Arts and culture in Norfolk – sector resilience and COVID-19

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The Arts and Culture sector is an important element in the VCSE fraternity, in the context of community engagement and outreach, and addressing local health issues such as social isolation and loneliness.  

Theatres and arts centres have rightly been highlighted in the media as highly vulnerable due to their high level of reliance on tickets sales and the practicalities – or indeed impracticalities – of limiting numbers of people in venues to maintain social distancing requirements.  Whilst non-building and community-based organisations are not directly reliant upon box office, their transaction is more geared towards project funding for social impact work. 

CAN works closely with Creative Arts East in organising outreach and support programmes, including the ongoing Operation No Cold Shoulder.  

Natalie Jode, Executive Director at Creative Arts East, has seen the impact of the pandemic on operational capability and capacity across the county. 

“Building-based organisations have been at immediate risk due to loss of box office but this is by no means the whole picture for the arts and cultural sector. This year nearly all of those funding streams have been paused or closed and redirected to emergency funding, which for the most part has been accessed by building-based, box office-led organisations.”   

“This effectively means that the community arts sector is in a stranglehold. For the most part, because those organisations operate a business model based on securing funding one or two years in advance, they are relatively stable for this financial year, and therefore completely ineligible for emergency funding on that basis - but unable to actively fundraise for next year and the year after because those usual funds have been repurposed to the short term.” 

Natalie expresses concern that there will be a second wave of financial crisis in the sector next year. The buildings that survive this financial year will still need underpinning because the requirement for socially distanced seating is not going to go away, and the community arts sector will be facing an emergency deficit too. 

The arts and culture sector has however responded with a pre-emptive recovery plan. 

Norfolk & Suffolk Culture United  

Norfolk & Suffolk Culture United  is a sector response to the crisis caused by Covid-19 and the need for a pro-active call for support which quantifies a solution to the pandemic’s impact.  Some organisations in both counties were already part of a loose collective of mainly theatre and performing venues known as the Bonfire Group. They have produced a 5-point plan for recovery and renewal which they hope will support not only performing venues but community arts organisations, village halls, freelancers and individual artists, through the current crisis and beyond. 

1. A £60 million economic investment package 
2. A detailed reopening/re-engagement plan 
3. A bespoke package of employment support 
4. A community and wellbeing awareness programme 
​5. A region-wide cultural renewal strategy 

Natalie adds: “It would be fantastic if colleagues who believe in and see the power of the arts in their social practice would stand behind the sector and champion its role in health, wellbeing and social mobility by (a) signing up to support us, and (b) giving thought to how they could help raise awareness of, and support for,  the local role of our arts and culture sector.” 

Read more about the work of Creative Arts East here and read Natalie’s blog here.