Fear of mass closures hangs over crisis-hit Scottish cultural sector

The Scottish Government’s arts agency has said it will be “extremely challenging” to reopen cultural venues and make them financially viable with social distancing measures in place - as it warned of mass closures looming across the industry.

Creative Scotland chief executive Iain Munro said many of the organisations it funds 'were being forced to contemplate their ability to continue.'

Creative Scotland revealed that many of the organisations, companies and venues it funds were “being forced to contemplate their ability to continue” due to the expected long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its chief executive has warned that the scale and severity of a growing financial crisis facing the cultural sector will be “daunting” to address over the next few months amid growing concerns being expressed about how many businesses will go to the wall over the next year.

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The body representing Scotland’s main theatres says many of them will be at risk of “critical risk of insolvency” unless they receive extra financial support when the UK Government’s furlough scheme is wound down, putting around 1000 jobs at risk.

The Federation of Scottish Theatre (FST) said many theatre workers were already in “desperate circumstances” because they were self-employed and unable to access financial support to date.

More than half of Scotland’s independent museums and galleries fear they will run out of funds within six months, with nearly three quarters worried that they will not survive more than a year because it will not be financially viable to reopen with social distancing measures in place.

Iain Munro, Creative Scotland’s chief executive, said: “It is clear that this year will be the most challenging yet seen for the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland. The creative sector is in a crisis like never before.

“Based on the evidence so far, many of our organisations, companies and venues are being forced to contemplate their ability to continue, putting at risk the livelihoods of the thousands of people employed and the thousands of artists and creative practitioners commissioned.

“Access to UK and Scottish Government emergency support, along with flexibility over our existing resources and the introduction of new funds, have been quickly put in place and are reaching those in urgent need.

“However, the scale and severity of the challenges being faced by people and organisations across the arts, screen and creative industries in the months ahead is daunting to address.

“Easing of lockdown restrictions is likely to happen in stages, and with social distancing measures necessary for a long time to come, the ability for people to come together in traditional cultural spaces will be hard to manage and, particularly for the many organisations who are reliant on high levels of earned income, extremely challenging to make viable.”

In a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s culture committee, the FST states: “The introduction of the UK Government’s support measures for companies and self-employed people has provided an initial lifeline for some.

“We know there will be a prolonged period where pre-Covid business models cannot apply.

"Whilst there is zero income, the proposed and as yet unclear reduction in furlough will inevitably put more businesses and companies at critical risk of insolvency.”

James Mackenzie-Blackman, chief executive officer at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, has told MSPs: “The direct impact on our organisation has been profound and unprecedented. This is without question the biggest threat to our existence in our 44-year history.

“We know this is the same for other building-based organisations across our region, and the country.

“The artists our audiences and participants care so passionately about need places and spaces to go to share their talent. At the current time, the very survival of the building-based sector is by no means guaranteed. This reality needs to be widely heard, accepted and understood.”

A submission from Museums Galleries Scotland states: “The anticipated reduction in visitor figures and income post lockdown will be an enormous challenge for those already facing financial difficulties.

“It is likely that many will not be able to open this year as it will not be financially viable for them to do so. Some will fail as a result.”

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Music Industry Association and the Music Venue Alliance, Nick Stewart, manager of Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh, said: “Should venues be allowed to reopen under social distancing rules, the loss of capacity will be such that few venues would be able to afford to do so.

“If two metres was to be kept between attendees, a 100-capacity venue like my own would have its effective capacity reduced to 16, including performers and staff.

“Many Scottish venues make money in the summer to cover losses in the winter but could face trying to open in restricted conditions after the summer when trade is poor and they are already cash-strapped.”

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