Arts venues: Will we get a share of £1.5bn?

Islington’s theatres, comedy and music pubs ‘on tenterhooks’ as coronavirus social distancing rules make it impossible to open

Friday, 10th July 2020 — By Calum Fraser

The Bill Murray

The Bill Murray Club in Queen’s Head Street, Angel

ARTS venues say they are “waiting on tenterhooks” to find out whether they will receive a chunk of the government’s £1.5billion bailout.

Fringe theatres, comedy clubs and live music pubs have made Islington one of the cornerstones of grassroots arts in the UK, but all this hangs by thread as coronavirus social distancing rules make it impossible to open.

The Tribune has repeatedly reported on the plight of these venues as they have set up crowd-funders to try to fill a growing financial black-hole and lobbied the government to step in.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden this week pledged an “unprecedented” support package with almost £900m in grants and £270m of repayable loans to be made available for cultural institutions.

Barry Ferns, who co-founded the Angel Comedy Club

Comedian Barry Ferns, who co-founded the Angel Comedy Club, told the Tribune: “It’s been a nerve-wracking time. We have been staring over the cliff edge for some time now. We put a call out for [crowdfunding website] Patreon to support us and that has kept us going.

“We are grateful to those who believe in us and kept us alive and avoiding bankruptcy.”

He added: “The government money has brought hope, but we are waiting on tenterhooks to find out how much we will receive.

“I’m sure over the coming days there will be another loop on this rollercoaster. But we have hope now.”

Marcus Harris of The Lexington

The government’s pot includes a £100m fund for the national museums, such as the British Museum and National Gallery, and the British Film Institute and English Heritage, £188m for the devolved administrations, and £120m in start-up funds for stalled infrastructure and heritage projects.

Mr Ferns, who also runs the The Bill Murray club in Queen’s Head Street, Angel, said: “I’ve toured around the world and there really is nothing like what we have here in terms of the arts.

“When I was in New York I thought this doesn’t have anything on the West End. We have something precious that we must protect.”

Marcus Harris, who helps run The Lexington in Pentonville Road, said: “This support package is so important for so many reasons, not least because grassroots music venues are finally getting the recognition they have long deserved as cultural spaces.

“This really is a lifeline for so many venues like ours. A big thanks must go to Music Venues Trust who have done the hard work of campaigning tirelessly for our industry for the last five years and this is the culmination of that effort.”

Jez Bond at the Park Theatre

Jez Bond, artistic director at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, said: “Park Theatre is delighted to hear the news of the government’s rescue package for culture, recognising that our world-revered sector plays a vital role in both the economy and the welfare of the nation.

“We eagerly await further information on the package in the hope that it will support all those who need to weather the next few months.”

The Town Hall’s jobs chief Cllr Asima Shaikh said: “While this funding is extremely welcome, we await further details on how it will be divided and how many local venues will be able to benefit from it.

“It is crucial that this money is used to help our local, independent venues to survive, and to support the staff and freelancers that work for them.

“We urge the Government to get the fund up and running as soon as possible, as it has already come too late for some venues, and any further delay might force the closure of some of Islington’s much-loved venues.”

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