Why our venues closing will come at a cost to us all

Friday, 14th August 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 14th August 2020, 10:30 am

Live music and theatre are not just good for the soul - they’re a big part of the nation’s economy too.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research published a report last year explaining the contribution of arts and culture to Britain’s finances.

And it makes a striking case for the monetary value of the sector, which includes book publishing and sound recording as well as performing arts.

Its findings included:

* The arts and culture industry grew £390 million in a year and now contributes £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy, more than the contribution made by agriculture.

* The sector contributes £2.8 billion a year to the Treasury via taxation, and generates a further £23 billion a year and 363,700 jobs.

* Productivity in the arts and culture industry between 2009 and 2016 was greater than that of the economy as a whole, with gross value added per worker at £62,000 for arts and culture, compared to £46,800 for the wider UK economy.

The findings suggest a loss of venues would come at a great financial cost to the nation.

And while the government’s £1.57 billion emergency support package has been greeted with relief, some experts doubt it will be enough, and want ministers to look more closely at the particular needs of the industry and the contribution it makes.

Dr Elizabeth Barry, associate professor of English and comparative literary studies at the University of Warwick, said: “As a teacher of literature and theatre, I welcome the government’s announcement of a package of support for arts and cultural organizations in the UK. This is a really big step in the right direction towards preserving our immensely valuable cultural sector.

“I hope, however, that the government will see beyond immediate economic return - which has been made an explicit condition for grants - to the value that the arts have for promoting social cohesion, for instance.

“Schemes that build communities and involve young people have lots of indirect as well as direct economic benefits. It is also important that companies are supported to take artistic risks in order to preserve and develop the creativity that has made Britain famous for its arts the world over.

“This is what will maintain the economic success of the sector. It isn’t always a simple equation between money in and money out. Some things take time to develop, and it is important that theatre and the arts are diverse and inclusive, and that the money spreads beyond London and the biggest urban centres.”

Professor Tony Howard, from the university’s department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, added: “This is a hugely welcome response to weeks of lobbying from Britain’s theatres, providing a lifeline at the very last possible moment. It’s a great deal of money.

“But what are the arts in Britain? It’s a huge, complex and diverse web of national institutions, struggling small companies, freelance creators and minority voices. The urgent challenge now is to release those funds and target them where they’re needed. In 1945, the government understood the need to use the arts to help the country recover, to ‘level up’ communities and release creativity. They had a plan and created the Arts Council. Let’s see the plan."

* This article is part of The Show Must Go On, JPIMedia's campaign to support live arts venues