Evidence submitted to DCMS Inquiry into impact of COVID-19

Future Arts Centres has submitted written evidence to the DCMS Inquiry into the impact of COVID-19.

Future Arts Centres has submitted written evidence to the DCMS Inquiry into the impact of COVID-19. You can read the evidence here:

1. Future Arts Centres

  • Future Arts Centres is a network of more than 100 UK arts centres, established in 2013 to create a unifying leadership voice our unique artistic and social contribution to the cultural and civic life of UK towns and cities. We believe that, through offering outstanding artistic experiences for all in our communities, and by operating as robust social enterprises, arts centres present a fantastic model for the cultural venues of tomorrow. https://futureartscentres.org.uk/
  • It is co-chaired and managed by Gavin Barlow, Chief Executive & Artistic Director of The Albany and Annabel Turpin, Chief Executive & Artistic Director of ARC Stockton.

2. What has been the immediate impact on the sector?

  • Our members closed their doors in mid March and remain closed until it is legal, practical and financially viable to reopen. Most of our members are heavily reliant on earned income, from ticket sales, room hire and secondary spend, and are therefore facing losses of up to 80% of their income. Many members have furloughed most or all of their staff, enabling them to draw on the Job Retention Scheme to contribute to their staffing costs.
  • Despite this, arts centres are continuing to offer programmes of activity for their communities, many reaching beyond those able to engage with culture digitally. By delivering via phone, post and local radio as well as online, our members are ensuring that some of our most vulnerable communities are supported to maintain social connections and active involvement in creative activity.
  • The major challenge for most members will be the period between re-opening and re-building earned income to previous levels, which we expect to take up to two years.

3. What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

  • Arts centres can make a huge contribution to the recovery of our communities. Situated as they are across the four nations, many in our smaller towns and cities, they reach people beyond the well-served metropolitan areas. The breath of their programmes, including live performance, film screenings, creative learning activities, festivals, exhibitions and community-led events, enables them to engage people from across the demographic spectrum – our research shows that at least 20% of ticketholders come from the least engaged communities.
  • Many of our members have particular expertise in working with young people, older people, disabled people, asylum seekers and refugees, people experiencing homelessness or poor mental health.
  • This range of activity, along with our multi-purpose buildings, enables us to adapt some of our programmes to work within social distancing guidelines, meaning we have the opportunity to re-open quickly as creative hubs for our communities.
  • However, this will require additional investment – in the short term – to support physical adaptations to meet social distancing requirements; to try out new ways of delivery; and to replace lost earned income, until live performances can restart and footfall/spending returns to pre-COVID levels.

4. What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

  • The greatest challenge posed by COVID-19 is around live performance, and consideration of its effect on larger performance-only venues has dominated the discussions to date.
  • We believe the greatest contribution to recovery can come from arts centres and other similar community-focused venues, who already have established relationships with their communities and are therefore best placed to help rebuild them.
  • We must return to a more balanced, equal and diverse sector. Arts centres are well placed to lead this, as they are already embedded in their local communities, with representative workforces and diverse programmes in place.

5. How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

  • With short-medium term financial support, arts centres can return to thriving venues with sustainable business models. They have successfully demonstrated their ability to develop mixed-income models, driving up earned and fundraised income and reducing their reliance on public subsidy.
  • Arts centres are well positioned to maintain, establish and develop cross-sector partnerships, contributing to the rebuilding of our economy and communities through activity supporting employment, education, mental health and town centre vibrancy.
  • In particular, our experience of supporting young people into employment, through formal apprentice and internships as well as advice, guidance and mentoring programmes can play a critical role in protecting what could be a lost generation. As well as a pathway into creative jobs, arts centres can also offer a broad range of opportunities across finance, marketing, hospitality and customer service.
  • Arts centres are also incubators for creative talent, supporting many freelance artists and practitioners to develop and share their practice. At a time when employment opportunities will be scarce, due to the closure of performance venues, paid job placements for artists within arts centres would provide additional skills and capacity for the delivery of our wider objectives around rebuilding communities.