London’s Southbank Centre, which includes the Hayward Gallery, could remain closed until at least April 2021 because of what it calls the “crippling financial pressure” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The organisation, which is a charity, is calling on government to extend the furlough scheme beyond October for the cultural sector. It also wants government to intervene to support the arts sector through the crisis and help it plan for the future.
The Southbank Centre is forecasting a best-case scenario of a £5m loss at the end of 2020-21 financial year. Even to achieve this, the organisations will have used up all its reserves and be in deficit. It will also have needed £4m support from the furlough scheme and will have used the remainder of its annual grant from Arts Council England to effectively mothball its buildings.
Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery, said that social distancing measures will mean that galleries, particularly those that charge for admission, will have to develop new business models to make them viable.
“The arts sector is looking to reopen galleries over the summer but this does not mean we are in great shape,” said Rugoff. “Blockbusters, with lots of people stuffed together, are probably things of the past.”
Despite these challenges, Rugoff is reasonably confident that art galleries can get back on their feet, and has found some positives from the crisis, including digital engagement and finding other innovative ways to engage with people.
“People are feeling very isolated and a gallery is a place where you can be with other people in a safe space,” Rugoff said. “Sooner or later we are going to find a way to live with this virus and while I am not sure what form this will take, there is going to be a way for galleries to be open.”
The Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts venue. It is made up of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery as well as being home to the National Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection.