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Arts venues: Will we get share of £1.5bn?

'I think the government is using ‘theatre’ as a generic term when we are all very different and a 60-seat pub theatre is very different to the 2,000-capacity London Palladium'

10 July, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

The Jury was one of the last shows at Upstairs At The Gatehouse before the lockdown 

ARTS venues say they are waiting with “bated breath” to see if they will get part of a £1.5 billion government rescue package with warnings that small, independent venues must not miss out.

The New Journal has repeatedly reported on theatres, music venues and museums that have been left fearing for their futures due to the cost of the coronavirus shutdown and the lack of a firm date for re-opening.

With campaign groups forming to lobby ministers, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said on Sunday evening that emergency support in the form of grants and loans would be made available.

He warned, however, that theatres were unlikely to be permitted to allow audiences back in until after Christmas.

John Plews, artistic director of pub theatre Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate village, said he is waiting for details on how the money will be apportioned.

“It’s very positive news and shows they now believe the arts are worth saving, but we’re all desperate now to know the details and waiting with bated breath,” he said. “There’ll be a huge number applying for it and no one knows what sort of contribution they’re going to get.”

David Brady, artistic director at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town, said: “It’s fantastic news although we need it to trickle down to fringe theatres as well. I think the government is using ‘theatre’ as a generic term when we are all very different and a 60-seat pub theatre is very different to the 2,000-capacity London Palladium.

“You have the situation now where pubs are open but the theatres inside them aren’t allowed, it’s very mixed messages and I think they need to look at that.”

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq made the case for local artists and venues in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and said: “The news of new funding will be welcomed by venues like the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn and Hampstead Theatre, but how will the minister ensure that smaller institutions can access it if they are forced to apply for at least £1million?”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said it will be setting out its strategy on how it will release the money over the coming weeks.

Marcus Davey, chief executive of the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road, said the money must be divided “across the whole cultural landscape to make sure the UK’s eco-system of art and talent survives”.

He added: “One of my main concerns is how much this has all affected young people. We are the largest creative centre for young people in Europe and we want to get back to doing that work as soon as possible. I really think art will be an important part of helping Britain heal from this.”

But, those such as Emily Keeble, artistic director of Etcetera Theatre in Camden Town, say that for some the help may have come “a little too late”.

“They [the government] have been so slow to help us that we feel forgotten.” said Ms Keeble.

“We weren’t eligible for any other government support because we’re a small business and not VAT registered, so we lost out on a technicality so I’m just hoping this latest fund will help us. It’s been a real struggle and we still don’t know how much or when we will receive any money.”

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