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Coronavirus: Arcola Theatre welcomes government’s £25,000 grants - but warns more help will be needed

PUBLISHED: 12:21 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:03 20 March 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading across London. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading across London. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

The Arcola Theatre has praised the government’s initiative to provide grants of £25,000 for small arts venues to help see them through the coronavirus economic crisis - but has warned that more help will be needed to avoid total collapse of the industry.

Bosses at the creative venue in Ashwin Street, Dalston, been raising awareness about the risks to the livelihoods of those in the creative industries from coronavirus, since they voluntarily shut down last weekend.

All public performances at the Arcola were susprended on Sunday until further notice, to avoid contributing to the spread of Covid-19.

The move came several days ahead of the government’s advice that people should stop going to theatres, cinemas, pubs and restaurants.

Executive director Ben Todd said it was a “really tough call”.

“As a theatre we are in the crosshairs of organisations whose purpose is to bring large groups of people together, pubs, restaurants and the like, and essentially we’ve just lost 80 per cent of our income for what is probably going to be a prolonged period. so it puts us in a really difficult position,” he said.

“We welcome in some sense the government advice that people shouldn’t go to bars and restaurants and theatres, because it makes it much easier for us to stand by the position that we took at the weekend which was to close.”

The charity which employs in-house staff as well as freelancers, carries limited insurance, which affects its ability to claim for business interruption cover.

It could however trigger “force majeure” which would authorise terminating contracts with artists - however they do not want to do that.

“We have this contradiction between saving the organisation, which if you have no income means essentially cutting as hard as you can, and this other imperative, which is to support artists,” said Ben, who is immensely grateful to the public for contributing to an emergency appeal launched this week, which has also alleviated the pressure.

“Add into that, our objective is to support the community, and at the moment the way to support the community is not to bring them all together.

“The key for us is one way or other we need to not make large swathes of the population unemployed.

“The government grant will ease the acute pain but if we are still going to be here in three, six, nine months, £25,000 is less than our monthly wage bill.

“Do you wait for companies like ours to collapse fully and then fund people directly through social welfare? It seems more efficient to pay companies to pay people and then hopefully we can be useful in the meantime.”

“It will make recovery very difficult if alll the organisations collapse. When the time comes to bring people back together it woudl be much easier if we have our teams together and we could move our seasons of activity backwards with everyone not having moved into abject poverty in the meantime.”

He added: “The other important thing for us is what can we do with the creative industries to repurpose them. To go from, if you like, being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

“We’ve got a massive social upheaval going on, and ahead of us, which from the spiritual wellbeing, emotional wellbeing sense is actually only going to get harder.”

The Arcola is looking at ways to deploy artists to actually come up with creative ways of engaging people, and they hope to shortly make an announcement how they propose to go about it.

“There’s only so many Netflix and Amazon Prime box sets people can watch before they start to go stir crazy,” said Ben.

“Expect some stuff to happen.”

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