Like many in the industry, I was relieved (and more than a little shocked) to hear that the Government was making £1.57billion available to support the arts and culture sector through the next stage of the Coronavirus crisis. Whilst this is hugely welcome, and a far larger sum of money than many expected, it’s not a silver bullet and won’t solve all the challenges we face. So what next?
Each year, Arts Council England commissions a report on the impact of the sector, which supports headlines about how much the Arts adds to the economy for each £1 spent funding it. But, when we look at the size of the funding pot, this impact report gives us an idea of how far £1.57 billion will go, and the answer is, not very far.
Compared to my bank balance right now, and unless you’re Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, most likely yours too £1.57 billion is a huge amount of money.
But, as a sector, we directly spent £6.5 billion on wages in 2016. So, that £1.57 billion will cover our collective wages for those directly employed in arts organisations for a little under 3 months.
Our total income for the same year was £21 billion – so if we take it all in one go, £1.57 billion is just about enough to give the industry a furlough for a month.
Let me say that again.
£1.57 billion, as an industry, gives us a month’s breathing room, at best.
Now, of course, no prudent arts organisation is going to be continuing to spend like they’re running a full programme. And that includes some stuff that’s carried on despite the pandemic, and some parts of the industry that are affected. So, this isn’t something to take to your budget planning meeting.
And, I’m no ingrate – it’s far more than any of us dared hope for, and I, like many, am feeling a mixture of relief and gratitude for those who’ve worked so hard to present the importance of our sector.
But, it gives an idea of the scale of the problem. A month’s breathing room, if we do nothing.
So, of course, doing nothing isn’t an option, and isn’t something that even the most hibernated of arts organisation will be considering. But what should we be doing?
Breathing Room to Plan To Reopen
For many organisations, all the talk about reopening, and the government roadmap has been purely theoretical up until now. What’s the point in these wise words about social distancing in venues, if we know opening will run at a loss?
The funding announcement over the weekend, whilst we don’t know when or how funding will be distributed, gives us some hope that we’ll be able to afford to partially subsidise socially distanced re-opening.
We can’t yet put concrete plans into place, but at least there’s some positive news for our sector and indication that even if we need to subsidise reopening, there’s the possibility of government support to do so.
So, socially distanced reopening will almost certainly lose money, but may now be a viable prospect.
And the fact that the government has recognised our plight as an industry is as much a morale boost as a practical boost.
Supporting our Ecosystem
Reopening as early as we can safely do so may not be the most financially advantageous option for our organisation, particularly if it employs a large number of casual staff or freelancers.
But, it does give us an opportunity to contribute to supporting that ecosystem. The trickle-down effect has never been so important.
By reopening, albeit running a more subsidised programme than we otherwise might, we are subsidising the very people who need it most – those who depend on our industry for their livelihood, are in the most precarious employment situation and who will be lost to our industry, probably for good, if we fail to support them now.
Of course, though, it supports no one if our organisations act as giant spreading hubs, so “as we can safely do so” is the essential part.
Honing Our Offer and Doing Things Differently
What is the point of our organisation? What value do we bring to our audience, our community, our society? Being relevant, diverse and contributing to our community has never been more important.
Now that our existential crisis looks just a little less bleak, can we take the breathing space to reflect on just what our mission and vision is for our organisation, and how to be the best we can be, through social distancing and beyond?
Similarly, the crisis has forced us to focus on what’s important – how will that change our personal priorities or those of our organisation?
Coming Back Stronger
Lots of sentiment over the past few months has focussed on the arts and culture sector’s ability to survive and come back stronger. How can we now put that into practice?
In the depths of the economic crisis in 2009, I wrote an article that organisations should be increasing not decreasing marketing budget to buck the trend rather than succumb to the trend, and similar is true now.
As tempting as the desire to hoard our cash reserves may be, few organisations will get through this crisis by relying on reserves alone – a sensible, proportional, targetted use of reserves or funding to invest in our future is a better approach than simply hunkering down and hoping to delay the worst.
We at PatronBase have increased rather than decreased our investment in our ongoing product development, because we believe that emerging from this crisis, our customers will need the best we can offer. Likewise, you may consider maintaining or even increasing your spend on marketing, fundraising, implementing efficiencies, capital spend and more, to put you in the strongest possible position when – finally – this crisis lifts and we can return to some semblance of business as usual.
We’re not out of the woods, but there is hope – even tho we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet, the Chief LX at least is tinkering in the box with a screwdriver. So let’s build on this, and show that £1.57bn for the arts and culture sector is money well spent.