Arts Council England has unveiled an emergency £160 million response package for the cultural sector to help theatres weather the “massive and unsustainable loss of revenues” they will face amid the coronavirus crisis.
The £160 million bailout will include funds for both national portfolio organisations and companies outside the Arts Council’s main funding programme, as well as emergency relief for freelances and individual creative workers, many of whom have expressed fear over their loss of income during theatre’s temporary shutdown.
The package will include:
• £90 million to provide financial support for NPOs, with funding conditions relaxed and organisations also able to advance current grants by six months.
• £50 million for organisations outside ACE’s national portfolio, offering help for companies to “get back on their feet” and continue making work.
• The ability for freelance artists and creative practitioners to apply for cash grants of up to £2,500 each, from a £20 million fund. An additional £4 million will be added by ACE to its benevolent funds for creative workers.
It comes as theatres across the UK, most of which have now stood dark for a week, prepare for long periods of enforced closure following the government’s orders for venues to close, amid warnings of the crippling effects this will have on the industry’s financial stability and on the livelihoods of thousands of workers.
ACE acknowledged the “acute” financial crisis being faced by the sector and warned that “evidence shows that closures and cancelled contracts are causing massive and unsustainable loss of revenues”.
The new measures are therefore intended to help individuals and organisations survive the current lockdown and develop creative responses to the crisis, it said.
The announcement fleshes out the Arts Council’s promise, made last week, to refocus some of its grant-giving programmes to help individual artists losing out because of the crisis.
In order to deliver the package, ACE said it must eat into most of its emergency reserves, as well as suspend its main project-based fund, National Lottery Project Grants.
The Arts Council said that despite offering a “vital source of income” for smaller organisations and individuals, it felt that “at this time of crisis, we believe that this budget is best spent on sustaining the sector”.
Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota said: “Covid-19 is having an impact globally, far beyond the cultural sector – but our responsibility is to sustain our sector as best we can, so that artists and organisations can continue to nourish the imagination of people across the country, both during the crisis and in the period of recovery.”
The body’s chief executive Darren Henley added that ensuring artists and organisations stay afloat would be its “number one priority” in the coming months.
“This is a frightening time for all of us. But, as we distance ourselves from one another in our daily lives, I believe the role of arts and culture in helping to bring us all together will become ever more critical,” he said.
The newly announced funds will be in operation by March 30, ACE said, with the first payments made within six weeks.
ACE said the emergency package, announced in conjunction with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and culture secretary Oliver Dowden, was focused on dealing with “the immediate crisis” but that it would work with government to secure the arts’ long-term recovery and a “reboot of the cultural sector”.
It promised to further explore the proposed £90 million fund for NPOs in order to ensure it best meets their needs.
As a result of the crisis, ACE also announced a one-year delay to its NPO investment process, which will now not be refreshed until 2023.
The process for the 2022-26 round was due to begin later this year, but instead, the current portfolio will be rolled over until 2023.