Fun Palaces founder Stella Duffy echoed these comments, adding: “While we welcome any support for the arts at this time, the focus on major institutions and what Dowden called the ‘crown jewels’ of culture, along with the failure to address the problems for freelancers, is very worrying.”
China Plate co-director Paul Warwick said that the faster the money was made available, the more of the sector would survive the pandemic.
He added: “It is also crucial that investment reaches all communities across the UK and recognises the hugely important work of smaller independent organisations and freelancers – not just high profile buildings in major cities.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also said it was important the money reaches the “whole cast” of London’s creative industries – including businesses that support arts institutions – and “not just the headline acts”.
He said: “The loans and funding for our cultural organisations are welcome and long overdue, but I’m concerned to see no mention of support for the thousands of freelancers who work across the sector or the businesses in the creative supply chain, without whom our theatres, galleries and venues simply wouldn’t function.
“London’s creative and cultural sector led the world before the pandemic and will play a vital role in our economic and social recovery but it is essential that the government supports the whole cast, not just the headline acts.”