Arts bodies have cautiously welcomed the Wales Cultural Recovery Fund, part of the Welsh Government’s £53 million emergency funding to help the sector recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new fund was announced at the end of July by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas who said that the pandemic had damaged “the fabric of Welsh life”.
The Wales Cultural Recovery Fund is jointly administered by the Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales. The Arts Council of Wales, for its part, will allocate £25.5m of revenue funding, as well as £2m of capital to arts organisations that have been significantly affected by COVID‑19. The central purpose of this fund is to sustain organisations facing the threat of closure and help them to resume activity in 2021 and beyond.
Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive of Arts Council of Wales said: “This funding is the latest instalment in an ongoing package of financial support to protect and defend cultural life in Wales. It’s quite clear that social distancing requirements will mean that the arts in general, and the performing arts in particular, are likely to be one of the last areas of public life to return from lockdown. This funding provides the vital lifeline that keeps Wales’ arts organisations in play, ready for the moment when they can welcome us back to enjoy and take part in the arts.
“But this isn’t just about marking time until we can resume the former glories of the past. What the COVID-19 crisis has taught us is that we must build back better, strive for greater inclusivity and use this terrible pandemic as a lever for change.
Dafydd Rhys, Director of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre welcomed the establishment of the fund but warned that “One crucial turning point coming up this year is the end of furlough, with the danger of falling off a cliff edge following that. We hope that the timing of the fund is not too late for some but certainly it will be welcome in terms of securing a level of security in planning up to the spring of next year.
“However, the storm clouds haven’t entirely gone away, as the losses in income for a centre such as ours will take a few years to return, as will audiences. We programme well in advance and the current insecurity means that it’s not clear what will be available and on tour next spring to provide us with a rich and varied programme, and if social distancing measures will still be in place at that time the limited capacity auditoria could well mean much of that work will not be viable.”
The Arts Council of Wales says that those receiving support from this fund will in return be expected to deliver something back to the Welsh public– what is being called the a ‘Cultural Contract’. The ‘Cultural Contract’ is designed to encourage organisations to transform the future reach and impact of their activities, improve the diversity of their boards and workforce, provide new opportunities for freelance artists, commit to fair rates of pay, and improve the environmental impact of what they do. The cultural contract is designed to ensure that, as organisations adapt to new ways of working, they ensure that public investment is deployed with a cultural and social purpose.
Commenting today, Phil George, Chair of Arts Council of Wales said: “The announcement a fortnight ago of the Welsh Government’s £53m Cultural Recovery Fund was a welcome recognition of the importance of the arts to the well-being of the nation and to the country’s creative economy. This funding will help artists and arts organisations – struggling to remain afloat – to avoid the immediate threat of financial collapse. This will be crucial in sustaining the arts as bringers of joy, imagination, healing and social cohesion – all of which will be deeply needed as we move through and beyond the pandemic.”
Earlier this year ACW’s Nick Capaldi had warned that without extra funding up to a third of its 67 portfolio companies could be in critical trouble at the end of UK goverment’s furlough period. Many had seen a huge drop in income, with some receiving no ticket sales as venues closed their doors and theatres went dark during lockdown.
Indeed some of the performing arts have been effectively closed down by Covid-19 restrictions enforcing social distancing in venues. Simon Curtis, National Organiser for Wales of Equity, the trade union for creative practitioners, points out that “At the moment there are no arts’ performances in Wales, not even outdoors.” Against this bleak backdrop Curtis responded to the establishment of the fund saying: “On the whole it’s positive to see ACW looking to maintain companies through to March of next year and to see new engagement with freelancers.”
Simon Curtis further hopes that this intervention would mean that “the majority of companies would be able to survive and that others would be placed in a slightly better position to do so because of the fund.” He accepts that there will be some mothballing but welcomes the fact that “the new cultural contract will ensure increased equality and diversity in companies, at both board level and in the workplace.”
The Arts Council of Wales will be managing funds for theatres, arts centres and concert halls, galleries, organisations producing and touring arts activity and organisations providing participatory arts activity. Meanwhile the Welsh Government will be managing funds for grass roots music venues, heritage sites, local museums, libraries and archive services, events and festivals, independent cinemas and individual freelance creative professionals. Details of these elements of support are expected by the end of this month.