Written evidence submitted by Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival, Dance Umbrella, Fierce Festival, Gateshead International Festival of Theatre, London International Festival of Theatre, Manchester International Festival, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Shubbak - A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture, Transform Festival, Wiltshire Creative
19 June 2020
Dear Secretary of State,
Committee Inquiry: Impact of COVID-19 on the sector
We make this submission to DCMS as a group of the UK’s leading multi-disciplinary performing arts festivals. From London to Norfolk, Birmingham to Glasgow, Belfast to Nottingham, Manchester to Hull and beyond.
Most of us have had to cancel our festivals scheduled for 2020 or move them entirely on-line and those of us planning events for 2021 are scenario planning for when and how our festivals can return and gather artists and audiences together safely. Artists and freelance cultural workers bear the brunt of the impact. There is little or no work for them currently and the means of creating new work for 2021 is severely curtailed. Many of the artists who work in our festivals also depend on national and international touring for their livelihoods and these opportunities have disappeared.
Our festivals connect the very best of British and international theatre, music, dance and visual artists to local audiences across the UK, animating our cities and enriching our communities. Many of us collaborate, exchange work and co-produce with international cultural organisations, enhancing the UK’s cultural reputation across the world. We look forward to working with DCMS and the Home Office so that once unrestricted and non-quarantined international travel is able to resume, we can continue to do this.
Festivals are an important part of the UK’s cultural life and integral to a larger cultural ecosystem. We work in partnership with cultural venues such as theatres, galleries and museums, but also with other charities/not-for-profits, grassroots organisations, local councils and other civic bodies. We have deep roots within communities and contribute at a local level to well-being, combating cultural exclusion and addressing inequalities.
Our festivals are celebrated city-and region wide and have considerable economic impact. For example Manchester International Festival’s 2019 edition reached an audience of 302,000 and delivered an economic impact of £50m. We play an important role in driving cultural tourism and are valued contributors to local enterprise: for example in 2019, 55% of audiences at Birmingham’s Fierce Festival came from outside the city.
With the Covid-19 shutdown the impact on festivals is significant and our interdependence with the rest of the sector - with venues who may face closure, with artists who may be forced to leave their profession and with audiences who will take time to regain their muscle memory and return with confidence to live events - creates very real vulnerability.
Festivals will play an important role in the recovery of our towns and cities, revitalising their centres and providing key moments for gathering, reflection and community building. Many of us are working in tandem with local authorities to help achieve this.
As a sector, we are sharing information, best practices and innovating together. However we need clarity from the government on the strategy and timeline planned for recovery. We support the recommendations already made by SOLT, UK Theatre and other sectoral bodies for DCMS including:
We look forward to working with you and the DCMS team to reopen a strong cultural sector that will help the country’s recovery and improve the lives of its people.
Kris Nelson & Stella Kanu, LIFT
Daniel Brine, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Kate Craddock, Festival Director, GIFT: Gateshead International Festival of Theatre
Aaron Wright, Artistic Director, & Pippa Frith, Executive Producer Fierce Festival, Birmingham
John McGrath and Mark Ball, Artistic and Creative Directors, Manchester International Festival
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive, Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival
Amy Letman, Creative Director, Transform Festival, Leeds
Gareth Machin, Artistic Director, Wiltshire Creative
Eckhard Thiemann, Artistic Director & CEO, Shubbak - A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture
Emma Gladstone, Artistic Director & Chief Executive, Dance Umbrella, London
LJ Findlay-Walsh, Artistic Director, Take Me Somewhere Festival, Glasgow
Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff, Co-Directors, MAYK, Bristol
Paul Russ, Chief Executive & Artistic Director, Dance4 (Nottdance Festival)
Mikey Martins and Anthony Baker, Artistic and Executive Directors and Joint CEOs, Freedom Festival Arts Trust Hull
Ruth McCarthy, Artistic Director, Outburst Queer Arts Festival
Richard Wakely, Artistic Director and CEO, Belfast International Arts Festival