Dowden appoints culture tsar to ‘advise’ on recovery

The government has appointed publisher, philanthropist and entrepreneur Neil Mendoza as Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal to help the sector steer a way through the effects of the pandemic.

Mendoza’s role will be advisory, presenting “an expert and independent voice” on how UK culture and heritage can begin the road to recovery. His precise role, however, remains unclear, in that he is expected to “garner the strongest, most innovative ideas for (the sector’s) renewal and present them to DCMS ministers and officials. He will initiate an ambitious philanthropic focus on arts and culture, and help ensure Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England and other important bodies work together with DCMS to develop and deliver support to the sector.

He told the BBC that it would be “incredibly hard” for arts institutions that “have been hit so badly and obviously lost all income, and it looks like it will be a long time for this particular sector to come out of the other side. They will want to continue to do what they do in a limited fashion, but it will be very hard to operate economically under distancing rules. Cultural organisations should prepare for all sorts of potential outcomes, and my job is to help these sectors in distress”.

He said he had no budget and the DCMS “was working with government on all sorts of measures”.

Currently Provost of Oriel College, Oxford, Mendoza’s background is in banking, film finance and publishing, having co-founded Forward Publishing which became a leading contract publisher. He has served on a number of arts boards and has been a non-executive board member of DCM. In 2017 he published  Mendoza Review of Museums in England for the government.

His appointment comes as leaders in the creative arts are stepping up demands in the face of “complete obliteration”, in the words of West End producer Sonia Freidman https://www.artsindustry.co.uk/news/2056-theatres-facing-total-collapse-friedman.

Nevertheless, his appointment has been welcomed by Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota: “Culture and creativity will be vital to rebuilding communities across the country and in sustaining our international standing as a creative nation. Helping the sector to reopen is a priority for the Arts Council and I very much look forward to working with Neil in support of the aims of the Taskforce” he said.

The appointment was announced today by culture secretary Oliver Dowden. “Our local, regional and national institutions have been trailblazers in coming up with innovative ways to reach audiences during the lockdown” he said. “Our focus now turns to paving the way for the reopening of the country’s cultural hubs including theatres, galleries, museums and entertainment venues, when it is safe to do so”.

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