• Sunday, May 22, 2022

Comment

Funding diversity in the arts ‘vital’ during pandemic

Dr Darren Henley OBE.

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Dr Darren Henley OBE
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on people across the coun­try, on businesses and on the wider economy.

It is also severely im­pacting every element of the country’s cultural sector – with social dis­tancing and lockdown measures bringing the work of arts organisa­tions, museums and li­braries to a standstill, and the livelihoods of many artists and free­lancers vanishing prac­tically overnight.

Despite these chal­lenges, I have been moved to see the lengths that cultural organisa­tions have gone to sup­port their communities amid the darkness and uncertainty of lockdown.

Many have adapted their work to continue to reach audiences in their living rooms, using digital technology and social media. The Brad­ford Literature Festival, for example, live-streamed free events over the course of 10 days, with guests rang­ing from author Tahmi­ma Anam to actor Christopher Eccleston.

Taking part in crea­tive activities can give a huge boost to mental and physical health. With buildings closed, organisations and art­ists stepped up to offer activities and classes online, providing a life­line to people who sup­port their wellbeing through creativity.

In Leicester, whose residents are still under lockdown, dance artists Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra are launching ‘Across Dance’, a new online workshop series explor­ing both kathak and contemporary dance. The Nottingham Play­house has been stream­ing virtual singing les­sons; and Firstsite in Colchester is offering free activity packs for children, with contribu­tions from some of the country’s top artists in­cluding Idris Khan and Gillian Wearing.

Other organisations started to directly deliv­er social services for vulnerable people and use their resources to support the NHS fight the virus. Volunteers at Bailiffgate Museum in Northumberland, for instance, have sewn scrubs and face masks for their local GP prac­tice, while Leeds-based theatre company Slung Low took over a meals on wheels service, pro­viding essential support to local people in need.

Sharing how diverse communities have been affected by the pan­demic is hugely impor­tant. I’m pleased that the Arts Council has had a role to play in making sure these voic­es are heard, through work from our regularly funded organisations such as Rifco Theatre Company, which com­missioned five short films exploring isolation from the perspective of British Asians, and Co­hesion Plus’s Take 5 in­terview series with black and Asian artists.

Many initiatives from cultural organisations over recent months were possible thanks to National Lottery play­ers. Their support made up nearly 90 per cent of the Arts Council’s Emergency Response Package, which we launched in March to help organisations and individuals struggling with the impact of Cov­id-19. We wanted to make sure our support went to those who needed it most, recog­nising that disabled people and black and Asian people have been disproportionately hard hit by the pandemic.

Many organisations received Arts Council funding for the first time, such as the Henna Asian Women’s Group in London, which works to improve the lives of women and their fami­lies by reducing isola­tion, offering support and running activities.

Since the onset of the pandemic, our artists, arts organisations, mu­seums and libraries have demonstrated just how much they contrib­ute to our society. Their work strengthens the bonds of our communi­ties and brings people together. I believe it is at the heart of our nation­al recovery.

At the Arts Council, we are committed to making sure that cultur­al organisations are ac­cessible to people from all backgrounds. We need to be mindful in the coming months of the possibility of losing those organisations, and of talented individ­uals, who help to make those organisations what they are, leaving the sector. To help miti­gate that threat, we will continue to target our funding where it is most needed, to help create the most inclusive cul­tural sector possible.

England’s diversity has contributed so much to our arts and culture, and to our country as a whole. We would be a far poorer place without it.

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