So, the government has announced its £1.57 billion rescue package for heritage and the arts, but the Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said yesterday that the grants will not be paid until later in the summer and that they would be used to protect “crown jewels” and “cultural anchors” in the regions. Why late summer and not now? That will come far too late for some. And what exactly are the “crown jewels” and “cultural anchors”? Doubtless the crown jewels will turn out to be the big attractions in London, such as the theatres and national museums, taking the lion’s share of the pot to the detriment of many small local museums and theatres.
The government has said that museums and galleries in England can open from 4 July provided that safety measures are implemented. Guidance developed by the National Museum Directors’ Council sets out nine considerations that need to be in place before re-opening to support the safety of staff and visitors. They have also created a suggested timeline to help museums plan their re-opening.
National museums in London have said that they are phasing their opening, but should all be open over the summer. But, how many smaller museums and galleries will be able to meet the requirements of social distancing...? As I’ve already reported, many well-known smaller venues have already announced that they are struggling. The Museums Association says that substantial financial aid is still needed to help the sector, but will the government see the necessity?
The National Archives has also produced guidelines to help archives plan for re-opening that include links to a checklist and risk management template:
But it is very odd that archives and libraries are still scheduled to be closed when shops, often far smaller spaces, are allowed to open and some archives already operate a booking system, so why not extend that? Most archive staff that I know have not been furloughed and there has to come a point where they simply have no more work that they can do from home. The benefits of access to libraries, museums and archives are well-documented so, for everyone’s well-being – staff, visitors and users – let’s see them re-opened sooner rather than later.
The impact of the Coronavirus on the heritage sector has hit close to home this week with the sad news that Fishbourne Palace may have to close. Fishbourne, situated just outside Chichester, is a Roman villa on a monumental scale that was comprised of four large residential wings around a courtyard garden. It is the largest residential building from the Roman period found in Britain. The outline of the walls, together with many stunning and elaborate mosaics, survives. It was built around 70AD by Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, king of the Regni, who was granted Roman citizenship and became fully assimilated into the Roman way of life. The site also houses the archaeological collections for Chichester District and serves as an important hub for academic research and both school-age and adult education, because it is a key site in explaining how the newly conquered province of Britain came to be absorbed culturally into the Roman empire.
Fishbourne is one of eight sites owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS), also known as Sussex Past, that have all been affected by the loss of visitors. SAS says that all its sites are threatened with closure due to a shortfall of £1 million in lost income. Next year marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of SAS and an appeal has been launched, supported by the historian, Tom Holland. Let’s hope it makes it to this momentous milestone.
A new report predicts that the creative industries sector will be hit twice as hard as the economy in general as a result of Covid-19. In the report, Oxford Economics forecasts the loss of 119,000 permanent posts and 287,000 freelance roles by the end of 2020. The focus on museums and galleries specifically suggests that £743 million in revenue and 4,000 jobs (representing 5% of the total) could be lost. These shocking statistics are reflected in film, TV, radio and theatre, which will also suffer huge losses.
Link to the report: https://www.creativeindustriesfederation.com/publications/report-projected-economic-impact-covid-19-uk-creative-industries
The latest heritage site to announce it is struggling for survival in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown is the Jane Austen House museum at Chawton in Hampshire. Its director has warned that the museum faces closure at the end of the year, because it is almost entirely dependent on visitor income. Austen lived in the now grade 1 listed, 17th century house from 1809 until her death in 1817. It is where she finished her novels. The museum will be applying for emergency funding, but has also started a Justgiving appeal. The historian, Lucy Worsley, and gardener and TV presenter, Alan Titchmarsh, who lives in Hampshire, are supporting the campaign to raise £75,000. Worsley described the museum as “the most treasured Austen site in the world”. To donate to the appeal, follow the link:
Business secretary Alok Sharma has confirmed that shops, department stores and shopping centres – all indoor spaces with limited room for people to roam – can reopen from Monday 15 June, “provided they put in place the necessary steps to keep their workers and customers safe”. After much public pressure, zoos and safari parks have now been given the green light to welcome visitors. This is great news, as these sites have been living on their nerves while awaiting news about when they can bring essential funds back into their businesses, but the same devastating experience has affected many museums and heritage sites too. With open-air visitor attractions like zoos and indoor retail units deemed safe, why not museums? Just one example of the disconnect in the government’s stance is evident at Covent Garden, where a raft of shops will be reopening on Monday while their neighbour, London Transport Museum, will remain shut. A lack of joined-up thinking or a lack of care and understanding for our culture and heritage?
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.
A government taskforce is being set up to help reopen the cultural sector in England. Overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and chaired by a DCMS minister, its responsibilities will include tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport. The group will be one of five official taskforces helping develop new “Covid-19 secure” guidelines specific to different parts of the economy. The other taskforces will oversee pubs and restaurants, non-essential retail, places of worship and international aviation. Separate sectoral sub-groups will be set up under each taskforce to examine issues specific to that sector. A museums and galleries working group is being set up by the recreation and leisure taskforce. It will work with the museum sector on the possible reopening of institutions in England in stage three of the UK government’s plan for lifting lockdown restrictions. The earliest this could take place is 4 July.
The Cultural Renewal Taskforce panel will be led by Neil Mendoza, the architect of the 2017 Mendoza Review of Museums in England. The other members are:
Part of Mendoza’s brief will be to collaborate with Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and other sectoral bodies to develop and deliver a strategy fit to support organisations large and small. The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden also announced £200 million in new funding which will be made available for small charities “that are at the heart of their communities”, but without any specific detail on how much of this – if any – would be available for cultural organisations.
The Welsh and Northern Irish governments have published recovery plans where open-air museums will open before other institutions. Museums Galleries Scotland is working with the Scottish government on plans to reopen the museum sector.
Whilst this all sounds very heartening, let’s hope that it’s not too little or too late to help British culture and heritage to rebound from the damaging impacts of the coronavirus lockdown.
During the current lockdown I am enjoying the peace and tranquillity of my garden, being able to hear the birdsong and the bees buzzing contentedly amongst the flowers, without the sound of distant traffic. The skies are blue and the air is clear as pollution levels have dropped. Stress levels have fallen away too in this slower-paced lifestyle. I almost wish it could stay like this, but I am missing access to museums and galleries and the opportunity to travel. Let’s hope that these ways of living will continue to influence the way in which we live our lives in the future, with patience, tolerance, thoughtfulness and support for others, all at a slower pace than before.
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.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture