Arts Council announcement could help the cultural sector pull through the coronavirus crisis

THEATRES and cinemas, alongside cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants, nightclubs, gyms and leisure centres, were among the first establishments to be told to close by the UK government as a result of the spread of Coronavirus. Some in Manchester, including the Royal Exchange and HOME, had already taken the difficult decision before the midnight deadline on Friday, in order to protect their staff from potentially being exposed to the deadly disease.

We are determined that Manchester’s incredible culture will emerge from this challenge stronger and more vibrant than ever

Last Tuesday, 17th March, The Royal Exchange - at the heart of Manchester for over 40 years - suspended activity at 5pm and next day updated their website with a callout for donations: “Imagine Manchester without stories. Imagine communities without a voice. Imagine life without culture. We can’t. Can you? We are a registered charity and the majority of our income comes from ticket sales. Suspending all performances makes maintaining our business virtually impossible (…) We ask, if it is at all possible, that you consider making a donation to support the future of your iconic Manchester theatre.”

The day before, Dave Moutrey, director and CEO of HOME arts centre, put out this message: “During this period, it is critical that we continue to support our staff, artists and creative partners. We will be working closely with our peers across the city and indeed the country, and we are determined that Manchester’s incredible culture will emerge from this challenge stronger and more vibrant than ever.” We’ll have more on HOME’s art in insolation initiative soon.

Manchester Literature Festival issued a statement on Thursday explaining that it has taken the decision to postpone its forthcoming events for April and May 2020, including the sold-out 'Evening with Hilary Mantel' on Sunday 19th April. MLF says: “At present, the Festival dates are Friday 2nd – Sunday 18th October 2020 and the organisation is currently working hard on a diverse and exciting programme of fiction, poetry, culture, imaginative writing and events for young readers.”

Since then, the shutters have come down on art galleries and concert halls, libraries and independent venues across the Greater Manchester region and, following the complete lockdown announced on Monday 23rd March, any gathering of more than two people is banned, with the parties involved liable to a fine.

2020 03 24 Home The Manchester Open  Pic Jason Lock
Just two months ago, punters were queuing round the block to get into HOME's Manchester Open exhibition Jason Lock

So where does this leave an all too often already struggling arts and culture sector financially? National funding body Arts Council England has been in crisis talks since the start of the outbreak and has unveiled an emergency package to protect both individuals and organisations – from musicians to museums – and keep the cultural cogs turning.

Arts Council England Chief Executive Darren Henley OBE said: “Like the rest of the country – and the rest of the world – the cultural sector is starting to come to terms with the impact of COVID-19 on all of our lives. We’ve been working over the last 10 days to understand how best we can support you to get through this, and to continue to deliver brilliant work, both now and in the future.”

The Arts Council website states: “We are making £160 million of emergency funding  available for those organisations and individuals who will need it during this crisis, and we have also changed the funding requirements for individuals and organisations currently in receipt of our funding.”

For organisations and individuals  already in receipt of funding from ACE, a set of measures – including changing deadlines, offering advance grant payments and repurposing investment strands – has been put in place to ensure this much-needed financial input is not lost, for example as a result of having to cancel, postpone or reschedule events and projects.

2018 02 05 Theatre Royal Hyde Theatres Trust
Emergency funding streams for the art sector will be open to applications soon

The emergency response package will comprise: £20 million of financial support available to individuals, creative practitioners and freelancers so they can better sustain themselves, and their work, in the coming months; £50 million for organisations that are not in receipt of regular funding from the Arts Council or that have applied to National Lottery Project Grants, and £90 million for National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), including the option of being able to request an advance of up to six months of their 2020-21 funding in April.

“We hope organisations will use this funding to reboot their creative work, but we also understand it may be required to alleviate financial pressures on NPOs.” The Arts Council website continues: “These emergency funding streams will be open to applications very soon.” Find out more here.

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