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ACE survey shows pandemic devastation

The first Arts Council England figures on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK in 2020-21 present a devastating picture.

Subsidised theatres across England saw income plunge by nearly 90 per cent, mainly because ACE-funded theatres were able to stage only 2,781 performances against an average 37,000-plus in the previous two years.

The devastation is revealed in the Art Council England annual survey, published last week, which followed several reports since last summer warning of losses of up to £1.5 billion and 400,000 jobs.

Lockdowns and social-distancing measures – the latter still continuing in many theatres – meant even when performances were able to be staged, patrons largely stayed away. Attendance fell to only 127,000 visitors across more than 170 companies, against almost 7.8 million in 2019-20. As a result, earned income fell by 87.5 per cent – making up only 15 per cent of the total – with overall loses amounting to a slightly better 48.5 per cent (taking subsidies, contributions and other public funds into account). In the previous two years, earned income had contributed around 64 per cent of theatres’ overall income – over 400 per cent more.

In the regions, the results could seem even bleaker: attendance in the North West was only 6,000 people at 153 performances (Yorkshire 14,000 at 280), while earned income fell by 90.7 per cent (North West) and 82.8 per cent in Yorkshire. The overall drop was just over 35 per cent in Yorkshire, 42 per cent in the North West, again taking all other income and grants into account. Both ACE and government subsidies were increased over the period, partly by the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund and by other emergency schemes.

Measured against these losses were reduced expenses, which fell by about half in the North West and by around 60 per cent in Yorkshire. In many cases this reflected the lack of work for thousands of freelance staff whose wages were not covered by the government’s furlough schemes.

The figures cover the year up to April, and omit data from theatres since lockdown partially ended back in May. Arts Council England admits the figures reflect a year of extremes, far different from the years immediately preceding it, and that their main purpose will be to measure the rate of recovery in future years.


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