On 23rd March 2020, along with huge swathes of the country, Covid-19 shut down our cultural life, having a devastating impact on the national economy, communities and so many talented workers. Despite the gradual relaxation of the lockdown this decision continues to have a disastrous impact on the lives of individuals and organisations working in the arts and cultural sector.
We look with envy at other countries where proper regard is given to this aspect of life, and where live performances are gradually becoming possible once more.
The staff retention and self-employed support schemes along with Arts Council England emergency funding have been appreciated and enabled the temporary survival of many in the sector.
This week, the anxiously-awaited guidelines were published, but to our disappointment, while cinemas are allowed to re-open we find the guidance to our sector lacks the timescales, practicality, clarity and most importantly, the funding support needed for the sector to survive. Our productions cannot be turned on overnight but take weeks of preparation and planning.
Without the urgent revision of the guidelines, the whole of the cultural sector and almost all who work in this vital sector will be faced with the collapse of their organisations, the loss of craft skills acquired over decades and the further mass unemployment. Mass redundancies are being announced on a daily basis. Theatres have already closed, Companies have gone into administration. More will shortly follow and once closed, will never re-open.
What we are seeking as a matter of great urgency are:
- Expansion of the staff retention and self-employed scheme for the sector until we are allowed once more to generate income.
- Grant funding and investment to cover
- outdoor infrastructure
- reduced capacity opening
- costs of implementing social distance measures
- Permission for safe outdoor performances to take place during the summer months.
- ‘Not-before’ dates attached to the 5 stage road map
- Clearer sector-specific guidance on permissible activity, audience numbers and staging dates for an increasing scale of those allowed to gather.
This is needed, not just for our venues and theatres, but for each musician, dancer, visual, artist, technician, producer. For our buskers and outdoor performers, for those who lead workshops and art lessons, event management companies, lighting and costume designers, poets, comedians, actors, stage managers, writers, caterers, cleaners and many many more.
The long weeks of lockdown have placed even greater reliance on television and digital performances. Our sector has been working hard to innovate and think of safe and exciting ways to bring arts and culture to audiences who are desperate to come together again – but without clear guidelines and funding, it is not possible.
By allowing our regulated entertainment and cultural sector to put on these activities safely, initially, over the summer, will provide opportunities for people to take part in SAFE experiences and stem the audience for currently unregulated and illegal activity, whilst providing a much needed economic and social boost.
As the West Midlands Culture Response Unit, many of our organisations and individuals want to start to offer communities safe and well-planned activity during August, but to do so we need answers now, so the necessary preparation can be put in hand.
As a region, we are due to host two of the UK’s signature cultural events, Coventry City of Culture 2021 and Birmingham 2022, with a potential 1.3bn economic boost to the region. There is a significant risk that without investment and support, the region’s talented and world-renowned arts and cultural sector will not be able to participate, engage and capitalise on these opportunities, with a disastrous knock-on effect for the wider region’s economy,
We ask that you please provide this clarity, guidance and resource NOW, in order to help us to deliver connecting, healing and uplifting creative activity for our country.
Director – Culture Central
On behalf of the West Midlands Culture Response Unit
West Midlands Culture Response Unit
The purpose of the West Midlands Culture Response Unit (WMCRU) is to work together to ensure the visibility, viability and recovery of the arts and cultural sector in the West Midlands
Led by Culture Central, the unit is a partnership response established through discussion with the West Midlands Combined Authority, the region’s local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), regional independents, National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) from across the region, Arts Council England and further stakeholders and funders. The WMCRU represents over 100 organisations across the whole West Midlands Region.
In June WMCRU organised the Midsummer Festival, a free one-day festival celebrating arts and culture in the West Midlands featuring over 12 hours of performances, from 33 companies around the region, including 13 never-before-seen works. Midsummer was the first collaboration of its kind for the region, with participating organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, IKON Gallery, Ex Cathedra, Birmingham Opera Company and Keneish Dance and reached thousands of arts and culture lovers, not only in the Midlands but across the globe.
The Comeback is a short film created in collaboration with Spark Media, Culture Central and Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022. The film aims to support and champion our region in this time of crisis, shining a much-needed spotlight on our venues, museums, theatres, festivals, restaurants and pubs.
Header image: Birmingham Weekender 2017, by Verity Milligan