Culture Declares Emergency (CDE) issues an Open Letter to Oliver Dowden

Ballerinas. Photo by Evgen Romanen

Culture Declares Emergency (CDE) issues an open letter to DCMS as part of its ‘Month of Action’ in the face of growing crisis – pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, soaring inequality, the closure of community and arts spaces, and the erosion of trust with those that hold power. The letter highlights the urgent need for support for the sector to make its own structures sustainable, and to help re-imagine how we could live in harmony with each other and the planet. It is being issued on Tuesday 1st September, the day that parliament resits after the summer recess and when many have been invited to publish their ‘Letters to Power’ at this crucial political moment when change is possible and vitally needed.

The Government’s £1.57 billion cultural sector recovery package, announced on 5 July, was a welcome if belated response to the serious crisis facing the sector as a result of the coronavirus health pandemic.

However, the package does little to address the multiple crises being faced by the sector such as the long term effects of a decade of austerity, the impact of Brexit and the most urgent crisis of all, the climate crisis

Signatories include Simon McBurney, Dave Moutrey and Natalie Abrahami

Dear Oliver Dowden
The Government’s £1.57 billion cultural sector recovery package, announced on 5 July, was a welcome if belated response to the serious crisis facing the sector as a result of the coronavirus health pandemic.
A government press release announcing the measures states that the “future of Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will be protected with emergency grants and loans” and further mentions funding to “restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites paused as a result of the pandemic”.
In bold lettering the government communication goes on to assert that this package will help “weather the impact of coronavirus”.
However, the package does little to address the multiple crises being faced by the sector such as the long term effects of a decade of austerity, the impact of Brexit and the most urgent crisis of all, the climate crisis, whereby extreme “weather” is not simply an economic management process that we must employ to get through this moment in history, but a man-made phenomenon that will continue to cause loss of life, livelihood and habitat, rendering theatres, opera houses, music halls, galleries, museums and other arts centres obsolete – including the so-called ‘crown jewels’.
We at Culture Declares Emergency have made a twin declaration of climate and ecological emergency – a declaration shared by over 1000 artists and cultural organisations to date. We understand that Covid-19 has arisen as an impact of the ecological emergency, with Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities most at risk in Western societies, and indigenous peoples facing possible extinction in many parts of the world – the same disadvantaged communities who are most at risk from and least responsible for climate change. Social and ecological injustice go hand in hand – the biggest protests on our streets right now are Black Lives Matter and climate activists of all ages, and the issues share common roots. This is why the government’s response is insufficient. It is both out of step with the macro scientific view and out of touch with the grassroots’ citizens movements on the streets and in our communities.
In our response to the Arts Council England 10-year draft strategy 2010-20 we said, “The imminent threat to the continuity of life on this planet, caused by the dominant industrial system, would be the pivot around which all planning for Culture in the future turns.” We feel that the government’s response to the sector’s valid appeals for support has failed to rise to the challenge of doing things differently, settling instead for the “same old”. This is a missed opportunity at a time when a radical transformative vision is required.
Commenting on the government’s announcement in The Guardian on 14 July, Charlotte Higgins writes about the need for a system change in the arts ecosystem. “Those art forms that have relied on the constant circulation of people or objects across the globe will be well advised to use the hard stop brought about by Covid-19 as a prompt for a permanent revision, which is anyway urgently demanded by the climate crisis.”
On 1 May 2019, the UK Parliament made history by becoming the first national parliament to declare a climate and ecological emergency. However, this commitment has not been reflected in the policies and business of the government since then. Recovery plans following the global pandemic, totally overlook the opportunity for a green recovery and Green New Deal, and the amounts of money that have been allocated to environmental initiatives are totally inadequate to the scale of the challenge. The DCMS emergency funding package for the arts and cultural sector similarly misses the opportunity to support the sector to ‘build back better’ and make the kind of radical and systemic change that is required. This is reflected by the bodies who will distribute the funding, such as Arts Council England, who have similarly missed an opportunity to offer leadership and inspiration let alone build stronger environmental commitments into their recovery funding conditions.
Given the right support, our world-class arts and cultural sector has the capacity to both reimagine its own structures and to co-create vivid and compelling stories of how we might live with one another and the planet. Now, in this era of multiple crises, is the time for all of us to turn on that pivot to face new realities and demand new responses. We call on the government and its arms-length bodies to not only recognise the climate and ecological emergency, but to put climate justice at the heart of any further arts and culture recovery funding, and to support long-term the arts and cultural sector to play the fullest role in this transformative process.
As a significant community of cultural workers immersed in the urgent campaign to avert ecological disaster, we offer our knowledge, expertise and advice to the government and ACE at this time in order to ensure that beneficiaries of the rescue package consider environmental impact and propose measures to mitigate harm.
Culture Declares Emergency Declarers and Supporters
Simon McBurney OBE, Artistic Director, Complicité
Polly Gifford, Executive Director, Complicité
Bridget McKenzie, Director of Flow Associates and Climate Museum UK
Michael Attenborough CBE, Freelance Theatre Director
Judith Knight MBE founder/ex-Director Artsadmin, freelance producer
Dave Moutrey, Director & CEO, HOME, Manchester
Patrick Woodroffe OBE, Lighting Designer
Roger Graef OBE, filmmaker and trustee Complicite
Rose Fenton OBE, Co-Founder London International Festival of Theatre, freelance producer
Kadine James, Founder of The Immersive KIND
Julie Ward, Former Vice Chair, European Parliament Culture & Education Committee
Claudia Boulton, Director, Love and Will Productions, Claire Malet
Deborah Weinreb +D Social Artist
Cathy Eastburn, Sarasa Sound
Carolyne Jackson, Individual, Artist, Fatrabbit Art
Kelly Hill, Photography / Exploration Architecture
Mike Prior, Kirklees Culture Declares Emergency
Sozita Goudouna, Raymond Pettibon Foundation
Emma Rees, Executive Director, Theatre Centre
Warren Draper, Unbound Arts
Suzanne O’Donnell, Creative maker activist
Kay Michael, Freelance Theatre-maker
Katherine McAlpine, Exhibitions and Interpretation Manager
Dave Muir, Individual, Musician
Sarah Nicolls, Pianist and Composer
Stella Hall, Director, Festival of Thrift
Thiago Jesus, Creative Producer
Paule Constable, Lighting Designer, Freelancers make Theatre Work
Jo Willis, Creative Director, Shallal
Rob Casey, Director, Ammonite Studios
Rajha Shakiry, Freelance Set and Costume Designer, Scene-Change
Hugh Vanstone, Lighting Designer, Associate artist Old Vic Theatre, London
Dan Ayling, Freelance Theatre & Opera Director, Equity Councillor
Alan Oke, freelance opera singer
Daniel Norman, Freelance Opera Singer
David Benedict, Freelance Theatre Critic
Miriam Buether, Freelance Set and Costume Designer
Tom Pye, Freelance Set and Costume Designer
Emma Davis, Freelance Lighting Crew Chief / Re-Lighter
Susan Kempster, Freelance choreographer
Hyemi Shin, Freelance Set and Costume Designer
Christopher Purves, Freelance Opera Singer
Chris Bird-Jones, Artist, Creative Wales Ambassador
Jason Addison, Freelance Lighting Designer, Assistant and Relighter.
Suzann McLean, CEO/Artistic Director Theatre Peckham
Nel Crouch, Freelance Theatre Director
Fraser Hall, Director Working Light Ltd
Jack Hudson, Administrator, National Theatre & Freelancers Make Theatre Work
Nick Richings, Freelance Lighting Designer
Clare Partington, Production, Stage and Tour Manager
Hana Pascal Keegan, Freelance Director
Victoria Burns – CDE and Director, Climate Museum UK
Sarah Travis,Orchestrator
Lucy Jane Atkinson, Freelance Director and Dramaturg
Alice Kornitzer, Freelance Director & Dramaturg; Artistic Director & CEO Sharp Image Company & Pick Up Productions
Gaby Solly, Artist, writer, musician
Catherine Webb, lighting designer & writer
Anthony Arblaster, Freelance Lighting Designer & Programmer
Charlotte Burton, Freelance Lighting Designer, Associate and Assistant
Natalie Abrahami, Freelance Theatre Director
Zoe Spurr, Freelance Lighting Designer
Rosanna Vize, Freelance Theatre Designer
Frankie Bradshaw, Freelance Theatre Designer
Robyn Winfield-Smith, Freelance Stage Director
Barry Evans, Freelance Theatre Director
Matt Harrison, Freelance Theatre Director
Paul Wills, Freelance Stage and Costume Designer
Tom McEvilly, Freelance Technical Director & Production Manager
Philip d’Orléans, Freelance Fight Director
Cécile Trémolières, Freelance Set and Costume Designer
Malcolm Rippeth, Freelance Lighting Designer
Jonnie Riordan, Freelance Director & Choreographer
Max Lindsay, Freelance Theatre Director
Alice Boyd, Freelance Composer and Sound Designer
Justin Nardella, Freelance Designer
Cristina Catalina, Dash Arts Associate Producer
Madeleine Girling, Freelance Set & Costume Designer
Jon Clark, Freelance Lighting Designer
James Farncombe, Freelance Lighting Designer
Martin Chisnall, Freelance Production Electrician
Bob Lawson, Freelance Artist
Belinda Gilbert Scott Freelance Artist
Sarah Kenchington Freelance Artist
Danny Robbins Freelance Artist
Anna Fleischle, Freelance Set and Costume Designer, Scene/Change