Arts Council England has warned that it will be unable to support individuals and organisations through an extended period of lockdown, as it admits that the hardest work is yet to come.
In a blog, ACE chief executive Darren Henley revealed that more than 14,000 applications were made for its first two emergency funds – for individual artists, and for organisations outside its regularly funded portfolio.
Decisions for these two strands are in the process of being announced. However, the Arts Council has not yet confirmed how many of the 14,000 were successful. The funds’ first round attracted 5,000 applications, while ACE’s package for national portfolio organisations is still in progress, with further details expected in July.
Henley said he hoped the emergency funding – totalling £160 million – would "prevent the fabric of the cultural sector from unravelling immediately" in the aftermath of Covid-19 lockdown, but said a more complex question was now emerging about what happens next.
Henley offered assurances that the Arts Council’s job was "far from done", but said: “In no sense do I wish to suggest we are through the worst. The Arts Council does not have the resources to secure the income of individuals or the future of shuttered organisations through an extended lockdown, nor the ability to support the costs of reopening under changed circumstances.
“We hope that we have secured the sector’s immediate survival, in the face of an existential threat, but we know the hardest part comes next.”
When ACE launched its emergency Covid-19 funds last month, it said it hoped the government would contribute to supporting the arts’ long-term recovery on a bigger scale. Many have since called on the government and chancellor Rishi Sunak to offer a sector-specific financial package, warning that much more is needed in order for the creative industries to survive.
In his blog, Henley said the danger facing some organisations, such as independent museums, was particularly acute at present, but suggested that for theatres "the threat will be far greater in a few months’ time".
“All the indications are that we will have to find ways to live with Covid-19 for quite some time, continuing to practice social distancing as scientists work towards a vaccination. This means the cultural sector must begin to consider how to deal not simply with a massive but time-limited financial shock, but with a long-term change to its economic circumstances; and how to adapt to new and constantly shifting ways of working and engaging with the public,” he said.
He identified issues on the horizon for the sector, particularly around the timing and practicalities of reopening, including the financial risks involved and the questions of audience confidence.
Henley described his own position as that of “the realist-optimist”, and said: “We don’t know where we will be in a year’s time, but we can now plan, based on a range of possible scenarios. That’s the realist bit. The optimist in me sees the enormous value of what our sector does – how people and communities have turned to culture and creativity in this crisis – and anticipates how they will surely turn to it again and again as we begin the work of restoring our sense of well-being and our sense of our place in the world.”