Today the UK awoke to a hurricane of headlines about the future of arts industry, and theatre in particular. The voices of venues, thus far lost in the midst of all of the horrors which have come with this pandemic, have been brought to the fore by the fact that financially, many are about to reach a critical tipping point of survival or closure.
The crisis, and its potential solutions, were each summarised beautifully in last night’s Question Time by playwright James Graham. Theatres and performing arts venues are reliant on people being physically close together, and sharing an experience. It’s simply not possible to get audiences in safely and also be economically viable. And it’s not a case of needing big profit margins to line anyone’s pockets – it’s simply to pay staff and keep the lights on. The numbers are stark – but as James says, for every £1 invested in the arts, £5 goes back into the economy. It makes complete sense to rescue our venues now, whilst there is still time.
At times like this it’s understandable that attention and funding would go to limiting the absolutely devastating human cost of this pandemic. But sometimes, when it comes to funding or donating, there can also be a perception of the arts being this kind of ‘other stuff’. It’s elitist, and it’s not a basic essential need like food or shelter, so that just makes it a luxury. But what have people turned to for a sense of safety in this time, trapped in their homes? Telly. Films. DVD box sets. Games. Live streams of shows. All this stuff isn’t a ‘nice-to-have‘ – it’s what’s keeping us going. The arts are giving us joy during a scary and uncertain time. And what’s life without that? The new world will be somewhat grey without the chance to share these experiences together. So when it’s safe to do so, the venues we love must still be there to provide that vital need for us all.
At the moment, that’s absolutely not guaranteed. An investment package from the government to bridge the gap in the short term would be the right – and cheapest – course of action. Until that moment, know that you personally can help by donating to the venue you care about most. If that’s us, then brilliant, and thank you! But we are just one part of an interconnected network of venues who all need our communities and funders to realise that experiencing live art helps us to understand who we are, and to have meaningful relationships with one another. That’s what matters most to us at the Old Fire Station – being together, creating and hosting great art, and getting through tough times by supporting each other.
Our friends gave us £10,000 to ensure our survival. It worked. We’re still here, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who helped to ensure that. Next will be the need to secure our recovery, and make sure we’re here for the long term. Until the much-needed rescue package from the government is decided and secured, we’re relying on our funders and our friends to stand by us so we can get back on our feet. If you can afford to give us a donation, or become a Friend, then please do – even small amounts add up. But if you can’t, that’s absolutely ok. We’re still here and although the building is closed, we’re still open, and we hope you can find another way to get involved – even if it’s just by enjoying some of our online shows from your home, or keeping in touch to let us know how you’re doing.
We miss you, and we can’t wait to be together with you again.