Theatre performances, music gigs, art exhibitions, museums: arguably the nation’s most beloved pastimes. For many of us, they’re firmly rooted in our earliest memories: where we first learnt how big a T-Rex was, or left an auditorium beaming after a production of Jack and the Beanstalk. For innumerable others, the arts have shaped careers and created livelihoods. They’ve opened doors to self-expression, formed platforms to voice political views, and influenced entire social movements. Crucially – they aren’t simply a hobby.
So, the question many of us have been wondering is: what exactly is our leadership doing to help?
Back in July, they outlined plans to rescue the UK’s cultural scene with a sum of £1.75 billion going “to places that define culture in all areas of the country”. Despite this, the government made it clear that not every job in the arts sector could be saved. Redundancies were inevitable. On top of this, Rishi Sunak was widely criticised at the beginning of October for suggesting that musicians, among other jobs in the arts sector, would have to retrain to adjust to life post-Covid.
To date, the aptly named Cultural Recovery Fund has allocated over £500 million, with 2,500 venues getting a slice of its allowance. In early October, grants totalling a further £75 million were allocated to big tourist venues including the Globe Theatre, the English National Ballet, and Birmingham Hippodrome. Many received parcels of £3 million to get back on track.
It’s understandable that the government would prioritise these venues. The Globe Theatre alone is a landmark of English cultural heritage and a hub of worldwide tourism. However, these venues would likely survive on their own without the government’s assistance, as they generate mass money year in, year out The smaller venues, however, may not be as lucky.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of a second national lockdown, which commenced on the 5 November, is likely to send local cultural sites up and down the country to an early grave. Numerous theatres, including Newbury’s Watermill Theatre, announced their closure, and have described the lockdown as a “huge blow”. There is no doubt that, without the extra funding, many venues will never reopen.
Some have taken to criticising the Art’s Council’s highly selective funding. One drag performer, ‘La Gateau Chocolat’, received over £200,000 – more than many schools, museums, and galleries combined. The Art’s Council defended their choice, stating that: “Le Gateau Chocolat is a leading Black and LGBTQ+ performer, and one of the few performers in Britain whose work spans across multiple art forms, including drag, cabaret, opera, musical theatre, and live art.”
While it’s totally understandable to view the government’s spending as controversial, it has to be understood that there is no truly fair way of allocating money. Their decision to prioritise support for an act which represents both the LGBTQ+ and Black communities is a very necessary and commendable choice, but at what cost?
Perhaps the unrest surrounding this issue can be seen as a reflection of the general discontent felt towards the Government in light of their haphazard approach to handling Covid-19. Regardless, it has to be said that the arts industry is one of the stalwarts of British culture. Its contributions throughout history deserve the attention of our leadership, and those working in the sector should feel both heard and supported. Who knows what the future holds for the thousands who will be affected by this second lockdown, and every action that the government undertakes in the months and years to come?
Featured Image: Shakespeare’s Globe by @rgy23 on Pixabay