A £97m opportunity

Jul 6 2020 | By More

Measured support for £1.57 billion for arts

The announcement of a £1.57 billion package of support for the art across the UK has been met with near universal acclaim. But is it a lifeline or an opportunity?

The acclaim is thanks partly to the UK Govt’s own press release – embargoed until 10.30pm on Sunday 5 July 2020. For those writing to a deadline on Sunday evening it helpfully contained supporting quotes from 21 different cultural bodies and leaders, making acclaim very easy to find.

The #scenechange wrap of the Lyceum. “Missing Live Theatre”. Pic: Peter Dibdin

Their positive quotes will grace many of the stories published today about the grant. And there is absolutely no question that this money is needed. And it is needed now. It is, in short, A Good Thing.

As Matthew Bourne reacted on Twitter: “Hallelujah! Will sleep well tonight! Thank you to everyone in our industry who has lobbied so hard to make this happen and to ⁦@OliverDowden⁩ & ⁦@RishiSunak⁩ for listening…

“Now for the detail…”

And the details of the schemes make up the big question that the big institutions are asking.

As they do so, however, it is worth pointing out, as Edinburgh-based playwright and director Jen McGregor has on Twitter, that a sense of perspective is needed.

She said: “The arts package finally being announced is a relief, but let’s keep in perspective that *this is the government’s job* and stop short of actually grovelling to them for doing it.

“Would you gush so profusely for an actor who finally gets off-book two shows after press night?”

fell through the cracks

In a separate tweet, she added: “They’ve still done nothing for those who fell through the cracks between SEISS and furlough, and they stood by and watched as theatres began announcing permanent closures. Finally announcing that they’re doing the bare minimum doesn’t absolve them of their failures.”

Not to forget the good questions which need asking about how this historic level of funding can be used.

The money, as the UK Government’s own press release rightly points out “represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture.” There’s £1.57 billion all told for the UK, with £97 million of that due to come to Scotland. And some of that £97 million due to come to theatre.

Don’t get stuck on the detail, look for the possibility. What of the future?

Such an investment must not be a mere sticking plaster to the huge wounds which theatre has suffered, however. Some are of Covid’s making – but not all. All the issues which have been so pressing over lockdown need to be addressed.

real opportunity

And the future, as Tony Reekie, executive director at Catherine Wheels theatre company pointed out, is ours to make.

He told Æ: “There’s been a lot of talk about not going back to where we were, and now perhaps there is a real opportunity to change for the better, to look at how theatre relates to communities – from babies to old folk – across the country in the most exciting ways, and that needs voices and faces and ideas that haven’t been heard enough or at all.

“Freelancers, in all their diversity, make up the lifeblood of our arts, but are still at the very edge of developments and decision making.

“At all levels that needs challenged and changed and from the endless zooms we’ve all had over the months I think, I hope, the will is there.”

If you have a vision of what the future of theatre in Scotland could look like, now is the time to start working out what foundations you need. And to start fighting to get them built.

The future is in our imaginations.


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