Like many others, I was saddened by the news that the Edinburgh Festivals wouldn’t be going ahead as planned this summer. In my family, the International Festival, the Festival Fringe and the Tattoo have become much-loved features of our summer holidays over the years. While these difficult decisions are absolutely necessary to protect the NHS and save lives, each venue closure and event postponement is a blow for culture lovers.
The reality is that many of The Stage’s readers will be significantly more affected by these closures and cancellations than disappointed ticket holders like me. This is a hugely challenging time for many working across the industry who have had performances cancelled and future projects postponed. It’s a time when lives and livelihoods are at stake.
This country is facing the biggest threat most of us will have seen in our lifetimes. I hope it offers some reassurance that the government is doing everything it can to make sure the arts get the support they need to survive in these unprecedented times and beyond.
Government funding has enabled Arts Council England to make £160 million of emergency cash available to help individuals and organisations deal with the immediate impact of this crisis. Applications have already opened, and I would strongly encourage individuals and organisations outside the National Portfolio to apply via the ACE website.
I know that some will be incredibly frustrated to have had funding for future projects suspended, but making this emergency funding available now will ensure the sector can get back on its feet as fast as possible.
We are committed to supporting employees across the arts sector’s diverse workforce. Millions of self-employed people and freelancers can now benefit from the self-employed income support scheme, which will provide those eligible with cash grants of up to £2,500 per month. We’ve also changed the welfare system so that self-employed people can now access Universal Credit in full to help people get quicker and more support when they need it most.
We expect that the self-employed income support scheme will cover 95% of people who receive most of their income from self-employment but I know some might be worried about falling through the gaps.
My DCMS colleagues and I are in regular dialogue with the creative and cultural sectors to fully understand the impact of coronavirus on their work and their staff. The valuable insight from these conversations informs our daily engagement with all government departments and we are ensuring that the priorities of our sectors are factored into the economic response and that your concerns are heard at the highest level.
As we all do our bit to stay home, I’ve been reminded of the profound impact the creative and cultural sectors have on normal life
I am determined to be a strong champion for the arts, culture and creative industries in these difficult times. As we all do our bit to stay home, I’ve been reminded of the profound impact the creative and cultural sectors have on normal life. It has been amazing to see the range of digital initiatives launched in recent weeks to make the world-class performances and collections available to enjoy and see in our homes.
I’m sure I won’t be the only one imagining myself in the theatre rather than on my sofa while tuning in to some of the amazing productions made available via the new National Theatre at Home project or the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine programme.
My dearest hope is that we will soon be able to enjoy live performing arts in venues across the UK again. In the meantime, I will do all I can to fight the corner of organisations and individuals who do so much to make the creative and cultural industries Britain’s great pride and joy.
In many ways, it will be the arts and creative industries that sustain us through these dark times. Offering company to the isolated and escapism from our worries and fears. That’s why in return, we must do everything we can to protect them. With the right support, they will be strong enough to survive these challenges and see us through.