Cautious Swindon welcome for £1.57bn arts lifeline

By Barrie Hudson - 6 July 2020

CommunityArts and Culture

Arts groups across Swindon must wait and see how much - if any - of a Government arts support package they will receive.

  • Happier times: shows such as Abba tribute Thank You for the Music drew Wyvern audiences

    Happier times: shows such as Abba tribute Thank You for the Music drew Wyvern audiences

The Government has announced what it terms a £1.57bn rescue package for museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues, whose revenues have been hit hard by COVID-19.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "From iconic theatre and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world-class galleries to gigs performed in local basement venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of this country.

"This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down."

Swindon venues which have suffered include the Wyvern Theatre and the Arts Centre in Devizes Road, which were forced to close their doors.

Both are run by London-based HQ Theatres & Hospitality. A spokesman for that organisation said that, while it welcomed the annoucement, it would not comment further until details of how the cash would be allocated were released.

Swindon's Prime Theatre is the town's only professional theatre company and arts education charity for children and young adults.

Since an American tour was cut short by Coronavirus, it has been running a nationwide digital workshop programme with the support of stars including Mark Gatiss.

Artistic director Mark Powell said of the announcement from Whitehall: "There's not much detail at the moment, but it looks like it's going to be distributed through Arts Council England."

That organisation, he explained, was usually good at ensuring funds reached community arts organisations.

Mr Powell pointed out, however, that some of the money was earmarked for building projects, and wondered how much would find its way directly to arts projects in communities.

Another Swindon theatre company, Madam Renards, is headed by playwright Matt Fox, who has seen his work performed all over the world.

He said of the announcement: "As a general point I think it's a very good thing. The theatre industry is a huge part of what the UK is - it's in our DNA.

"If you go around the world and ask people about their views on the UK, the arts is always mentioned."

The extra funding, he believes, is driven by a sense of economic value rather than artistic considerationn, and he wonders how much of the money will find its way to Swindon.

He said: "I have no idea whether any of it will touch Swindon. I would not be surprised if none of it touches Swindon, which I think is part of a wider question. 

"We are not seen as a serious cultural town, and therefore nobody throws any money at us."

Darren Simons, owner of music venues The Vic and Level 3, said: "There have been no further details. It sounds promising but that's all we have to go on at the moment."

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