Southbank Centre could be closed until spring 2021 without government intervention
| By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels
London's Southbank Centre has warned that they may have to remain closed until at least spring 2021 without additional government support. Every year, more than 4.45 million visitors flock to the centre to see an upwards of 3,500 events, making it the UK's largest arts and cultural organisation. The centre's artistic venues include Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, and the Royal Festival Hall along with the Saison Poetry Library,
Southbank Centre hangs by a thread, warns of extended closure
The popular London cultural destination has forecasted a best-case scenario loss of £5 million by the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year. However, by the time it achieves this, it will have already exhausted all of its reserves, used up an additional £4 million from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and spent its annual £19.2 million grant from Arts Council England to "effectively mothball the buildings."
Southbank Centre stated: “There will be hardly any artistic activity throughout 2020/21, as to present anything like a normal range of events would have seen the losses rise to around £11m.”
As it stands now, the venue would only be able to host events for a limited number of audience members due to social distancing measures still in place. It is unclear at this time whether this will affect the upcoming December opening of Bring It On The Musical.
The venue gets about 37% of its income from subsidies whilst the rest is earned from ticket sales; bars, cafes, and restaurants; and graduations and conferences.
Currently, all theatres, concert halls, opera houses, and dance companies are working out a model to continue operating with physical distancing rules and a COVID-19 policy. However, thus far few have managed to come up with something that could work economically for the Southbank Centre.
“There is work being done on the safety of musicians on stage such as how far you need to be away from the bell of a trombone to be safe,” said Gillian Moore, Director of Music at Southbank Centre. “The capacity of the Royal Festival Hall is 2,700 and we reckon with social distancing we get could just under 800 people in. The economics of that are horrific.”
Calling on the government to see the importance of culture
The Southbank Centre is also the home of the London Philharmonic and other orchestras as well as the venue for the London Literature Festival, Women of the World, and Meltdown. They are all calling on the government to extend the furlough scheme for the cultural sector beyond October, to develop a large-scale intervention for the arts, and to support self-employed artists and musicians who are suffering financial hardship due to venue closures.
Elaine Bedell, Chief Executive of Southbank Centre, said “The Southbank Centre’s own history is traced directly to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Here, the postwar government recognised how vital arts and culture were to the health and wellbeing of a traumatised nation. Just as the South Bank was a focal point of social and economic recovery then, we hope that we’ll emerge from this crisis to a brighter future, throwing our doors wide open once more.”
Playwright James Graham has called for a potential culture support package to be seen as an investment and not as a bailout: “The money we need to cover the shortfall until we can properly reopen open is almost instantly paid back in the annual tax revenue and the VAT. In London alone, tourists bring in £2bn of cash every year specifically for London theatre."