A call for the government to step up with urgent funding “to shore up our cultural landscape” has been made as Shakespeare’s Globe warned it faces insolvency without extra help.
Julian Knight, the chair of a House of Commons select committee exploring the impact of coronavirus on Britain’s creative industries, has written to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, calling for additional support.
It came as his digital, culture, media and sport committee published evidence it has received from organisations such as Shakespeare’s Globe, the Donmar Warehouse and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.
Knight said it collectively “lays bare the scale of the challenge facing the cultural sector, particularly theatres”.
The Globe evidence is particularly stark. It opened on London’s South Bank in 1997 and has been an international success, attracting more than a million visitors annually.
“Despite being well-managed, well governed, and – crucially – able to operate without public subsidy, we will not be able to survive this crisis,” its evidence states. That would be “a tragedy for the arts, for the legacy of England’s most famous writer, but also for the country, if our iconic site on Bankside stands empty”.
The Globe has imposed “radical cost-cutting” and is using the government’s furlough scheme to hang on. But it is not eligible for an emergency support package made available by Arts Council England to the vast majority of England’s arts organisations.
“We are a model for the non-subsidised arts sector … but in the face of a crisis such as this one, there is no mechanism to help us. This has been financially devastating and could even be terminal.”
Shakespeare’s Globe finds itself in a similar position to the Old Vic theatre. Its artistic director Matthew Warchus last week warned that it was in “a seriously perilous” position. Regional theatres have also told the Guardian they are in a “state of high jeopardy”.
Knight said Shakespeare’s Globe was a leading example of the major contribution the arts made to the UK economy. “For this national treasure to succumb to Covid-19 would be a tragedy,” he said.
“Like many theatres and venues across the country, it faces a struggle for survival and an uncertain future. The lifting of lockdown will not automatically mean ‘business as usual’ for the creative industries.
“The government must step up now and find more funding to shore up our cultural landscape and safeguard our rich past while giving hope to those whose livelihoods depend upon it.”
The newly published evidence includes a warning from the Theatres Trust anticipating the closure of a significant proportion of theatres.
“This erosion of cultural infrastructure could have a long lasting impact on access to the arts, careers in the creative sectors and the UK’s position as a world leader in this sector and as a major contributor to tourism,” it says.
Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group said the cancellation and postponement of 27 productions, from The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and the West End to Sunset Boulevard in Japan, represented an annual box office loss of £320m and a loss of £12.5m in income.
It said lessons could be learned from South Korea where Phantom is currently playing in a venue with 1,600 seats. Capacity has not been reduced.
“Seoul, a major cosmopolitan city with a population of 9.87 million people offers a valuable case study for London with its population of 8.98 million people,” the evidence says.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are providing unprecedented support for the cultural sector, including the job retention scheme, a years’ business rates holiday, and the Arts Council’s £160m emergency response package.
“We’re now working closely with the industry to plan for the future and, as soon as it is safe to do so we will be encouraging everyone to get out and experience the UK’s fantastic theatrical and cultural offerings again.”