MP’s have warned that Britain could become a “cultural wasteland” following the outbreak of coronavirus and the unprecedented closure of museums, galleries and theatres. According to a new report, the arts and heritage sectors still face uncertainty that may lead to permanent closures and redundancies.
The report, entitled ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors’, was published yesterday after an inquiry was launched in April. A committee of eleven parliament members have concluded that the government was “slow to respond to the needs of the sectors under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) remit during the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Although the committee welcomed the government’s £1.5 billion support package for the arts sector, they declared that more needed to be done to help secure its future.
“The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardised the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them,” claimed Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chaired the committee. He added that the UK is “witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation”.
A spokesperson for DCMS said “we disagree with the committee. We have worked with urgency day in, day out since the start of the pandemic in providing support for our sectors and on plans to reopen them safely.”
Since lockdown began in March, the arts and heritage sectors have discovered new and engaging ways to interact with the public online. But the lack of visitors from the UK and abroad has had a knock-on impact on the industry’s financial situation, despite the government’s recent support package.
The committee has subsequently set forth 30 recommendations to support the cultural sectors. These include clearer timelines for reopening, increasing the funding safety net, supporting freelancers and smaller companies, and introducing technological solutions to enable visitors to return without social distancing.
Additional recommendations have been made to ensure the safety of vulnerable art collections. The report stated: “To secure collections at risk from museum insolvencies, the DCMS should introduce a temporary change to legislation to ensure that if an accredited museum becomes insolvent as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the institution’s collections cannot be liquidated for financial assets for the first 12 months.”
On the same day as the report was published, the Art Fund also announced that it would be doubling the winning sum for the Museum of the Year 2020 prize. This year, £200,000 will be divided equally between five shortlisted venues in an effort to prop up the struggling sector.
“It’s exciting that we can begin to visit our inspiring museums again, but just because the doors are reopening it doesn’t mean they are ok,” explained Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund. “They can’t survive long-term with a fraction of visitors and they’re continuing to navigate the huge challenges of Covid-19.”