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Culture Secretary: Reopening of theatres has "stalled" given rise in number of cases

Oliver Dowden spoke to Andrew Marr over the weekend

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
© UK Parliament / Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was quizzed by Andrew Marr this weekend about the state of the arts during the ongoing pandemic.

Dowden batted away Marr's points about the fact that a large part of the arts workforce has yet to receive any form of specific aid, having found themselves ineligible for the SEISS initiative to support self-employed workers.

He also went on the defensive about the fact that the regularly trumpeted £1.57bn package has yet to be distributed to either smaller or larger arts organisations, with many of the biggest arts employers unlikely to see any form of financial assistance before December.

Marr raises the point given by the director Sam Mendes, who helped set up the Theatre Artists Fund earlier this year to aid those in need – "How is [sitting in a theatre without distancing] different to sitting next to someone in a metal tube for eight hours on a plane".

Dowden said he had spoken to Mendes about this – "much as I would love further easement, we cannot do it at this stage." Currently outdoor and indoor shows with social distancing (stage four of the government's reopening strategy), is permitted, with a range of venues able to host performances within these parameters – though many more simply aren't.

The Culture Secretary admitted that, given a rise in Covid case numbers, the government has "had to stall" on reopening plans. Less than three weeks ago Dowden was very positive about plans for venues to have more freedom to open, but the situation has changed rapidly in that time, Dowden states.

Last week new financial schemes were unveiled by the Chancellor, but were widely criticised by the arts community for their lack of sector-specific support. Producer Sonia Friedman labelled them "an insult".

Watch Marr talk to Dowden below:

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