The pandemic-ravaged U.K. music sector will receive a much-needed infusion as part of a £1.57 billion ($1.96 billion) rescue package for the arts announced by the government on Sunday.
Thousands of organizations in live music, performing arts and theaters, museums, galleries and independent cinema, will be able to access emergency grants and loans. The government, which described the funding as the “biggest ever one-off investment in U.K. culture,” says the emergency package will help cultural and heritage organizations stay afloat while their doors are closed due to the virus outbreak.
“I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations,” Oliver Dowden, the U.K. culture secretary, said in a statement announcing the funds. “I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”
The live music sector will draw its share from a £1.15 billion ($1.4 billion) support pot for cultural organizations in England to be delivered through a mix of grants and loans. The pot will be made up of £270 million in repayable loans and £880 million in grants, the government says.
Exactly how much funding will benefit the music sector, and what the process will be for allocating the funds, has not yet been fully fleshed out, a government spokesperson tells Billboard.
“We don’t know the breakdown of how much will go to live music venues versus other sectors as applications are not open yet,” the spokesperson says. “They will be soon.”
The funding will also target employment, including freelancers in the music industry. More than 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector have been furloughed since the pandemic began. (The U.K. live music sector supports 210,000 jobs.)
With several neighboring European countries, including France and Germany, committing tens of millions of euros to help their culture and arts sector weather the pandemic, the U.K. government has been under mounting pressure to follow suit. Last week music industry groups, backed by big artists like Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and The Rolling Stones, made an urgent plea to the British government for emergency funding for the live sector, organizing a #LetTheMusicPlay initiative on social media.
Umbrella organizations like U.K. Music have long called for sector-specific support to ensure live music can recover. “Eligibility for grants and loans must be as broad as possible to ensure maximum take up from across the industry from those in desperate need of help,” says Tom Kiehl, acting CEO at U.K. Music.
The U.K. has also lagged countries like Spain in updating guidance on the phased return of the nighttime economy sectors.
The government says it will announce further details on eligibility criteria and how people can apply for funds in the coming weeks. Partner organizations — including Arts Council England, BFI and the National Lottery Heritage Fund — will publish guidance on applications.
Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians Union, called the funding package a “welcome first step which hopefully ensures that all our great venues and theatres will not go under.” But he noted that “unfortunately, it is still unlikely that musicians who work in these venues will be able to go back to work imminently.” He urged the government to extend the furlough scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for creative workers until at least the end of 2020.
“Crucially, 38% of our members do not qualify for either of the government’s assistance schemes so we are also asking that excluded musicians are able to apply for some of the money that has been announced today,” Trubridge said.
One in five members of the Musicians Union have said they may leave music for good if they do not receive further financial support, he added.