Oliver Dowden faces criticism for ‘lip service’ over real funding for the arts
2 July 2020, 11:20 | Updated: 2 July 2020, 11:23
Culture secretary Dowden recently released a five-stage roadmap for UK arts venues to reopen – but it came with no dates and, most crucially, no definitive pledges on funding. People in creative industries have taken to social media to share their thoughts.
Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, is facing criticism for his approach to the arts amid the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dowden, who is the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, recently announced a five-stage ‘roadmap’ for theatres and concert halls to reopen, but leaders in the industry were quick to point to the lack of detail around dates, funding or concrete support for creative industries.
Managing director of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, James Williams, told Classic FM at the time: “If we are going to see performances return across the UK, urgent financial support from the Government is required for venues and performing arts organisations, both for the short-term and to protect the long-term survival of the sector.”
In June, Dowden came out of relative silence on the issue, telling the Evening Standard: “I am not going to stand by and see our world-leading position in arts and culture destroyed.” He added he is pushing for a bigger bailout (“Of course, I want to get the money flowing. I am not going to let anyone down”) and claimed to be negotiating a rescue package. Nothing more has been heard about a rescue package from Dowden since then.
A week later, a report on the state of UK creative industries amid COVID-19 from the Creative Industries Federation described them as ‘on the brink of devastation’ and outlined why the arts could be forced to axe 400,000 jobs.
Read more: Government reveals five-stage ‘roadmap’ for theatres and concert halls >
Dowden has followed up on his five-stage roadmap, seemingly attempting to comfort creative workers, in a public social media post.
“I understand the deep anxiety of those working in music & the desire to see fixed dates for reopening,” Dowden wrote in a Tweet on 1 July. “I am pushing hard for these dates & to give you a clear roadmap back. These involve v [sic] difficult decisions about the future of social distancing, which we know has saved lives.”
I understand the deep anxiety of those working in music & the desire to see fixed dates for reopening— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) July 1, 2020
I am pushing hard for these dates & to give you a clear roadmap back
These involve v difficult decisions about the future of social distancing, which we know has saved lives
Read more: Dowden pledges bailout: ‘COVID is temporary, losing our arts is permanent’ >
But social media users seem to feel it doesn’t reveal anything new.
Musicians, artists and other people working in creative industries were quick to respond, outlining the need for a rescue package and secure funding, and sharing their concerns around the fact plans and dates don’t provide certainty around jobs. Others called it ‘lip service’.
And people were also quick to point out that Dowden has made no mention of the UK’s theatre industry in his update.
This isn't about a clear roadmap, it's about financial support. Either you don't understand the financial models you're concerned with, or you don't care and are just paying lip service to a sector which is going to collapse in on itself, causing thousands of job losses.— Felicity Green (@Flips_Green) July 2, 2020
You can’t start the car if there’s no fuel!!!! FUNDING!— Jacqueline Hughes (@_jacquelinehugh) July 1, 2020
Stop the vapid roadmap talk. Cash injection please.— Sean Shibe (@seanstshibe) July 2, 2020
What about funding? Venues and artists are going to need some support until events can begin again.— Jonathan Delbridge Music (@JDelbridgeMusic) July 2, 2020
think it's money they want, mate. show us yer package!— roger (@our_fredericks) July 1, 2020
Isn’t funding the major issue right now rather than dates? Unless your ‘clear roadmap’ involves this sign £ it will be worth nothing.— Kathryn Stott (@kathystott) July 1, 2020
If you and your government have no desire or plan to invest in and save theatre, then you should at least announce that decision as soon as possible.— Susan Wokoma (@susan_wokoma) July 1, 2020
So. Do you have any intention of providing funding toward struggling UK theatres - yes or no? Very simple question.
But do you also understand the need for investment? Theatre was a thriving industry and a vital social asset, something our country could be proud of locally and internationally. It can be again with the right support. Don’t let us be left behind in a field we should be leading.— Luke Sheppard (@LukeJ_Sheppard) July 2, 2020
Believe me, everyone involved in theatre is aware of the dire need for social distancing. Our livelihoods depend on people being well and safe. Until a fully safe way of opening is found we CANNOT reopen. The government CAN and MUST invest in theatres to “save” their “lives”.— Caroline Sheen (@SheenCaroline) July 2, 2020
Why only music? or do you want the UK’s theatre industry to collapse?— Emma Kennedy (@EmmaKennedy) July 2, 2020
Theatres need a financial rescue package. The british theatre industry is one be proud of, money where your mouth is now. We need more than words.— Ali Hellings (@AliHellings) July 1, 2020
Dowden has previously said: “I’ve always found the Chancellor and his team very engaged and understanding about the value of this sector. Not everyone is going to be happy with whatever comes up. I’m going to have to ask institutions to take difficult decisions”.
Dowden’s latest tweet comes as 1,500 musicians – including Sir Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran – have addressed an open letter addressed directly to him, calling for urgent help for musicians and the music industry.
“The future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak,” they have written.
“Until these businesses can operate again, which is likely to be 2021 at the earliest, government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies and the end of this world-leading industry.”