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UK music industry welcomes Culture Recovery Fund support for numerous venues and festivals, though COVID challenges remain

By | Published on Tuesday 13 October 2020

Culture Recovery Fund

The UK music industry yesterday responded positively to the number of venues, festivals and other music organisations who will receive support from the Culture Recovery Fund, the Arts Council England scheme that is distributing a sizeable chunk of the £1.57 billion in sector-specific COVID support provided by the government to the cultural and heritage industries.

In recent weeks, of course, the music community has been increasingly vocal in its criticism of the UK government after it emerged that the next round of general COVID support schemes will be of little use to those live music and event businesses that are still in near or actual shutdown as a result of ongoing COVID restrictions.

That’s because the new support schemes are designed for those people and businesses that are starting to return to normal following the lifting of some earlier COVID lockdown measures.

In response to that criticism – and other claims that ministers had pretty much written off the cultural and events industries as it became clear that at least some COVID restrictions are going to be in place well into 2021 – the government repeatedly pointed to its sector-specific funding commitment, and in particular the Culture Recovery Fund.

However, while £1.57 billion is a significant investment, it was also known that a lot of culture and heritage companies and organisations would be seeking a share of that money. And many feared that more mainstream venues, festivals and other music businesses – which often don’t benefit from arts funding in more normal times – wouldn’t get the support they need.

Given those concerns, there was a noticeable sigh of relief in the music community yesterday when it became clear a significant number of those venues, festivals and music businesses that had sought a grant from the CRF had received funding.

The Association Of Independent Festivals reported that 71% of the applications made to round one of the CRF scheme by its members had been successful, with £4,461,976 being allocated to AIF-allied independent music festivals in total. Meanwhile, the Music Venue Trust said that 90% of its members who put in an application received funding.

In total 1385 theatres, venues, galleries, festivals, museums and other cultural organisations were told they would receive CRF grants yesterday, with £257 million being distributed in this round. For most of those receiving grants, the funding should allow said businesses and organisations to weather the ongoing COVID storm through to March or April next year.

All that said, despite the sigh of relief – and many in the music industry pausing their criticism of the UK government for the day and praising these interventions – concerns remain high for many in the music community.

First, there are those companies and organisations whose bids were unsuccessful. For many, not receiving a grant at this time may require them winding down their operations. Secondly, even those who have received funding won’t necessarily be able to keep their full current workforce in place as the previous COVID furlough funding scheme winds down later this month.

It also remains to be seen to what extent musicians and freelancers – who couldn’t directly apply to the CRF – will benefit from this funding.

Many recipients will use their grants to pursue COVID-compliant projects and events that will involve artists and freelance music industry practitioners, but quite how many will benefit is unclear. And given that the amount of general COVID funding for self-employed people unable to work is about to drop significantly, those musicians and freelancers not involved in any CRF-enabled projects will be facing significant challenges.

On top of that, at the more corporate end of the live music industry, redundancies continue as promoters, agencies and other live music businesses have to make difficult decisions as shutdown extends and the priorities of general COVID support shifts.

All in all, further support for the music industry will definitely be needed. And while not all of the £1.57 billion has yet been allocated, the government is likely to find itself on the receiving end of continued pressure and criticism from the music and wider cultural industries even once it has been.

However, at least yesterday politicians and officials at the UK government’s Department Of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport could enjoy 24 hours of praise instead of yet more anger and criticism. Or they could have done, had the big announcement regarding the CRF grants not coincided with a flood of social media outrage over an advert for a government-backed scheme encouraging people to consider a career in cyber-security.

The specific advert that caused particular controversy featured a picture of a dancer with the strapline: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”.

Given the aforementioned chatter to the effect that UK ministers had written off the cultural industries – and Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s not entirely convincing insistence last week that he had been misquoted when ITV News reported he’d said COVID-hit musicians should just re-train – the advert did not go down well at all among the creative community.

Aware Fatima outrage was drowning out the CRF announcement, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stated on Twitter: “To those tweeting re #Fatima, this is not something from DCMS and I agree it was crass. This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber-security. I want to save jobs in the arts, which is why we are investing £1.57 billion”.

Read comments about and responses to the Culture Recovery Fund announcement here