In the wake of this week’s announcements that the Globe Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall may have to close, Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Managing Director of the Barbican Centre and former director of the BBC Proms) stated on BBC Radio 4 this morning that the survival of the arts can no longer be a side issue. He believes - and rightly so - that different approaches to recovery will be needed for the different sectors of the arts. Social distancing is being relaxed to enable sport to resume, so why, when more people go to the theatre than attend a premier league football match, is there such disparity in funding and political support? If more government support is not forthcoming, so much of our culture and heritage will be lost.
Julia Gillard, the first woman to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister (2010-13) of Australia, described her appointment as the new chair of the Wellcome Trust as “a dream come true”, adding that “I will relish supporting and speaking up for scientific research into key health challenges. I look forward to working with all those in the Wellcome family, including the Board, the staff who are led by the remarkable Jeremy Farrar, the research community and all those focused on the health of humanity.”
Gillard was a prominent figure in Australia’s economic recovery from the 2008 financial crash and also implemented significant education and healthcare reforms. Since leaving office in Australia, she has taken on roles as chair of both the Global Partnership for Education and mental health awareness body Beyond Blue. Her appointment is to be welcomed. She will replace another inspiring woman, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5, the outgoing chair in April 2021.
This was the stark headline of an article in The Times yesterday (1 May) by its arts correspondent, Richard Morrison. Without the influx of foreign visitors the national museums will suffer. University museums will face funding losses as international students fail to enrol. Many museums and galleries are facing the possibility of permanent closure because of the Coronavirus pandemic and not just the smaller ones: the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth and the Postal Museum in London have already signalled their imminent insolvency. Moreover, the culture secretary seems to be more interested in getting top-level football played again rather than opening any aspect of the arts. As Morrison states, if it’s deemed acceptable for footballers to stand side-by-side in a defensive wall, why shouldn’t dancers be allowed to perform? If we’re allowed to visit supermarkets, why can’t social distancing be applied to our cultural assets? Museums and galleries will need to be creative in what they offer and how they make it available to us. So we must all do our bit to support our cultural heritage once re-opening starts. After all, with the drop in foreign visitors, social distancing will be easier to impose and we’ll be able to enjoy some of our best loved sites without huge crowds. But, above all, we need to lobby government to provide financial support for the hard-pressed smaller museums and galleries that simply may not survive this crisis otherwise.
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