As U.K. theatres and arts organizations continue to face an uncertain future in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has announced a £1.57 billion (approximately $1.96 billion) rescue package. The funds, to be distributed as emergency grants and loans, follow numerous pleas and campaigns from leaders in arts and culture sectors as venues were threatened with permanent closures and artists have been stripped of opportunities once available.
Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre Chief Executive Julian Bird calls the move “hugely welcomed” for the industry, noting the push for such a commitment made over the past few months. “Our industry’s united ambition is to be able to play its vital role in the nation’s economic and social recovery, and this investment will allow us to do so.”
Currently, all West End shows are closed through at least August 2; many have already announced they will not reopen until later in order to ensure the public safety demands of their specific productions are met.
Though this bailout funding offers a lifeline for preservation throughout the shutdown, theatres are also still navigating the extent of their contributions in a virtual landscape in the near and distant aftermath of the pandemic. Among the myriad institutions facing closure during the global health crisis is Shakespeare’s Globe. CEO Neil Constable has voiced satisfaction with the deal, adding that funds will help the theatre provide alternative programming until live performances can resume.
Additional aid will go to artists through a new fund created by Oscar and Tony winner Sam Mendes. Grants of £1,000 (approximately $1,250) will be aimed at those ineligible for direct government benefits under the current model—including freelancers. The program is funded in part by donations from Steven Spielberg, Armando Iannucci, and Netflix.
Mendes had actually called out Netflix in a recent proposal, noting that streaming services have garnered usage increases due to quarantine, with many of those numbers attributed to the contributions of theatre artists. For more information on the short-term relief funds, visit TheatreArtists.fund.