Bristol is rich in culture and nightlife. But its festivals, bars, concert venues and museums are all suffering after three months of lockdown. It is hard to know when these businesses and organisations can return to anything resembling normal.

Following a series of meetings with cultural organisations, I have compiled their concerns and written the letter below to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament St


15 June 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing following several meetings I have held with representatives of a large number of cultural organisations in Bristol. These meetings included a round table event with ticketed institutions such as the science museum and the Old Vic theatre, and a public meeting with smaller grassroots organisations and individuals.

The key issues and concerns which are vital for the recovery of the sector include:

  1. Representation in the arts and government taskforce

I join participants in expressing concern that there is no BAME representation on the taskforce. It is critically important to ensure that exploring the future of the industry includes consultation from Black, Asian and ethnically diverse leaders. We have already seen how BAME people are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, and these systematic inequalities appear across the board.

There must be a commitment to support current and emerging BAME artists who continue to be underrepresented in the arts.  This must begin with rectifying the representation on the government taskforce by ensuring it is fully inclusive.

  1. Inclusive definition of culture

The governments definition of culture must be inclusive. As we move towards reopening after Covid-19, we have an opportunity to redefine culture to include organisations in my constituency which currently feel left out. There is no representation from the night-time economy (NTE) on the government’s taskforce. Science museums, aquariums, and zoos also do not feel they fit within government guidelines and as a result risk falling through the gaps for support during this time.

Can the government ensure that the night-time economy, science museums, zoos and aquariums are able to receive benefits associated with similar cultural institutions?

  1. Public confidence

It is clear that public confidence is key to any kind of recovery in the arts. People must feel safe to return to venues. Otherwise, low capacity will mean that cultural events will not be economically viable, jeopardising the survival of many organisations which are already running out of money.

Some organisations are concerned about an apparent loophole in insurance. Public Health England confirmed that even if a case of Covid-19 was confirmed within a venue, the government would not request closure.  However, insurers will only cover their losses if the government requests the building to be closed. Furthermore, Bristol arts venue Watershed estimates they will spend circa £10,000 on health and safety.

What steps are your government taking to ensure that there is public confidence in the government’s guidance and the organisations’ ability to keep people safe? How will you support organisations with added costs as a result of health and safety implementation?

  1. Continuing government support

I was pleased that the JRS scheme has been extended, which will be a lifeline for the arts sector in Bristol West. It is unrealistic to assume that the arts will be able to bring in substantial revenue in the short term, which means public sector support is key to keep this industry alive.

There is the double hit of being one of the last industries to be able to reopen, plus the danger of low public confidence about returning to indoor venues. Organisations will need time to prepare for survival and downscaling, and most organisations in Bristol do not have reserves to continue beyond September or October.  There are other ways of supporting organisations who continue to fall into the gaps, for example by extending the rateable value threshold for grants and business rates relief.

Is there any movement on a phased approach to the JRS? This would particularly support the culture, arts, music, and hospitality sector in Bristol.

  1. Funding problems

Many organisations are keen to relaunch and commission artists and writers who are also struggling as a result of Covid, but funding streams have been understandably diverted to respond to the current emergency. However, it is important for organisations to have certainty about when they are able to apply for funding again.

Could you direct the National Lottery, the Arts Council and other large funding organisations to give a date for when organisations are going to be able to apply for funding, beyond coronavirus emergency funds?

Thank you for the work that you are doing at this time.

Yours sincerely,

Thangam Debbonaire MP

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