Chief executive of Pavilion Dance South West: “the opportunity to furlough buys us time”
With the cancellation or delay of numerous cultural events this year, ranging from the Edinburgh Fringe to the Bafta Awards ceremony, the complete impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector is as yet unknown. The Parliamentary Review spoke with Zannah Chisholm, chief executive of Pavilion Dance South West, regarding the impact of coronavirus on her studio.
Chisholm said: “Firstly, I must say that I am impressed by the fast response of Arts Council England to change their programmes, apply flexibility to their criteria for National Portfolio Organisations like us and recognise the plight of the freelancers. Their actions cannot mitigate the impact for everyone but for many of us, they will buy us more time to focus attention where we now need to and flex our old and now irrelevant business models.”
Her comments follow the announcement that Arts Council England will be providing £160 million in emergency funding for both individuals and institutions impacted by Covid-19. The fund will offer £20 million for individuals, comprised of grants up to £2,500 per person, £90 million for National Portfolio Organisation.
Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England said that: "Covid-19 is having an impact globally, far beyond the cultural sector - but our responsibility is to sustain our sector as best we can, so that artists and organisations can continue to nourish the imagination of people across the country, both during the crisis and in the period of recovery.”
Chisholm also praised the government’s introduction of furloughing. She said: “Furloughing is invaluable in alleviating the cost of salaries. As a development organisation, our staff are key to facilitating change and are therefore our largest area of expenditure. Maintaining the existing staff structure may yet be impossible depending on how long the crisis continues but the opportunity to furlough buys us time.”
She continued that: “We receive regular funding from Arts Council England and BCP Council for which we are incredibly grateful as public funding has become our main guaranteed income. Indeed, this crisis raises the fact that it is those who are publicly supported that are the most resilient through the crisis, yet policy for the last ten years has been about shifting away from public to private and earned income. This will need thinking about when we come out of the crisis.”
Chisholm acknowledges that part of her current plan is looking to the future. She notes: “Like all businesses, we are considering how to plan where there are so many unknowns. My approach has been to try to create some knowns, for example, buying time by cancelling all public events through to September so staff can focus on the medium to long term planning. Some businesses think you can't plan in this scenario; some are doing multiple scenario plans. We're taking slow steps and working in “long sprints”. The approach has to be right for each unique business.”
The importance of maintaining an income for those who are self-employed is not lost on Chisholm. She says: “The dance ecology, and the whole of the arts and creative industry ecology, is built around self-employed individuals and micro businesses providing creative content and technical skills to achieve our outputs. This part of our ecology is incredibly vulnerable, and I know people who I admire for their artistry and expertise literally struggling to pay their rent and buy food.
“Many have had their work cancelled through until 2021. They need financial support right now and the options of applying for Universal Credit or getting support from the HMRC or the £2500 per person support offered through Arts Council England - is not enough to keep them going for months without earned income.
“Our approach has been to honour all contracts and pay compensation where we have not been able to progress agreements to contracts. We are also trying to find new employment and ways of supporting our professional communities. But we can only do that for a limited period before the reserves we're using disappear and we shift into crisis mode ourselves.”
Chisholm concludes that a move online has aided her company considerably in these trying times: “Many arts organisations are learning how to do digital content fast and checking to see what the impact is. Where does this take us long-term in the digital vs live arts balance of content? As we are learning and this is a service to our communities of participants and professionals, it doesn't feel right to charge at this time, so we are creating content which is free to access in the short term. How do we approach that in the medium-long term?
“There may well be important positive lessons we learn through this which will lead to more remote working and a greater focus on reducing carbon emissions and my organisation will be looking in greater depth at our response to climate change.”