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The week in art news – UK government promises £1.57bn emergency funding for arts sector

6 July 2020

Our regularly updated digest of the week’s top art news

UK government promises £1.57bn emergency funding for arts sector | The UK government has announced a relief package of £1.57bn to protect the UK’s arts and heritage sectors from the financial impact of coronavirus. The package, described by the government as ‘the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture’, has been praised by figures across the nation’s arts industries; Ian Blatchford, chair of the National Museums Directors Council, has called the announcement ‘welcome news for the museum sector, both in the scale of funding and as a strategic commitment to our role in the life of the country’. The package includes:

• A £1.15bn support pot for cultural organisations in England, with £270m delivered as loans and £880m as grants.
• £100m for national cultural institutions in England and for English Heritage.
• £120m of capital investment for cultural infrastructure and heritage construction projects in England that have been paused because of the pandemic.
• Funds totalling £188m for the devolved administrations, with £97m for Scotland, £59m for Wales and £33m for Northern Ireland.

The amount of funding compares favourably with the relief packages of other European nations, but the package raises questions about how much support, if any, might be on offer for individual artists – many of whom are freelance. The shadow culture secretary, Jo Stevens, has called the package ‘too little too late’, while John Berry, the former artistic director of English National Opera, has pointed out that ‘there are a lot of institutions for this to go round’. In a joint statement, the directors of the National Gallery, the British Museum, Tate, the V&A, and Natural History and Science museums welcomed the emergency assistance, adding that ‘We now look forward to engaging with the comprehensive spending review to secure a longer-term financial settlement.’

On Monday, France’s new prime minister Jean Castex named Roselyne Bachelot culture secretary in his first cabinet reshuffle. Bachelot has been working as a media commentator for the past eight years, prior to which she held ministerial positions under both Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. She replaces Franck Riester, who had held the post since 2018; Riester is now in charge of foreign trade at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Outdoor theatres and music venues will be allowed to resume performances in England from Saturday 11 July. Announcing the news on 9 July, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said that performances must take place ‘outside and with a limited and socially distanced audience’; he urged people to ‘get out there and to play their part’ by buying ‘the tickets for outdoor plays and music recitals’. Members of the theatre industry have welcomed the news but called for greater clarity from the government on the date for the return of indoor performances. Earlier this week, Arts Council England announced a £33m relief package to be allocated to 196 venues, in addition to their initial £160m emergency package made available in March.

Leonie Bell has been announced as the new director of V&A Dundee. She takes up the mantle from founding director Philip Long, who is now the chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland. Bell is currently the Strategic Lead for the Future Paisley Partnership, in which role she has been in charge of the Renfrewshire town’s cultural regeneration and of its recent bid for UK City of Culture.

In response to an open letter signed by more than 70 members of staff, Elysia Borowy-Reeder has been placed on leave from her role as executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). The letter alleged that, during her tenure as director, Borowy-Reeder ‘created a toxic environment which has isolated current and former staff members’. Meanwhile, in London on Tuesday evening, the Royal College of Art lost a vote of no confidence over its appointment of a white man as its head of inclusion. An open letter by more than 800 students and current and former staff members – including the winners of this year’s Turner Prize and Jeremy Deller – cited the appointment as evidence of ‘a toxic culture of systemic racism’ at the institution; the RCA has now ‘paused’ its hiring process for the position.