U.K. announces $2 billion bailout to help keep the arts afloat

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U.K. announces $2 billion bailout to help keep the arts afloat
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson participates in a national NHS celebration clap outside 10 Downing Street in London on July 5, 2020, to mark its 72nd anniversary. This year's celebration is particularly poignant given the challenging conditions NHS staff have had to work under over the past four months amid the coronavirus outbreak. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.

by Alex Marshall

(NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Britain’s arts sector, largely shuttered since March because of the pandemic and warning of an imminent collapse, is being given a lifeline through what Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as a “world-leading” rescue package for cultural and heritage institutions.

The organizations will be handed 1.57 billion pounds, about $2 billion, the culture ministry said Sunday evening.

The money will go to a variety of recipients, including Britain’s “local basement” music venues and museums, Johnson added, although he did not provide details. Museums in England were allowed to reopen Saturday, but it is unclear when theaters and music venues will be permitted to.

The figure is on par with rescue packages for the arts in Europe’s largest nations.

On Friday, Germany’s parliament approved a fund of 1 billion euros (about $1.13 billion) to get its culture sector back up and running, building on already generous support from its regional legislatures. Many state-funded theaters in Germany receive 70%-80% of their income from the state, compared with about 20%-30% in Britain.

France’s culture ministry said in a news release last week that it had committed 5 billion euros toward the arts, although much of that included unemployment benefits and job retention initiatives that did not figure in the British or German bailout totals.

Smaller countries have also pledged money for the sector. The Netherlands has committed about 600 million euros to help protect its cultural life, a spokesman for its culture minister said in an email. That includes rent holidays for museums and measures to help self-employed artists, he said.

The British package was met with surprise by the country’s theater industry, which had been running a coordinated, celebrity-led campaign for weeks in a bid for support as theaters announced major layoffs. On Friday, the National Theater in London told 400 employees that they would lose their jobs in August.

The package is a recognition that many performing venues cannot operate profitably with social distancing measures in place, said Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theater Royal, Newcastle, another venue that had announced layoffs.

On Monday, Oliver Dowden, the country’s culture secretary, told the BBC that allowing theaters to reopen without social distancing was “some way off.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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