Investing in culture is not just for art lovers


A view of the Royal Albert Hall concert hall in London.

James Moore, The Independent

Artistic funding? To some, it sounds like an unnecessary cost, when you put it that way. We’ll think of the woolly “arts” umbrella – whatever that means – after we’ve dealt with the important stuff, right? It’s a story. And it has gained enough traction in recent years to allow the government to push arts funding into deep freeze.

If we look at what “arts funding” actually means, it is of paramount importance. I think it should be renamed ‘investing in UK creative industries’. These industries are world class. They bring in tourists. They create jobs. They can even save lives.

Because arts funding also gives needy children musical instruments and lets them into rehearsal spaces like the bowels of the Roundhouse in Camden, a safe place that could bring some light to their otherwise troubled lives. Perhaps that means a session with John Legend at the Royal Albert Hall.

So maybe we should invest in “the arts”. Maybe we need it. Their future is by no means assured. The energy crisis could, in some cases, end what Covid started. And once a place has rolled over and died, that’s often it. New ones are not easy to create. I have followed the fortunes of the Royal Albert Hall, the Roundhouse and the plethora of smaller venues where artists hone their talents to become greats. After surviving their forced hibernation during the pandemic, things seem dicey again – and the lower the pecking order, the harder it becomes.

The hall, for example, found itself in the unusual position of having “dark” nights, in which no shows were booked. Things, obviously, didn’t pick up immediately after Covid. CEO Craig Hassall told me the energy crisis has left the venue with an uncomfortable question: are we putting on shows to fill those nights or is it more profitable to keep them dark, given of the £2 million increase in the hall’s energy costs? even after taking into account the government’s business support program?

Profits, which amount to around £6million a year, are used to maintain the building and then pay for activities such as the aforementioned sessions with John Legend. It’s not hard to guess what will be put at risk if money runs out, despite the best of intentions.

Roundhouse CEO Marcus Davey is not considering cutting the shows yet. But he still faces tough choices. Energy used to count for 1% of the budget – now it’s almost five. And that’s far from the only cost that’s rising.

“We can’t see beyond six months,” he warned. “My feeling is that if the arts are going to flourish, they need support.”

Arts? Or Britain’s world-class creative industries? We have spent enough money to invest in and subsidize offshore fossil fuels, which pollute the planet. Isn’t it time to support the industries that bring joy a little more? And the institutions within them that not only do this, but also provide a lifeline for young people?

The Music Venue Trust, which represents the industry, said several of its members are now supported by its crisis team. This kind of support, however, cannot last forever. The business support package is “sufficient to avoid the collapse of the sector if fully delivered” at the prices that have been quoted. But what about afterwards?

The government has indicated that the ‘clubs’ will receive longer support than the initial six-month period, depending on the particular challenges the energy crisis poses to them and, of course, the particular affection in which they are held. by parts of the UK. public (who might also be inclined to vote Conservative). There is a crossover between clubs and concert halls. Clubs are often places. It is the first place where many artists perform.

The Trust asked for clarification on the general term “club”. He believes the definition should include “concert halls and other licensed premises essential to the core music ecosystem”. The Trust says it “expects” this will be the case. But he has not yet received an answer.

“It’s so important that people can go out and share a moment together. We were robbed of these cultural events,” Hassall told me. “We need them.” He is right. We do. There are, however, people outside of major urban centers who could still have these things stolen permanently. And even where they continue, a reduction in their numbers would make life in this country sadder and grayer.

The Cultural Recovery Fund that has weathered Covid is one of the few truly positive legacies to come from Boris Johnson’s premiership. It would be a tragedy if the money invested in this way were to be wasted.


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