The Government’s COVID-19 Lifeline Must Empower Music At Its Grassroots

A huge new financial package has been confirmed...

The past three months have placed British arts and culture under unprecedented economic pressure.

With venues, theatres, cinemas, museums, and galleries closing their doors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many have come close to financial ruin.

The past few weeks have presented an incredibly acute, economically bleak landscape. The National Theatre announced 400 redundancies, while even the prestigious Royal Albert Hall stared liquidation in the face, only 12 months before its storied 150th anniversary. In music, the situation has been particularly grim.

According to figures from the Music Venues Trust around 90% of live music hubs are threatened with closure, while last week saw more than 1500 artists unite to send Oliver Dowden – Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport – a clear and emphatic message: something has to be done.

Overnight, it’s been confirmed that a rescue package for the arts has been pieced together. Around £1.57 billion has been allocated for the cultural sectors, a mixture of grants and loans to be utilised across the country. Introducing the measures, Oliver Dowden commented: “Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast growing creative industries.”

“I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations. Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”

News spread swiftly, with Mark Davyd from Music Venues Trust commenting: “Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain’s world class live music scene.”

“We’d like to thank the Secretary of State and the team at DCMS for the opportunity to work closely together throughout this crisis to develop genuine solutions to the challenges faced by grassroots music venues. This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to safely reopen live music.”

UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl added: “The music industry was one of the first sectors to be hit by measures to tackle Covid-19. UK Music has long called for sector specific support to ensure live music can recover. Eligibility for grants and loans must be as broad as possible to ensure maximum take up from across the industry from those in desperate need of help. Those that don’t have a track record of public funding must also not be put at a disadvantage. We are seeking urgent talks with Arts Council England to discuss further.”

The new announcement is, on the surface, the financial lifeline so many within music have been crying out for. But the praise does come with some caveats: will the scheme truly protect and support freelancers, many of whom have been left out of previous government announcements? How will the scheme balance its stated support for the physical infrastructure of the arts with actual people on the ground? How can small, grassroots venues – the lifeblood of British music – be brought into the main thrust of these moves?

Furthermore, given the government's previous cultural steering group didn't have a dedicated music voice, how can we expect these measures to specifically target areas within British music that fully require support?

It’s too early to tell, but given the sheer scale of the finance involved, its imperative that what emerges from this isn’t just an arts and culture community that can weather the current storm, but one that is confident to face down the challenges of a shifting marketplace over a number of years, or even decades.

This could be a pivotal moment for the way we approach culture in this country, a means to re-shape the support music receives, and its relationship to the nation as a whole. It’s vital that the government gets this right.

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