However, the work of cultural recovery extends far beyond the preservation of organisational infrastructure. We cannot consider ourselves ‘recovered’ until we recapture our spirit of innovation. The NT is home to a workforce of astonishing expertise which delivers across an extraordinary range, from Make Theatre days for primary school children to Broadway-bound productions such as The Lehman Trilogy, serving local, national and international audiences in the process. We are a formidable creative campus, and like Apple, Google and Facebook, we are utterly reliant on an army of innovators who collaborate and collide in the nooks and crannies of our brutalist building.
Unlike those tech companies, however, our creative army are not permanent employees of the NT. They are freelancers and the Fund makes no provision for their survival. Nor was it able to underpin the commercial theatre: the government will reap great benefit by offering this part of the sector the insurance essential to enable it to spring back into action, by protecting core expenses against the fluctuating restrictions.
The loan we have been offered this week will keep us afloat. But to simply take the money and wait out the storm would be to betray the very idea of “cultural recovery”. It falls to us, and organisations like ours, to commission, convene and produce new work. To open to socially distanced audiences, to innovate and expand digitally, to employ our peerless artists and continue to contribute to the lives of our audience. We must find every way possible of supporting an arts ecology predicated on the belief that access to arts and culture is part of our birth right. Thanks to the loan we are able, once again, to play our part.
The National Theatre in numbers:
Culture Recovery Fund loan: £19.7 million
Annual Arts Council grant: £16.7 million
Previous annual turnover: £107 million (2018/2019)
Current number of employees: 1,213
Redundancies in 2020: “more than a third”
Alex Beard, chief executive, Royal Opera House ‘We don’t want to put obligations our successors’
The repayable finance from the Culture Recovery Fund of £21.7 million is a hugely important contribution to the Royal Opera House. By the terms of this 20-year arrangement, there are no repayments due for the first four years, and then the loan is paid back, plus two per cent interest, over the following 16 years.
We haven’t been able to perform since March, which takes out well over 60 per cent of our budget, plus we’ve had no income from the shops, bar and restaurants. This is a massive, massive financial challenge, the biggest in our history. In order to get through it, we need a combination of reducing costs, looking to our assets, fundraising, and this bridging finance from the government.
We’ve made a number of very painful redundancies – about a fifth of our workforce. We also consigned our David Hockney painting of my predecessor Sir David Webster to auction with Christie’s in October, raising £11.25 million. Our chairman David Ross actually bought it, and it’s coming back to the Opera House on public view in the New Year.
We worked over months to make sure the numbers stack up before applying for the loan. Since it’ll be repaid over 20 years, we don’t want to put obligations on our successors that they can’t meet. And we’re very conscious that this is public money. The loan goes towards supporting our staff (meaning we can sustain our much reduced core team), productions, and keeping the buildings themselves together.