Covid-19: Arts Council England launches £160m emergency response package for cultural sector


The Arts Council today announces a £160m emergency response package to support individual artists, freelancers and cultural organisations.

The intervention is designed to complement the financial measures already announced by the Government to help the wider economy. 

In addition to this emergency response package, the Arts Council will also postpone the National Portfolio Organisation investment process (for organisations who receive regular core funding from the Arts Council).

The process  for 2022-26 was due to begin this autumn; instead, we will roll over our current National Portfolio for one year, to 2023.

 The financial crisis is acute for the cultural sector. Evidence shows that closures and cancelled contracts are causing massive and unsustainable loss of revenues.

The measures we announce today are intended to support individuals and organisations and help them develop creative responses to the Covid-19 crisis, to buoy the public during the period of lockdown.

The Arts Council’s sole priority at this time is to use its financial resources to support artists and creative practitioners, museums, libraries, and arts organisations, so that they can continue to serve our communities during  this crisis, and reboot creatively after it is over.

What does this emergency response package contain?

  • £160m of emergency funding will be available, of which £20m will be for creative practitioners and freelancers, £50m for organisations outside  our National Portfolio, and £90m to support National Portfolio Organisations. 
  • Artists and a wide range of creative practitioners will be eligible for cash grants up to £2.5k. From the £20m fund, the Arts Council is also planning to make grants up to £4m to existing Benevolent Funds for cultural workers.
  • Organisations outside the National Portfolio will be able to apply for grants up to £35k from the £50m fund. This fund is to support them to get back on their feet, or to continue making work in the future that will mean they can contribute to delivering our new strategy, Let’s Create.  
  • Funding conditions for those already in receipt of National Lottery Project Grants will be relaxed where relevant. 
  • These new funds for both individuals and organisations will be up and running by 3oth March, with first payments made within six weeks.
  • Support for National Portfolio Organisations: A £90m programme will launch in April to provide financial support for NPOs. In addition, where needed, we will advance current grants by up to six months to help with cashflow, and will relax funding conditions.  These measures apply straight away. 

 The budget for these measures comes from drawing down the majority of our emergency reserves, and re-allocation of National Lottery Project Grants and development funds in 2020-2021. 

With regret, the Arts Council is therefore suspending its main project funding stream – National Lottery Project Grants.  Every year, our National Lottery Project Grants are a vital source of income, especially for individuals and smaller organisations. However, at this time of crisis, we believe that this budget is best spent on sustaining the sector.  We will prioritise reopening this stream of funding as early as possible.  

This package is focused on dealing with the immediate crisis. To secure the long-term recovery and reboot of the cultural sector we will need to work closely with the government and other partners on further actions.  This will include looking further work on the proposed £90m fund for National Portfolio Organisations to ensure it best meets the needs of those organisations.

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Covid-19 is having an impact globally, far beyond the cultural sector – but our responsibility is to sustain our sector as best we can, so that artists and organisations can continue to nourish the imagination of people across the country, both during the crisis and in the period of recovery.

“Over the last week, I have been deeply moved by the response of artists and cultural organisations to this crisis: their imagination and invention, but also their generosity, and their care for one another and their communities. None of us can hope to weather this storm alone, but by working together in partnership, I believe we can emerge the stronger, with ideas shared, new  ways of working, and new relationships forged at the local, national and even international level.” 

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said: “Right now, our number one priority is to do everything we can to help individual artists and cultural organisations to stay afloat. It’s going to be tough, but we need them to be in the best possible shape to use their creativity to benefit people’s lives in villages, towns and cities across England once our communities begin the process of recovering from this terrible virus.

“We want to thank our Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, Minister for Culture Caroline Dinenage, and officials at DCMS, for the speed of their response, which has enabled us to do what’s needed without delay.

 “Already, I’ve seen artists and cultural organisations draw on their bottomless ingenuity and creativity to dream up ways to connect, comfort and uplift us as we face these uniquely challenging circumstances.  This is a frightening time for all of us. But, as we distance ourselves from one another in our daily lives, I believe the role of arts and culture in helping to bring us all together will become ever more critical.”

Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We want to do all we can to maintain our strong cultural sector in these difficult times. I am pleased that Arts Council England is launching these important funds to support these vibrant industries and the people that work in them.

“This emergency response package, made possible by Government funding, will complement the unprecedented financial support set out by the Chancellor last week. Artists are already finding creative ways to tackle the challenges facing culture in the UK and, by working with Arts Council the government will play its part.”

Who will be eligible for the grants?

We plan to publish detailed guidance for the individual and non-NPO funds on the 30 March. A full set of criteria and guidance for applicants will follow. We are aiming to simplify our application processes as much as possible.

 What about current grants?

  • We are suspending National Lottery Project Grants, Developing Your Creative Practice and Creative People and Places Round 2 as soon as this news goes live.
  • Individuals and organisations with applications in the process will be contacted shortly.
  • Where decisions were made (on Project Grants) before the cut-off date, those decisions will be honoured, and we will discuss adjustments to plans with successful applicants.
  • All other funding programmes are currently under review. We will communicate about them separately, as soon as possible.

 What consultation/process have you undertaken?

We have held emergency Executive Board and National Council meetings in accordance with our usual governance structures for making decisions. We have also consulted widely with the sector, calling an External Reference Group meeting last week. When we publish our criteria for the funds, these will also include our decision-making approach. You can find out more on our governance structure here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/our-organisation/national-council-0