More than 1,000 performances in rural communities have already been cancelled as a result of coronavirus, leaving many organisations at risk of closure after the pandemic ends.
According to the National Rural Touring Forum, which develops and advocates for 30 rural touring schemes across the UK, the cancelled performances will result in a financial hit of nearly £300,000 and will have a “huge” impact on the health of performance for rural communities in future.
The NRTF warned that while most schemes under its umbrella are committing to financially supporting artists where possible, the long-term consequences of the lockdown period are still unknown.
“Many organisations involved, ranging from village halls to regional touring schemes, as well as individual volunteer promoters and staff working in the sector, are now at risk of not returning to service – or with ambitions severely damaged. Many artists, many of whom specialise in rural touring, are now also looking for support to keep their livelihoods intact,” the NRTF said.
The 30 touring schemes that are part of the NRTF comprise more than 1,600 performing groups, with professional touring to rural areas such as community centres, village halls and libraries bringing in an average of £1 million each year in ticket sales.
The cancellation of more than 1,000 performances over the past month has therefore plunged rural programming schemes into crisis mode, the forum said.
Holly Lombardo, director of the NRTF, said securing the sector’s future would become more important than ever in the wake of Covid-19, in order to ensure that “the hardest to reach communities continue to benefit from a diverse programme of arts and culture”.
The NRTF also acknowledged that rural touring organisations are well placed to bring creativity to some of the country’s most isolated areas.
“The majority of rural arts organisations are fleet of foot and understand they are in the perfect position to keep connections going and support rural and local communities. They are mindful of those in their communities who are older and less-digitally literate and will consider how to keep them in the loop. Where possible, they will support those living in social isolation and loneliness, especially where rural touring events are a support for them,” it said.
Rural touring organisations have come together and agreed to pay a percentage of booking fees to artists as a result of cancellations, as a way of supporting creatives through current challenges.
Percentages will differ depending on various arrangements, but the NRTF said there is a willingness from rural touring sector to give as much as they can to artists who have also lost out on work as a result of the crisis.