I think it’s safe to say pretty much every aspect of life as we know it has been impacted by Covid-19 to one degree or another, and it is hard to imagine any sector coming through the other side completely unscathed. Of course, our primary focus has been on our unbelievable key workers: from the astonishing NHS staff and care home workers, to the supermarket heroes, posties, emergency services, public transport workers… the list is endless and we genuinely owe everything to them. However, as I work in the culture sector (I’m a museum gallery assistant and currently training to be an artefact conservator), I have obviously been keeping a close eye on how my area of work is coping since Covid struck; and the reality is pretty catastrophic. Again, I do want to stress how incomparable the culture sector is to that of the NHS, however I think the majority of us have relied on the arts to bring some positivity to our lockdown life, particularly where our mental health is concerned. You may have partaken in a virtual tour of an exhibition you had tickets for or streamed a “private gig” from your favourite musician from the comfort of your living room. Museums and heritage sites have also become an invaluable resource for many parents and carers who have been flung in at the deep end with the incredible challenge of home-schooling (major, major kudos). Art, music and theatre have helped us to find a glimmer of light in what has been a truly dark period in our history, and they are continually hailed and praised by the government for the positive impact they provide to our health and wellbeing. Which therefore begs the question why are so many of the U.K’s cultural institutions being left with next to no help during this crisis? Why do we currently stand to lose 70% of our independent theatres and over 20% of our museums may now never reopen? The fact of the matter is, like many integral sectors in British society, the arts have been critically underfunded by the government for years, relying heavily on the generosity and goodwill of the public; be it through charitable donations or volunteering their time to help run them. The hope has been, up till now, that the government would step in to invest and save what is considered such a beloved part of our society, but the current action that has been taken by the powers that be has been brutally lacklustre. I am aware this piece could easily go down a rant-fuelled political rabbit hole, but we don’t need any more negativity at this point. What we need is action, and if there is anyone who loves to step up for a charitable and worthy cause, it’s the British public. There are so many ways we can get involved to aid many cultural institutions which are on the brink of becoming another casualty of this devastating virus and some of them are super easy, take five minutes of your time and are free. Below, I have outlined some simple steps you can take should you like to get involved, do a good deed and salvage some of the incredible cultural offerings our country prides itself in providing to us. If anything, we are going to need them more than ever when we finally get through this.
Every Little Helps
Fundraiser to save Shakespeare’s Globe, London http://shakespearesglobe.com
The obvious way to come to the aid of any business in trouble is to invest in them financially; a very tough ask amidst a crisis which renders a large portion of our workforce unable to continue working. Even with the furlough scheme, money is tight for many households and the uncertainty of the future means countless of us, quite rightly, are cautiously planning our finances. However, I have seen unbelievable acts of generosity in the past few months, be it choosing to continually support a local business over the usual retail giants or running 5K to donate to a struggling charity. Many museums, galleries and heritage institutions are also charities and rely on generating steady income from the public through donations, shop and café purchases or people attending the lectures and events they usually provide – basically everything we haven’t been allowed to do in lockdown. While we still can’t physically engage in these types of cultural activities, we can still invest in them to ensure they are around for us to enjoy when normal life eventually resumes. See it as a way to say “thank you” for those free virtual tours and home-schooling resources. Financial help can come in many forms and no contribution is too small. If you are already a member of a museum of heritage organisation, you can renew your membership or donate online through the institution’s websites. Large organisations are not exempt here, for instance, The National Trust for Scotland have already expressed great difficulty in continuing to sustain its some 11 castles and 76,000 acres during this period of closure. Purchasing or renewing a membership for as little as £5 a month could be the difference between the survival or permanent loss of some of Scotland’s most invaluable historical sites. Similarly, instead of purchasing lockdown gifts from large corporate organisations (you know, the one that’s about to produce the world’s first trillionaire) try looking at the online gift shops of your favourite museum or gallery. Not only do they provide unique and often locally sourced products, profits go straight back into the organisation. A little goes a long way in times of crisis, and anything you can spare to help cultural organisations at this time will be an investment for you to continue enjoying them far into the future.
Thinking Small will have the Biggest Impact
Glasgow’s famous indie gig venue, the Barrowland Ballroom http://barrowland-ballroom.co.uk
It is easy to focus on the larger institutions we are all familiar with. The big national museums and galleries which are often featured in the media are naturally the ones which come to mind when we think about culture and heritage. While they are obviously in the firing line, the places we stand to lose forever are in fact, our much smaller and independently run venues; the ones which rely largely on volunteer workers and the generosity of the public under normal circumstances. Think of your local area, do a google search for all things culture related and I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find; there is often a wealth of museums and culture on offer that you didn’t know existed. Do your research and see if any small establishments near you are looking for a helping hand. And this problem isn’t only critical in our heritage sites. Our theatres and grass roots music venues are likely at the highest risk of permanent closure within the culture sector since their fundamental purpose relies on mass gatherings. Like museums, many venues are actively selling merchandise to keep afloat, with iconic establishments such as the the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow and The Moon in Cardiff selling exclusive branded products which are not only amazing memorabilia, they are amazing profit generators; each purchase helping with the daily overheads for the venues likely to be closed the longest. Many music venues and theatres are also running crowd funding schemes, so why not check in with some of your favourites and see how you can help them, sign their petitions, and throw a couple of pounds into their fundraising events. Small venues are where our future talents of stage and screen are nurtured, their value must never be underestimated.
Awareness is Key
Online petition to save The Cinema Museum, London http://change.org/p/love-cinema-save-the-cinema-museum
Financial contributions, although effective, are not the only way you can lend your support. In the digital age, raising awareness has never been easier, so go on a liking spree of all your favourite heritage sites and venues. Write recommendations and reviews on every website you can find, telling the world why you love these places. Not only will this give them a little moral boost, you never know who might read them, and if further action needs to be taken at a government level to save these institutions, what better way to do it than for them to see for themselves how much these places are loved, appreciated and deemed vital. You’ll also find tons of culture related petitions on the likes of change.org and petition.parliament.uk, so if one resonates with you, give it a sign. It takes literally five minutes of your time and can make the world of difference. Share all the amazing steps you take to help the culture sector on your social media platforms, as the likelihood is your friends and family will want to join in too when it’s a cause you’re passionate about. If we share a petition or crowd funder as readily as we share a meme, who knows what role it could have in saving not only cultural institutions but the jobs of those who give so much to them.
This is a difficult and scary time for every single one of us. We all have issues and causes close to our hearts that we want to strive to help, I suppose this is mine. I appreciate anyone taking the time to read this with the consideration of helping a cultural institution in need – the pay off in the long run will be immense. Just imagine how amazing it’ll be when you get to visit a museum you love when it finally reopens or go to see a gig at your favourite venue for the first time since lockdown. Or alternatively, imagine how upsetting it would be to see them close forever. I know there is only so much we can do without government intervention, but at least we can say we tried. Keep safe, and thank you for reading.