The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) chief executive Paul Reed said he is “cautiously optimistic” after the UK government confirmed festivals are included in the recently announced £1.57bn cultural emergency fund.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced the first tranche of funding earlier this week, with Arts Council England to oversee £500m in grants to support institutions across the arts and cultural sector including theatres, music and comedy venues, museums, and festivals.
The grants, which can be applied for next week, range between £50,000 and £3m.
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, DCMS officials were able to make significant representations for festival inclusion and we’re very thankful for that support.
“Festivals across the UK are undoubtedly ‘crown jewels’, both culturally and economically, in the local areas they serve and the nation as a whole. Supporting the sector until next year will also kick-start 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.”
According to AIF’s research, festivals contribute an estimated £1.75bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy annually and support 85,000 jobs across the country.
The organisation expects the UK’s festival sector to miss out on an entire year’s worth of income in 2020 and have lost an average of £375,000 ($470,000) per event.
Meanwhile, the dance music and events sector has gained government recognition within the arts and will have access to the cultural recovery package.
The news comes after the sector launched the campaign, Let Us Dance, to urge the government to include nightclubs, dance music events, and festivals in the allocation of funding.
Michael Kill, chief executive of Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), said: “We are extremely pleased that the Government and DCMS have released the guidance and eligibility criteria for the Cultural Recovery Fund and have included Electronic Music and many other subgenres.
“#LetUsDance campaign generated a huge amount of support from the sector with thousands of letters sent to Local constituent MPs throughout the day, trending at No.2 on Twitter. This is a positive step forward, but we must maintain pressure on the government to gain clarity on the roadmap for businesses that are still unable to open, and fight for further support to ensure they survive this crisis.”
West End reopening
West End impresario Cameron Mackintosh said theatre box offices will need to reopen in November if productions are to resume by Easter 2021.
He warned that if the UK government could not support removing social distancing by then, reopening could be pushed back to the summer, which he said would cause more “devastating losses.”
The news comes as Mackintosh, whose Delfont Mackintosh group owns eight London theatres, announces he has “permanently closed” The Phantom of the Opera in both the West End and on tour.
He wrote in the Evening Standard: “In early May I warned culture secretary Oliver Dowden and the government that this would be necessary unless we received financial help. Despite the recent announcement of a £1.57bn rescue fund for the arts, this help still hasn’t materialised.
“When COVID hit, all eight of my theatres were packed with hit shows including some of my own. So, as by far the largest independent employer in the West End, it is not surprising that, as both theatre owner and producer, with no outside investors, I’ve taken a huge financial hit.”
He added he was hopeful that by Easter next year most of his productions and some of his theatres could reopen, so that he could “start re-employing most of the staff” he “had to let go”.
He continued: “But we would need to reopen our box offices in November. If the government is unable to support this, we’re likely to have to push back our reopening to next summer, causing further devastating losses to both the theatre industry and London’s economy, to which I have already contributed more than £1bn in tax.”
Image: Eva Rinaldi