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Manchester’s cultural sector needs more support – or it will face the final curtain

'We will not stand by in Manchester and watch our theatres, museums, and galleries take their last gasp'

An open letter from Manchester has been sent to the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden calling for more support for the cultural sector, which has been hugely affected by the coronavirus crisis and is now fighting for survival.

The letter, sent by cultural lead Councillor Luthfur Rahman, calls for urgent financial support and focus to ensure effective recovery plans can be put in place for the cultural sector. 

It also includes an offer of direct support from the city – which is the second most visited city in England after London – to help shape the way forward.

Investment in Manchester’s world class cultural offer is intrinsic to our successes in regenerating the city, including the Bridgewater Hall, the National Football Museum (Urbis), Central Library, The Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery, HOME and most recently the development of The Factory, says the letter.

Pic Craige Barker

Arts and cultural organisations in the city report a combined GVA of £137m, and footfall in cultural organisations was 4.3m, with audiences of 3.4m seeing 9,500 productions, exhibitions and events. 

Manchester’s Central Library was the most visited public library in the UK last year with over 2m visits.

“We will not stand by in Manchester and watch our theatres, museums, and galleries take their last gasp,” said Councillor Rahman.

“Every day we hear from organisations across the city that tell us they are coming closer and closer to their final curtain.

“Without more support, and crucially without being able to have a say in what support is needed and what the future could look like if the right support was in place, this could easily be the end of the road for many artists and cultural organisations, and for what has been for generations the life-blood of our city.

“Culture and the arts are in Manchester’s DNA and have shown themselves time and again to be central to the city’s enduring strength, resilience, and world-wide reputation.

“We need urgent action now to keep the cultural heart beating, not just of our city but that of the whole country. As rightful recognition and long overdue payback for the massive sums of money that the cultural sector in Manchester and the rest of the country has for years put directly into the economy. 

“And of course this isn’t just about at-risk jobs in the cultural sector itself – the cultural economy supports a huge number of other jobs as part of the wider visitor economy, in hotels, bars, shops, restaurants, retail, local taxis – all of which livelihoods depend on.

“Now more than ever it’s vital too that we don’t forget the positive impact our cultural and creative sector has on our society – on health, well-being, and education, across all age groups from young to old. Unless a life-line is sent and sent soon, this will be gone. 

“It’s time to say thank you to our cultural sector for all of this, and, in these unprecedented times – to finally put some much-needed vital investment back into the industry without delay, before the lights get switched off for ever.”

Credit: Johan Persson

The plea echoes that of I Love MCR’s theatre critic Glenn Meads, who has been writing about theatre since 1996. He too has written a letter to MPs and the government to raise the issue of support that the sector vitally needs.

“Theatres sit empty and the people that normally inhabit these buildings feel unloved and forgotten,” says Glenn.

“Actors, creatives, PRs, theatre staff and writers sit staring at their twitter feeds in disbelief. Where is the help, the financial assistance, the acknowledgment of what they all do?

“Now is the time to pay these people back with a sense of certainty, compassion and offer them the same rescue packages as everyone else. Some actors and freelancers fall through the cracks and do not receive the financial support offered to others. 

“In between acting jobs, many performers turn to their local bar or restaurant for work to support them financially and these opportunities do not currently exist. And everyday when one of them goes out for a job, they pass an empty venue – reminding them that their world has come to a halt.”

“Manchester’s arts and music scene usually offers audiences so much choice.

“Just walk across the city and see the intimacy of the Hope Mill, the vast stage of The Palace Theatre, the ornate feel of the Oldham Coliseum, the sheer choice at the Lowry, the fantastic newly renovated Octagon Theatre, the arts hub that has become my second HOME on First Street, the fantastic Rivals and Royal Exchange, and the pub and play feel of 53Two…

“Some venues are closing, and others are on their knees. So, can somebody please help this industry now before it is too late?

“Then when this pandemic has passed, we can sit in awe of these essential workers as they entertain us once more – and to quote an Abba hit from the musical Mamma Mia!, it will mean “money, money, money” for the government, in terms of a huge financial return. 

“Because once this interval has passed, and we come out the other side, we will need live entertainment, like never before.”

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