On July 5, 2020, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiled the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF), a one-time investment in the UK arts industry to help it weather the storm. covid impact. After months of uncertainty and dire warnings of a sector at risk, the government was finally offering a lifeline: £880m in grants and £270m in repayable loans for English cultural organisations, £100m of targeted heritage support, £120m of capital investment to restart building projects, plus £33m for Northern Ireland, £97m for Scotland and £59m sterling in Wales.
Decisions on who got what were made by expert bodies: the Arts Council, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.
This funding scheme, the Prime Minister proudly proclaimed, “would protect the sector for future generations, ensuring that arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff while their doors remain closed and keep the curtains down”. So, almost two years after that £1.57 billion pledge, has the CRF done its job? Did he save the arts?
Well, basically: yes. As of November 2021, the CRF has awarded £1.2 billion to around 5,000 organizations through multiple funding rounds. And, despite the extraordinary challenges, the majority of our arts venues and institutions have survived.
It was certainly not guaranteed. Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, remembers people telling him they couldn’t imagine the hall would ever sink. “I would say, ‘I imagine it every day. It’s true. Look at our depleting reserves”. Before the furlough, before the Culture Recovery Fund, it was something that we really took for granted.
Albert Hall lost £30m in revenue in 2020 so CRF was really crucial. However, this was not a perfect solution. Hassall expressed frustration that the hall was deemed ineligible for an emergency capital grant because it was not “a nationally distributed portfolio of venues.” Instead, they were advised to apply for a loan, despite the venue having already taken out a £5million loan through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme. Which they did, eventually receiving £21million. Today, despite a four-year interest and repayment holiday, Hassall had to cut his fabric as a result.
“[The repayments] will reduce our profits, and [that] means we are slightly compromised in how much we can invest in new talent and artists,” he says. “But it’s inevitable. We borrowed money, we have to pay it back.
Surely it would have made more sense for the government to give them a subsidy, so they could pay for it in terms of jobs and commissions?
“Yeah, it would be,” admits Hassall. But he insists that “we all invent as we go. This is ultimately not because of government failure, but a lack of knowledge, awareness and information. It’s still £1.57 billion for the arts. Whatever kind of phony process that slowed it down happened and kept the sector alive.”
Hassall adds: “I’m sure there have been huge fights within the Treasury over what funds to allocate and where. It would seem dishonest to complain now. [The CRF] seemed to be evenly and equitably distributed. It could have been better – but we couldn’t have had Covid too. »
However, not everyone agrees that the distribution of the FRC was fair. There were furious whispers about immersive theater company Secret Cinema getting £977,000, given that they put on very few shows, with high ticket prices (general admission to their production of Dirty Dancing this summer costs £100 per person), and gets financial support from partnerships with Netflix and Disney.
And yet Manchester comedy club Frog and Bucket – which nurtured the likes of John Bishop, Peter Kay, Jack Whitehall and Sarah Millican – was not deemed “culturally significant” enough for CRF support.
Fortunately the Frog and Bucket survived, but the Shepperton Jazz Club in Surrey was not so lucky: it was forced to close in May 2021, after operating successfully for 40 years. “I did everything I could to keep it going,” says former director Nigel Price. But, he explains, the pandemic has hit the club’s demographics – which were older – particularly hard.