The Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts and cultural organization, has warned that it would have used up its financial reserves by September, forcing its closure until April next year unless it gets further government support.
The centre, which puts on more than 3,500 events every year and is home to eight orchestras, revealed details of the crippling financial pressures it is facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
It said it was forecasting a best-case scenario of a ￡5 million (US$6.1 million) loss by the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year. In getting there, it will have used up all its reserves, taken ￡4 million from the government’s furlough scheme, and spent its ￡19.2 million annual grant from Arts Council England “to effectively mothball the buildings.”
“There will be hardly any artistic activity throughout 2020/21, as to present anything like a normal range of events would have seen the losses rise to around ￡11m,” it said.
The venue would be able to host events with only a limited number of guests because of the restrictions necessitated by physical distancing.
The centre is the latest arts organization to warn of the existential threat to Britain’s world-leading cultural sector, with theater described as being “on the brink of total collapse.”
The government last week announced a taskforce led by philanthropist Neil Mendoza to advise on how the sector can set out on the road to recovery.
The Southbank Centre gets about 37 percent of its income from subsidy. The rest is earned from ticket sales, bar, cafe and restaurant income, and money from events such as conferences and graduations.
“The fact that none of that is happening makes us vulnerable,” said Gillian Moore, the centre’s director of music.
All concert halls, theatres, opera and dance companies are trying to model a temporary future with physical distancing rules. Few have yet come up with anything that makes economic sense.
“There is work being done on the safety of musicians on stage such as how far you need to be away from the bell of a trombone to be safe,” Moore said. “The capacity of the Royal Festival Hall is 2,700 and we reckon with social distancing we get could just under 800 people in. The economics of that are horrific.”
The Southbank Centre is home to orchestras including the London Philharmonic; the Arts Council Collection; the National Poetry Library; and a venue for festivals such as Meltdown, Women of the World and the London literature festival.
It is calling on the government to:
‧ Extend the furlough scheme beyond October for the cultural sector.
‧ Develop a “large-scale intervention” to support the arts sector as it navigates the crisis.
‧ Support self-employed artists and musicians who do not qualify for the current financial support schemes.
Southbank chief executive Elaine Bedell said the centre gets more than 4.45 million visitors every year.
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