The Stage – News – Arts Council to focus reopened grant scheme on supporting freelance artists

Arts Council England has said it will prioritise artists and individuals when it reopens its grant programme again this month, amid concerns the government’s billion-pound cultural investment package will not support freelancers.

ACE chief executive Darren Henley said the government had been clear its £1.57 billion funding will be based around protecting the UK’s cultural infrastructure, and promised the Arts Council was “urgently thinking” about how the arts’ freelance workforce can be helped.

ACE’s National Lottery Project Grants scheme was paused earlier this year when the Arts Council diverted funds towards its Covid-19 emergency response programme, however the scheme will reopen for applications again on July 22.

In an online blog, Henley confirmed the funding stream “will have a focus on supporting artists and individuals”, and said the funding body is also exploring what it could do to offer more support for freelancers in the arts.

“The government has made it clear this funding will be focused on supporting cultural organisations through the coronavirus pandemic,” Henley said, including “bricks and mortar organisations” such as theatres as well as non-building based companies.

He said ACE is yet to hear more details about the £1.57 billion package but agreed with many in the industry who have warned that freelance workers could be at risk of falling further through the cracks.

“We’re very aware that this crisis has shown the value and the vulnerability of the creative army of freelance artists, performers, curators, technicians, writers, directors, producers, makers and other workers who constitute the majority of our workforce,” Henley said.

He added that despite the feeling of relief, the most acute challenges for the sector could still be ahead.

“I want to be honest: there are some truly tough decisions to make and difficult times ahead. And I fear not everything we want to save, can be saved,” he said.

Henley’s words follow widespread concerns that creative freelancers, which make up 70% of theatre’s workforce, are being forgotten in the crisis and may not benefit from the government’s rescue deal.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has already said the “essence” of the package will be protecting the UK’s cultural institutions and argued that freelancers are “able to benefit from the freelance furlough scheme”.

Director Adele Thomas, who is part of the Freelancers Make Theatre Work campaign, said there remains a “big question” about how this funding will help self-employed workers.

“While freelancers have been mentioned in conversations, there doesn’t seem to be a clear concrete plan as to how that money will be disseminated to freelancers […] and who controls that,” she told The Stage.

Many others, including shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens, are calling on the government to be clear about how all sectors of the cultural ecosystem will be supported by the package.

No further guidance has yet been announced from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but ministers have said they hope to publish details in the next few days.

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