Arts Council England has moved to allay fears that its recently announced rescue package is likely to lead to “more hardship in the longer term” for freelance theatre workers.
It has now revealed it has an “unallocated sum of £57 million for use in 2020/21” from its National Lottery Project Grants budget.
It said its aim would be to reinstate its project grants scheme – which has previously assisted thousands of individuals to develop projects – in 2020 “unless these new and unpredictable circumstances dictated otherwise”.
Its assurances come after a letter was sent to the funding body by more than 500 freelance workers in the creative sector, including choreographers, directors and producers, worried that the £160 million package of measures announced last week did not adequately support the freelance sector. In particular, the letter raised concerns about the suspension of ACE’s project grants scheme.
“The current ACE emergency fund announcement is sacrificing budget set up to distribute money to the independent sector and redirecting to institutions. Allocating to individuals 12.5% of the total emergency package. This does not reflect the urgency to protect self-employed individuals and the freelance sector, nor the fact that approximately 43% of creative industries workers are self-employed,” it states.
It adds that the emergency funding package for individuals appears to be “removing future support at the expense of temporary financial relief”.
In its package, ACE announced £90 million to portfolio organisations, £50 million for organisations not in receipt of regular funding and £20 million for individuals.
However, the letter warns that the £20 million on offer, at £2,500 per artist, will only support 8,000 individuals at the “expense of losing all other funding streams accessible to individuals until 2021”.
It urges ACE to keep project grants open throughout 2020 and 2021 and describes the “impact of not being able to develop projects as hugely damaging in the long term, both financially and career wise for many artists and freelance practitioners”. It warns that not being able to develop new projects or continue existing ones would have “long-term damaging consequences” for individuals.
“While ACE’s recent announcements have good intentions, we believe it will create much more hardship in the longer term for individual artists and freelances in the creative industry,” it warns.
Responding, chief executive Darren Henley said it had made the “judgment that while a small number of submitted projects [to the project grant scheme might be adaptable to the current situation, the vast majority would be unable to go ahead while normal life ceased”.
“With venues closed, tours can no longer be performed or even scheduled; suppliers have been forced to shut down; match-funders are falling away. For most art forms, there is no practical means of producing or experiencing work in the normal way at the moment, so continuing to fund projects that rely on our usual systems felt irresponsible.” he said.
However, he said £57 million of the National Lottery Project Grants budget for this financial year had been held back, “in the hope that we can reinstate the programme at the very earliest opportunity”.
“We recognise the vital importance of artists and organisations being able to get back to work and plan new projects. To do that we all need answers about when we will see the end of social isolation to allow for rehearsals and meetings, for venues to reopen and for the public to feel confident to come back. We cannot say, any more than you can, when this period of isolation will end and some new version of normality will return – and I know you will understand that in such highly uncertain circumstances, we can’t make any promises. But this is what we are hoping for – and, indeed, planning for,” he added.