Pub closures were a tragedy already happening when the pandemic started, and subsequently the mortality rate has risen sharply. According to the Morning Advertiser, the publican’s bible, 446 pubs disappeared in England and Wales in 2020, 37 a month, more than one a day.
By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor
Everyone knows by now the important role that local government plays in the cultural ecology of the country. Attention is often focused on the UK government, or more precisely the UK government in its function as funder of the arts in England. There’s lots of debate about Arts Council England, too, and the part it plays in supporting cultural activity. But local government as a whole gets less airtime. Partly this is a result of the hugely centralised media we have. If it hasn’t happened in London, it’s probably not that important.
The V&A has decided to take the government’s war against wokedom – or “contested heritage” – head on.
Being aware of the unbelievable hardship that has oppressed the theatre sector these long, long 15 months makes stories of triumphing endeavour by practitioners of all sorts all the more astonishing.
By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor
Part of the problem in advancing the cause of culture in government and other circles is the argument, sometimes unspoken sometimes said out loud, that the arts “business” is somehow not “real”.
Twenty-five years ago Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East was a ground-breaking piece of theatre, bringing to British audiences with dark humour the torments of tradition versus contemporary life for so many British Pakistani families.
Design, I thought, is the most pragmatic of disciplines, but I was wrong. The London Design Biennale’s 33 pavilions, answering to the theme of “resonance”, have turned it into a mystical practice.
By Patrick Kelly
We have heard a lot about culture wars in the UK lately, but the truth is that the “rows” over everything from the displaying of union flags to the dumping of statues is an essentially English argument.
Visual artists have suffered more than many in this pandemic, most of them being freelance and not eligible for the grants other self-employed have been.
I’m not sure if the government is trying to level us up or level us down, or who the levellers and the levellees are. Who are the British and what do they look like? Our museums should be able to tell us.
One of the justifications for the quickly aborted European Super League this week was that young people had lost interest in football and needed to be enticed back or else the game would die.
The search for a silver lining in this coronavirus shitstorm has been depressingly disappointing, but there has been one gleam for our sector, particularly for the visual arts: digital technology.
Well, we made it - didn't we? As of Monday we can start to open with shops and outdoor events, come May 17 museums and theatres can open and on Midsummer’s Day almost everything will be back to normal. We think.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s the hope that keeps you going. Ask any artistic director or CEO of an arts institution how they have survived this calamitous year and most will say that the prospect of re-engaging with live audiences is what has sustained them through the long months of lockdown.
Despite the V&A’s protestations there’s widespread belief that it intends to finally close its theatre and performance department.
“Bread and roses” was a stroke of soundbite genius used over a century ago by the American workers’ rights activist Helen Todd to represent her campaign for “fair wages and dignified conditions”. It was invoked again this week in support of creative industries’ freelance workers by the actor Siobhan McSweeney.
It’s all very well venues and museums being allowed to open again from May 17, but how are they going to lure their audiences back from the newfound comfort and safety of their laptops? And how do presenters know their audiences’ tastes are still the same after all that’s changed in the last year?
The Covid experience has taught us a lot about the value of art and how it is valued, and many see the government’s apparently new attitude as positive.
The government has it in for museums. AI had to change its report on Boris Johnson’s “roadplan” on Monday three times because it wasn’t clear when museums were to be allowed to open. Not till May 17 is the final word.
By Patrick Kelly
The news that the National Theatre is abandoning any plans to tour its productions in Europe is a stark reminder that decisions have consequences. The decision of the culture secretary and his department, and his government colleagues, not to back the creative industries will haunt us for many years to come.
When we finally awake from this nightmare, and by my calculation that should be just in time for the last few shopping days to Christmas, the world will look completely different. And the world at Christmas, before we went into our Covid coma, was the high street.
The Canterbury Miracle Windows are a miracle in themselves, in that they have survived the kind of vandals that tear down statues of people they disapprove of.
That The Guardian should devote its entire leader column on Saturday to the arts was encouraging, but that it should be so positive – under the headline The arts, though dealt a terrible shock, will help Britain recover – was uplifting.
As expected, the Brexit deal was taken to a cliff edge, and as ever the arts were left hanging by the fingers, bemused and white knuckled.
Founded ten years ago, STEAM Co. is on a mission to encourage creativity in schools and communities across the disciplines - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths - and it has never been busier than in this Covid year. The Co. is for Collaboration.
In the circumstances it seems like a pragmatic decision for a national museum. Almost obvious. Never mind arbitrary closing of some galleries, limited cafe service, skeleton-staffed shop. Just close the place for a couple of days a week.
The chair of the Charity Commission has waded into the wokeness row in the context of how it is being felt in the heritage sector, following the National Trust’s revision of the history of some of its properties.
The Comprehensive Spending Review isn’t comprehensive and it doesn’t spend: it’s selective and it only promises to do things, mostly cut. One word is particularly missing from Rishi Sunak’s statement this week: freelance.
Festivals, which have been in a darkened room for the last year, are emerging with their plans for post-Covid liberation, but they have been changing during their hibernation. Get ready for the wrap around arts festival.
The actor and writer Nell Hardy has taken experiences most of us would prefer to shove at the back of our memory bank and has made art out of it.
By Simon Tait
Not a rant this week. I’m shoving aside the American omnishambles and the lockdown to talk about something that’s fascinated me for more than 30 years and never stops giving: the Rose.
So did the culture department make praising the government a condition of getting money from the culture recovery fund? Well, yes… and no.
Tentatively, it seemed, and with nervous sideways glances at whatever new horrors fate might have lurking, Coventry has announced its programme as City of Culture 2021.
The image here has become infamous, and the more it’s seen the more outrageous it becomes, so here it is again. Wrong on so many levels it is a glimpse, more than a glimpse, of how the government sees jobs in the arts. It doesn’t.
This week an Arts Council commissioned report told us that the arts economy will have recovered in 2022, a year early. This week too the RSC announced it would have to cut 90 jobs, the Royal Opera House said it would sell its most valuable asset to make ends meet and Rishi Sunak appeared to tell artists to get retrained if they wanted to work.
By Patrick Kelly
Good news is hard to find in these pandemic-infused times, so let’s raise a cheer or two for the Clore Duffield Foundation, which is handing over £2.5 million to 66 cultural organisations across the UK to support their learning and community work during the Covid crisis.
The Royal Academy is famously our one world class art venue that is independent. It gets no subsidy and relies entirely on sponsorship, box office and what it can earn, and runs an art school for which it charges no fee (because that’s what society did 250 years ago). So if museums and galleries are in trouble, you can say that again for the RA.
Enthusiasm for the high street as our local cultural hot spot seems to have reached fever pitch this week.
What a sad way for Tony Hall to exit the BBC after a ridiculous teacup-sized media-manufactured row, and with his last decision overturned the minute his successor took over.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s easy, perhaps even reasonable, to be pessimistic about the future of culture following the ravages of the pandemic.
Gradually the “String of Pearls”, as Richard Rogers once called the cultural attractions along the south side of the Thames, are coming back to life, but it’s patchy and their futures are as murky as the river itself.
There’s something eerily Gothick about the New River Head engine house, a delight for illustrators and an image that would send Mervyn Peake on a maelstrom of weird invention. No wonder Quentin Blake fell for it.
“Unlovely” is how one of the PRs associated with the Thames Estuary development describes the region. “It’s hard to see Joseph Conrad”.
There was a poignant throwaway line on Front Row’s edition devoted to Rethink last week when the panel was lamenting any meaningful suggestions from the government about how to avoid the black hole our cultural infrastructure is heading headlong for. “In the absence of large art” said the equality campaigner Amanda Parker “people found local”.
At the start of Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday presenter John Wilson seemed bucked to be able to say that the government had announced a couple of hours earlier that museums, galleries and cinemas could reopen from July 4.
Artists and writers such as Yinka Shonibare, Ben Okri and Anish Kapoor, and museum curators like Hartwig Fischer at the British Museum, have called for a national museum devoted to, they say, the “transatlantic slave trade and its racist legacy”. But is that what they really want, and is racism slavery's legacy?
Black Lives Matter has hit the arts, and so it should. Our culture is who we are, and BLM is telling us that some of us haven’t noticed who we have become.
Negotiations on saving our culture from apocalypse, behind closed doors rather than in the correspondence pages of the national press, have begun and are expected to take until the end of the month, at least in their initial stage. Not long to build a new horizon.
Most theatres can’t open before the autumn and those that do will have to operate at 30% box office to meet social distancing requirements, producing an income that would be well below costs. Apocalypse.
This little fellow, all of four inches tall, is a muse. Not one of the official ones, but one that some enterprising local museums in Kent hope will generate sweet music. Actually he’s a Lar, but I’ll come back to him.
The irony of the National Gallery’s situation last Friday, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, was not lost on its director Gabriele Finaldi.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s hard to lift the gloom these days, as the cultural industries survey the wreckage of the Covid-19 crisis and the hapless efforts of the UK government to address it.
“If you can’t come to art then art will come to you” says the artist Sam Harris, and never has that been truer than in this eerie Covid envelope in history.
That seems to be the sentence that every government announcement ends with. But as Keir Starmer told the government on Tuesday, you can’t just park this. The pandemic will end, nothing will go back to normal, the economy will be unrecognisable, and the plan to deal with it is…
By Patrick Kelly
This week we hear that The Film and TV Charity has set up an emergency relief fund for freelancers who have been hit hardest by the closure of productions across the country. Netflix, BBC Studios and the BFI are all stumping up so that grants of up to £2,500 will be available for applicants in hardship.
Before I launch into this week’s diatribe, take four minutes for this, from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. It will put you in the mood.
The news that Halifax’s Square Chapel has gone into administration demonstrates the fragility of arts organisations in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the week the coronavirus crisis really hit the industry, with a tsunami of closures affecting every single sector of the cultural world, from theatre to television, museums to music venues.
For Wednesday’s Budget, Covid-19 has been a veil behind which civic Britain is dying. Our high streets are commercial cemeteries, our pubs - as the Chancellor noted - closing at the rate of 18 a week, local theatres and concert halls struggling to survive and shopping malls almost deserted.
We’ve learned this week that Dominic Cummings detests humanities and the arts, underlining the theory that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has only survived his scythe because he needs it to hit the BBC with, and duly the new culture secretary’s first speech has been about the BBC.