English galleries, theatres, and museums have turned to the Arts Council of England (ACE) for financial support to counteract shrinking visitor numbers when they reopen after the lock down is eased. ACE are in discussions with the government regarding a proposed £250 million bailout package to ease the shortfall in visitors created by social distancing and reduced international tourism.
Currently, the Arts Council has a “National Portfolio” of 828 arts organisations, performing spaces, museums, and libraries. The annual cost for this portfolio is £407 million, with £71 million provided by the National Lottery funding.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced the lock down in March the Arts Council were quick to respond, focusing on supporting the organisations through the lock down period. However, it is now clear there is going to be ongoing financial hardship for these organisations after the lock down has ended. For example, the National Gallery receives 60% of its visitors through international tourism.
The outlook when these institutions reopen is educated guesswork at the moment with directors predicting a reduction of anywhere between 20% to 50% reduction in visitor numbers. The reality will depend on when the lock down is lifted, any restrictions that remain in place, and the willingness of tourists to visit London.
While publicly funded art organisations are facing an impending financial crisis, we should spare a thought for the independent institutions who are already fighting for survival.
Without government funding, independent institutions must rely on the good will of the public through their own fundraising campaigns, which is no easy feat in the current climate.
Whatever the solution, great care and consideration needs to go into the next stage of lock down from all parties involved. Without the correct financial support and forward planning we could see the financial ruin of some of our national cultural heritage institutions and cause long term damage to the contemporary art scene. A terrible thought to say the least.