Some of England’s most at-risk arts organisations including Manchester’s Royal Exchange and London dance venue Sadler’s Wells have been given emergency funding to help keep them afloat over the summer.
Arts Council England (ACE) on Wednesday announced that 196 organisations would receive £33m to prevent them going bust because of the pandemic.
Darren Henley, ACE’s chief executive, said the money was specifically for organisations in its national portfolio that faced “immediate financial disaster before September”.
The largest amounts went to Sadler’s Wells (£1.5m), English National Ballet (£1.3m) and the Lowry in Salford (£1.3m). Money also went to theatres that recently announced they were consulting on redundancies, including Theatre Royal Plymouth (£806,000) and Manchester’s Royal Exchange (£571,000).
The £33m rescue package was originally planned to be £90m but the government’s furlough scheme “delayed the cliff edge of financial collapse” for most organisations, said ACE.
The announcement came as MPs on Tuesday had the chance to debate the government’s separate £1.57bn arts and heritage investment package in the Commons for the first time.
Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, welcomed the investment but added: “You have to ask what took the government so long? We’ve already seen venues going under, mounting job losses and warnings from this side of the house and across the sector were ignored for weeks on end.
“It is vital that this money does just not get hoovered up by the biggest venues with the loudest voices. As well as protecting the jewels in the crown, every town and city lucky enough to have a theatre that is a precious part of their local economy must keep it.”
Speaking on Monday, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the aid package would not save every arts organisation from closure and that the money would go “first of all, to protect the so-called crown jewels – the things that really define us as a nation, nationally and internationally”.
Responding to Labour in parliament, the culture minister, Caroline Dinenage, said guidance was being worked on that would set out details of how the money would be distributed, but she pledged that it would be done fairly and also go to grassroots organisations.
“It is the biggest package of support and investment for the heritage, arts and culture sector anywhere in the world,” Dinenage said. “I’m very clear that our arts, culture and heritage are not the cherry on the cake, not even the icing on the cake… it is the cake and it’s what makes us British.”
Dinenage said they could not say when performing arts venues would be allowed to reopen. Dowden said on Monday allowing the financially important pantomime season to go ahead would be “challenging”.
In the Commons, Dinenage said new guidance on outdoor performances was expected in the next few days and guidance on socially distanced indoor performance would come “very shortly”.
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