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Festivals relieved to be included in government cultural pandemic support

By | Published on Wednesday 29 July 2020

Arts Council England

Arts Council England has published guidelines for its Culture Recovery Fund, which will dish out up to £500 million of the £1.57 billion in funding being provided by the UK government to help cultural and heritage businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

“This fund is to enable cultural organisations that have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis to stay afloat”, it says, “providing them with support over a six month period to ensure that by 31 Mar 2021 they can reopen, either fully or partially, or [be] operating on a sustainable, cost-efficient basis until they are able to re-open at a later date”.

As for what constitutes a “cultural organisation”, it states that this particular fund will use the definition: “an organisation that works in one of our supported artforms or disciplines: music, theatre, dance, combined arts, visual arts, museums or literature”.

Comedy clubs are also included, although cinemas will be supported through a separate fund administered by the British Film Institute. But either way, that’s a pretty broad definition of culture, likely applying to a much wider range of organisations than ACE usually supports.

The guidelines also mention two types of music organisations specifically. Firstly, it clarifies that music venues can apply to both this and the recently announced Emergency Grassroots Music Venues Fund, which earmarks £2.25 million to specifically support grassroots venues. It also explicitly lists festivals as one of the types of “combined arts” organisations that can apply.

Welcoming the latter clarification, the CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals, Paul Reed, said: “While the effectiveness of this emergency fund in helping our sector through the pandemic will be determined by exactly how it is allocated, we are cautiously optimistic about this update, which makes the eligibility of festivals explicit”.

“We understand that, thanks to contributions from our members illustrating their current predicament, [Department Of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport] officials were able to make significant representations for festival inclusion and we’re very thankful for that support”, he went on.

“Festivals across the UK are undoubtedly ‘crown jewels’, both culturally and economically, in the local areas they serve and the nation as a whole”, he added. “Supporting the sector until next year will also kickstart other parts of the supply chain. Survival, and a healthy festival market in 2021, will result in artists being booked, sites and stages being built, and money being spent by the public”.

Prior to these guidelines being published, a group of music industry trade bodies, led by the Music Producers Guild, also called on the UK government to include recording and rehearsal studios in this sector-specific funding programme.

That followed a roundtable discussion with Creative Industries Minister Caroline Dinenage. In a follow-up letter, they said that, while the UK’s more than 500 recording and rehearsal studios were forced to close due to the COVID-19 lockdown, most have been unable to access any government grants to date, with as many as 40% facing closure within three months, while others have already shut down.

As has proven successful for the live and recorded music sectors in the past, the letter also plays up the significance of recording studios, both economically and to the UK’s global cultural relevance.

“In 2019, three of the top ten best selling records worldwide were made in UK studios and the soundtracks to 50% of the biggest grossing movies were recorded in UK studios”, it said.

The studios also “underpin”, they added, the £568 million [gross value added] contribution made to the UK economy by the record industry, and the wider £5.2 billion GVA of the music business. “Without this infrastructure, that has been developed over decades”, they concluded, “our commercial success will be much diminished”.

As well as MPG boss Olga FitzRoy, the letter is signed by the heads of PRS For Music, the Featured Artists Coalition, AIM and the BPI. You can read the letter in full here.

Given the very wide definition of “cultural organisation” being supported by the Culture Recovery Fund, recording studios will actually be eligible. Though, as with AIF, the MPG will presumably be keen to monitor exactly what form that support might take.

The minimum grant level on offer through the new fund is £50,000, with a top level of £3 million – with additional loan funding also being made available. Applications will be received and assessed in two rounds, opening on 10 Aug and 21 Aug. Applicants will have to set out a budget for how they will use the money received over six months, and also provide accounts to show that they weren’t at risk of closure prior to the pandemic.

Find all the details on the fund and how to apply here.