The 10 unanswered questions about the arts bailout

Cal Revely-Calder
·4 mins read
Deserted: the Old Vic - Getty
Deserted: the Old Vic - Getty

When can venues reopen?

This is the big question for live arts venues (galleries and cinemas are already slowly reopening). Until we get clear government guidance on social distancing and how venues can operate in restricted conditions, the bailout has a nebulous purpose. There are now murmurings of West End theatres opening in October but nothing is confirmed.

What will the money actually be used for?

Linked to the above, there is a suspicion that this money could merely be tiding over organisations while they remain closed. However, if live venues such as theatres and concert halls do open earlier, the cash injection could end up easing the burden of the loss caused by mounting productions for necessarily reduced audiences.

Is this bailout a one-off?

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that live performances were some way off, and that the bailout will bridge the gap. But arts organisations will need to know when their audiences will be allowed to return, and whether the aid will be renewed if not. Were a second bailout refused, the first would have been a waste. Conversely, would the prospect of repeated renewals discourage some useful thrift?  

Will there be guidelines for how the money is spent?

It isn’t clear whether the bailout comes with strings attached – and who pulls them if it is. The ideological leanings of the Government and the arts world are not always (to put it mildly) the same. Guidelines or no, the process will be scrutinised closely, to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used in a sensible style.  

When does the money become available?

Time is of the essence. The Nuffield Theatres in Southampton have already closed; the Royal Exchange has shed staff; the National is doing the same. While the bailout is welcome, venues and organisations everywhere will be looking at their dwindling reserves from day to day – bills can’t all be deferred.

End of an era: Nuffield Southampton - Alamy
End of an era: Nuffield Southampton - Alamy

Who will get grants and who will get loans?

So far we have been told that the £1.15 billion support pot for cultural organisations in England will be made up of £270 million in repayable finance and £880 million grants. What we don’t know is who is eligible for what. Presumably those in an impecunious state will be awarded grants, while those with healthier reserves will get loans.

Will the money be distributed through the regions?

Dowden has stated that while protecting the crown jewels (that is, the big London powerhouses with international clout), the money will also be spread throughout the whole of the UK to ensure that those places which have fewer cultural institutions will still benefit. The new funding also means an extra £188 million for the devolved institutions in the home nations.

What will be the split between the commercial and subsidised sector?

The scramble for money is going to be hard fought, and one assumes that everything will be assessed on a case by case basis. That means subsidised organisations which will come under the jurisdiction of Arts Council England should be on an equal footing with those commercial operations which never receive state subsidy.  

Who will be in the room when the decisions are made?

The bailout is designed for “UK culture” in toto, but not everyone thinks the bureaucrats are fair. To name one of many instances: Arts Council England gives 62 per cent of its main music fund to opera, and just 15 per cent to rock, pop, jazz, folk and other “popular” styles. Since ACE will advise on funding decisions, music promoters will be watching like hawks.

Will freelancers receive any help?

Freelance artists and performers are the unsung heroes of the arts, from bottom to top – even opera singers are largely paid by the performance, not contracted full-time. Speaking yesterday, however, the Culture Secretary suggested that the furlough scheme would protect freelancers – while this scheme is due to end in October.

What are these performers supposed to do then?

This package is clearly designed for organisations not individuals.

Read more:

The arts have been bailed out – time to drop the woke agenda and focus on entertainment

British rock and pop will roar again – if the Arts Council snobs are frozen out

How can we save the arts? Is the Government’s bailout sufficient and how should the money be spent? Tell us in the comments below.