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Shropshire Star comment: Ray of light for arts sector

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

Millions had been campaigning for help. From Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to youngsters at dance schools, from panto dames to ushers who sell ice creams. For months the arts have stared into the abyss. Now, at last, there is a ray of light.

Donny Osmond in a performance of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to invest £1.5 billion into the arts provides a lifeline for the sector. In this region it supports one in 10 jobs and most of our medium-sized towns have a theatre or concert hall of their own. Without intervention, almost all would have closed by Christmas.

The question now is simple: when can they start to open?

The Government’s response to Covid-19 has been riddled with inconsistencies. Hairdressers can cut hair, people can sit beside one another on aeroplanes for half a day, driving instructors and pupils can spend an hour in a car. People can drink in pubs and protest or enjoy a day at the beach. Yet theatres are closed.

Culture generates more GDP than sport. It also generates more GDP than aviation. It contributes £2.8 billion per year to the Treasury via taxation. It has kept us smiling through lockdown.

The challenge now is to put the money to where it is needed most. It represents a good start to the work required, nothing more than that.

What is needed now is a route map – not the ‘direction of travel’ from Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, which provides no dates and no provision for trade. The sector needs Government engagement as it figures out what is and what is not acceptable.

Could theatres and concert halls open, for instance, if audience members wore masks, as they do on public transport? Venues would willingly disinfect between shows, check temperatures of patrons upon entry, assist with contract tracing, implement one-way systems and more.

If other sectors, including hospitality, can find a way, the Government must also address similar matters with entertainment. The £1.5 billion will be wasted if creative minds are not allowed to find new ways to operate safely. The show must go on.

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