The arts emergency recovery fund will help protect the jobs of those directly employed by theatres, cinemas and other arts venues. Theatre buildings are expensive to run and in many cases are historic listed buildings which require regular maintenance. Such funding is therefore vital in order to preserve their existence.
However, the allocation of funds does not currently support the wider ecosystem, where it is estimated 70 per cent of the workforce are freelancers and self-employed. Some commentators have suggested that directly supporting the venues helps the industry as a whole, as it encourages venues to continue with projects, which in turn will provide support to content creators. However, more needs to be done to support those in the industry who have largely fallen outside existing support measures.
In recent weeks Cineworld has announced the temporary closure of its cinemas, whilst some Odeon Cinemas will only be opening at weekends. The costs of remaining open were not feasible even for these global institutions. In local theatre and other performance arts the problem is multiplied further, where it is estimated that occupancy needs to be 50 per cent - 70 per cent just to break even. With current social distancing measures, this is almost impossible.
Nevertheless, putting on a show involves more than just the theatre venue. Whilst some fund their own content, in most instances it is the production companies and content producers who take on the entrepreneurial risk of running a performance.
Many upfront costs in set production, research, rehearsals and various advances have been incurred months in advance, only for mass cancellations to wipe out potential income from the investment made.
No easy solution
There are clearly many difficulties in providing support in this pandemic. Not all jobs can be saved, and difficult decisions need to be made. However, some potential solutions for discussion, as put forward by UK theatre include:
- Temporarily extending theatre tax relief (and orchestras) to include live streaming and recorded performances. Currently, one of the conditions for relief is for a live audience to be present. Relaxing the criteria in this area could encourage performances to be made available online to incentivise recovery.
- A unified scheme to support freelancers could be an option, perhaps requiring proof that freelancers were booked for shows which have now been cancelled or postponed in order to prevent abuse.
- Give serious consideration to implementing the proposed Cultural Investment Participation Scheme. This provides additional support to the sector post-reopening through a mechanism that allows for a return on investment rather than straight funding.
Without further targeted measures we are in danger of retaining the country’s cultural architecture and trophy assets, but without the creative artists to put on the performances to fill them.
One day when the pandemic is over, we will be able to visit the theatre and dance at festivals again – but who will be on stage to play the music?