The culture secretary has responded to the arts sector’s concerns with a much-needed cash injection – now we must make sure this money is spent wisely and reaches those who really need it
Last week, The Stage asked the culture secretary to “act now” to save UK theatre. And, to give Oliver Dowden and his colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport due credit, they have absolutely done this.
The package unveiled by HM Treasury is as generous as could have been hoped for, given the other demands on the government at this time. It is hugely welcome and Dowden and his team should be congratulated for listening to the sector and responding to its concerns.
However, that does not mean this package represents a panacea, nor does it mean the theatre and performing arts will not still face some extremely choppy waters ahead.
Yes, £1.57 billion is a lot of money, but it also has to go an awfully long way: across performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema. And it will have to help support organisations that are not traditionally in receipt of public money: the commercial West End, for example.
But the key factor is that we still don’t know how long a period of enforced closure this money will have to support.
On our front page last week, we asked government for three things: investment, clarity around health guidelines for theatres and firm dates for reopening. We now have one of those three things, but the other two remain just as crucial.
The implication of the government’s announcement is that this money is intended to keep the sector alive during a period of closure: “It will help them stay afloat while their doors are closed”.
This – and other details of the government announcement – raises a number of very significant questions, the answers to which will be crucial in determining just how good a package this is for theatre:
So, yes, let’s welcome this overdue intervention from government. It is an excellent start. But the danger is by no means over and there rests a huge responsibility to make sure this money is spent wisely and reaches those who really need it – that means the most precarious within the workforce, not just large institutions and buildings.