The Government Rescue Package back to listing

It’s not often you get what you ask for…

It was a fairly traumatic few weeks across the cultural sector. There was an ongoing silence from the government about financial support and confusion about a timetable to reopening. We had dutifully presented our evidence to the DCMS Select Committee, filled out endless impact surveys and posted on social media platforms. A sense of panic was setting in as we hash-tagged #SaveTheArts, while the media focused on crowded beaches, pub openings and packed aeroplanes.

Then on Sunday evening, the first news of a huge financial injection began to emerge. By Monday morning it was confirmed that a government financial injection of £1.57 billion was to be made across the cultural sector – a mix of grants and loans. To many of us, this was staggering: a far greater amount than anyone had predicted or hoped for. Personally, I had trouble working out what it actually meant as a figure; I don’t often think in billions. But I realised it was huge.

Of course, at this stage, there was little detail attached. And most of the media was reporting on saving theatres and venues. These were being referred to as the ‘Crown Jewels’ – so, what of us working in the less obviously bejewelled parts of culture?

However, it was the lead story on the BBC that morning. In the reporting, the nuances of how and why and where we work were lost and, once again, there seemed to be a lack of understanding about freelancers. But it was extraordinary to see it as playing out as a major news story. It felt like we had been heard – and we all played a part in that process in countless different ways.

So, we start to look ahead. There is no denying that this is an enormous amount of cash and, of course, the key players in the distribution of it will be the various UK Arts Councils. On Monday, Darren Henley, Chair of Arts Council England, made some important points, which I think are worth repeating in the context of Outdoor Arts.

Regarding where the organisational focus will be, he says:

“…it will also include organisations such as dance companies, orchestras, and participatory arts companies that might not have their own buildings, but that still play such a vital role in towns and cities across England.”

We must take assurance that these ‘building-free’ arts companies will include our many Outdoor Arts organisations – and we will continue to celebrate their vital contribution to our cultural life.

Returning to the question of individuals and freelancers, he writes:

“…this crisis has also shown the value and the vulnerability of the creative army of freelance artists, performers, curators, technicians, writers, directors, producers, makers and other workers who make up the majority of our workforce.”

It is good to see this recognised and he clearly points towards the reopening of ACE Project Grants, which will have a strong focus on individuals. This fund will be a vital place for many artists and others working in Outdoor Arts and I urge people to start preparing.

Because of my recent experiences at OutdoorArtsUK during this pandemic, I am genuinely optimistic about the significant place that Outdoor Arts will hold in the next part of this process. As many of you know, ACE made £0.5 million available to directly support the outdoor sector via OAUK, and it was our honour and privilege to be the custodians of that fund. Beyond that, many other outdoor artists and companies have received support through the main ACE Emergency Package. I have been delighted and surprised at the extent of that support.

With this in mind, I believe that Outdoor Arts will be an important and valued part of this ongoing narrative. I believe our voices have been heard amongst so many – that’s no reason to stop the shouting, but we should do so with confidence.

My own context for reacting to this news is the various speakers at our recent weekly OAUK Online Drop-In sessions. Under the title #GettingBackOutdoors, we have heard from festival producers, programmers, production managers and artists about their immediate and long-term plans for the future.

Two things shine out. Firstly, the sheer sense of responsibility in everything that was shared – all the speakers were bold and imaginative, but always with common sense, consideration and sensitivity. They all demonstrated a true understanding of the need to gain trust and the importance of community safety and clear communication.

Secondly (and no surprise here), I was, as always, dazzled by the amazing creativity on display. Obviously, everyone is facing challenging times, but Outdoor Arts is meeting them with clever, ingenious ideas to move their work forward and turning any compromises into creative virtues.

So, we are hugely grateful for this much-needed injection of cash. No doubt, the road will continue to be a bumpy one and I am sure there are many challenges ahead, but we press on together in the knowledge that our voice will continue to be heard.

Angus MacKechnie

Executive Director, OutdoorArtsUK



Arts Council England: Darren Henley: The government’s arts, culture and heritage rescue package

The Guardian: The UK arts rescue package is a huge relief – but the devil will be in the detail

BBC: Coronavirus: Emergency money for culture ‘won’t save every job’

UK Theatre: £1.57 billion rescue package to protect arts, culture & heritage industries

The Guardian: ‘At last a glimpse of hope’: UK arts leaders on the rescue package