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Arts Council England offers £160m lifeline as sector steps up to Covid-19 challenge

Arts Council England (ACE) has dipped into its reserves and suspended payments from two of its development funds in order to establish a £160m (€176m/$200m) rescue package for organisations and freelancers struggling to survive in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Payments from the ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ and ‘National Lottery Project Grants’ schemes have been halted so that the emergency funding package can be up and running by the end of this month, Eleanor Hampton, the body’s head of media and stakeholder relations, told TheTicketingBusiness.com.

National portfolio organisations and companies outside ACE’s main funding programme, as well as freelancers, will be able to apply for support, with the first payments set to be awarded by May 11.

Hampton added that ACE’s established budget for the 2018-2022 period, comprising £1.45bn of public money from central government and an estimated £860m from the National Lottery, would probably be surpassed as a result of implementing the package, given the unexpected reliance on the organisation’s reserves this year.

ACE’s emergency funding package includes £20m for creative practitioners and freelancers, £50m for organisations not in the national portfolio, and £90m for the 828 organisations in the national portfolio, a category that ranges from small touring theatres to the National Theatre.

A breakdown of the package means:

– Artists will be eligible for cash grants of up to £2,500 from the £20m pot. ACE is also planning to make grants of up to £4m available to existing benevolent funds for cultural workers.
– Organisations outside the national portfolio will be able to apply for grants up to £35,000 from the £50m fund.
– The £90m programme for portfolio organisations includes advancing current grants by up to six months to help with cashflow.

TheTicketingBusiness.com understands that many organisations in the sector in England are currently facing the prospect of burning through any financial reserves by early summer.

However, ACE chair Sir Nicholas Serota told the Guardian he is hopeful that the package will help organisations across the country to “weather the storm… [and] emerge the stronger, with ideas shared, new ways of working, and new relationships forged at the local, national and even international level”.

Theatres across England and the UK closed their doors on March 17 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised members of the public to “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues”.

Since then, the government has attempted to play down fears that stopping short of forcing such venues to close would lead to companies missing out on vital insurance pay-outs. A full lockdown of non-essential public venues was then enforced on March 23.

The ACE rescue fund is just one of several schemes that have been put in place across the industry to help those suffering from the impact of Covid-19.

Audience loyalty

Spektrix, a cloud-based ticketing platform, has found two-thirds of customers are donating or crediting the value of tickets for events cancelled by the Covid-19 crisis.

The announcement follows last week’s news that it developed a ticket converter tool to make it easier for audiences to donate or accept refunds as credit.

Spektrix has revealed that nearly 22,500 customers, or 67 per cent, have turned their tickets for arts and cultural events into credit with the host organisation, or have simply converted the payments into a donation.

On average, people are donating £32.18, representing 20 per cent of the total value of tickets. A third of customers opt for a full refund, meaning 60 per cent of the value of tickets is staying with arts organisations.

A Spektrix spokesperson said: “It’s really reassuring to know that customers are responding to these asks and they want to support the organisations they frequent. However long this goes on for, it doesn’t mean no revenue, even if you have no shows going on. Audiences do want you to survive.”

Industry solidarity

Theatre ticketing platform Stagedoor, which has a partnership with London Theatre Direct (LTD), has promised 20 per cent of subscription funds from its new Patron Club will go towards supporting theatre foundations.

Its 50,000-strong community has the option to pay £8.99-a-month to join the Patron Club with 20 per cent of subscriptions redirected to support theatre foundations. These people will receive benefits when theatres re-open, including up to 10 per cent off all ticket purchases on the app.

Michael Hadjijoseph, co-founder and chief executive of Stagedoor said: “We’re living in dramatic times, but it has been heart-warming to see so many members of our community show their support for the app that we’ve dedicated the last few years of our lives to building. Our promise to you is to keep building the best possible companion app to theatre and to continue to support quality journalism.”

Elsewhere, international arts management consultants TRG Arts is offering a range of free resources for cultural and arts professionals throughout the US, Canada, the UK and the EU.

TRG will share its crisis counsel and best practices through a new webinar series, TRG 30, on the TRG 30 Virtual Network on LinkedIn, where arts professionals gather and have their questions answered by TRG consultants.

Interested parties can register here to get involved.

Image: DenP Images