What Next For Cultural Life In London?

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What Next For Cultural Life In London?

This is a sponsored article on behalf of the City of London Corporation and the Mayor of London.

All Will Be Well, Children’s Rainbows From Lockdown © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

With London having entered England’s highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, the capital’s cultural sector is more vulnerable than ever before. But even though venues must remain closed for the time being, there’s still plenty you can do to support London’s incredible arts and culture scene, and ensure that it’s still here to enjoy when life becomes more normal again.

So, how can you help? Well, you can start by reading this interview with Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries and Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee at City of London Corporation. Here they explore what culture means to London, reveal how the sector has responded to the coronavirus crisis, and share their hopes for 2021 — dishing out tips on how to get involved in London’s cultural scene virtually this Christmas along the way.

Read on to see what they had to say and, once you’re done, don’t forget to follow @LDN_Culture, #LondonTogether and #OurCityTogether on social for even more inspiration.

Why is culture so important to London?

JS: It would be easy to see culture as an optional extra in the midst of the vast challenges cities around the world are facing. But that would be a grave mistake. Why? As the Mayor says ‘Culture is our DNA’. It’s the oxygen of cities – their life and their soul. It also creates jobs, boosts the economy and tourism, supports our mental health and, frankly, it’s how we define our cities – our culture is our story.

That’s why the Government’s decision to move London to Tier 3 and close venues with so little warning is so devastating. Pre pandemic, London’s creative economy was worth £58 million and one in every six jobs was a creative one. Culture is also the reason four out of five tourists visit – so it’s essential we safeguard and sustain culture.

CMcG: Along with its history, its diversity and its status as a global economic powerhouse, London’s thriving cultural scene has for centuries been one of the capital’s greatest assets, attracting millions of visitors, creating jobs and driving our economy.

In the Square Mile – home to internationally-renowned institutions such as the Barbican Centre and the London Symphony Orchestra – culture will form a key part of our Covid recovery, and the enforced closedown of so many cultural activities during the pandemic has, if anything, only highlighted the importance of the role they play in enriching our lives and unlocking our imagination.

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries

How have the events this year affected London’s culture?

JS: Who would have thought at the beginning of this year that we would have hundreds of festivals cancelled, theatres, music venues and clubs closed, and many thousands of jobs lost, as London’s world-renowned culture sector has been turned upside down? I often think it’s only when you lose something you realise its true value. I think the importance of culture has really been bought home to all of us this year. We have missed the energy of going to a gig, of sitting in an audience as a theatre-goer. Not to mention how culture has helped us through this year, whether poetry, choirs or TV box sets.

Right now though, after spending significant time and money to get safely up and running, the industry has been hit again with more closures. London’s economy is expected to suffer a £44 billion hit due to Covid, with culture, leisure, retail and hospitality have been especially badly hit. Out of all the businesses affected, sectors such as culture, leisure, retail and hospitality have been especially badly hit by the lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. That’s why we set up a £2.3m Culture at Risk emergency fund at City Hall to help the most-at-risk grassroots venues, artist studios and independent cinemas. We have helped more than 660 cultural businesses and venues so far this year and we continue to advocate for more support and funding from the Government.  

CMcG: Like so many other sectors, culture and the arts have had to cope with an unprecedented drop in visitor numbers and income, but I’ve been hugely impressed by the way in which venues have adapted, whether by putting in place safety measures once restrictions eased or utilising technology such as live-streaming of events.

A maxim during the Second World War was ‘London can take it’ and our true strength has always been our ability to adapt to circumstances and find creative and innovative ways to overcome even the most daunting of obstacles. I have every confidence that will be the case again, and we’ll do whatever we can to support our cultural institutions, but it’s certainly a challenge which requires a national response.

What can Londoners do to help?

JS: There is plenty of online content to keep the whole family entertained in the lead up to Christmas whilst supporting our cultural sector. There are so many fantastic festive digital events to enjoy over the coming weeks, like the Donmar Warehouse’s star-studded premiere of Looking A Lot Like Christmas or a free family treat from the Unicorn Theatre for 2-5 year olds. Londoners can also support our local bookshops and businesses, donate to help out grassroots cultural venues through the Mayor’s Pay It Forward crowdfunder or treat yourself and loved ones to memberships, or future tickets to our world class theatres, music, comedy, dance and experiences for when they are ready to open again.

CMcG: The latest Tier 3 restrictions mean that, unfortunately, most of our cultural and heritage attractions have had to temporarily close once again, just at a time when they were preparing for the busy Christmas period.  However, venues such as the Barbican are offering live-streamed events which people can enjoy from the comfort of their own homes. By booking for these events, advance booking for events in 2021 or even just buying something from the online gift shop, people can help cultural institutions weather the storm, and contribute to the capital’s recovery from Covid.

Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee at City of London Corporation

What can Londoners look forward to in the future?

JS: The good news is that the vaccine is now being rolled out and London’s recovery is on the horizon. When I’ve spoken to different cultural leaders and cities this year,  everyone agrees that culture should be at the heart of both our economic and social recovery.

We haven’t stopped our hard work to sustain London’s place as a leading capital of culture.  London Fashion Week, the film, games and design festivals all still took place this year. We announced Eastbrook Studios, London’s biggest film studio in Dagenham. Over in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, East Bank will be London’s largest culture and education district and will bring together the BBC, Sadler’s Wells, the V&A, UAL’s London College of Fashion and UCL. in London’s most exciting culture and education district.

Of course, there will be challenging times ahead but there is also lots to look forward to. When we return to the life we knew, and the things we may have taken for granted, we may find we’ve become a city with more empathy, humanity and understanding. London will recover, and we may be a better city for it.

CMcG: It’s my hope that 2021 will see a reblooming of cultural life in the capital, as people shake off the shackles of Covid and rediscover the joys of the arts, culture and something that’s fundamental to being human – coming together for shared experiences.

In the Square Mile, we will continue to develop ‘Culture Mile’, featuring a new home for the Museum of London and a proposed world-class Centre for Music, to open up culture to people of all ages and backgrounds and, through our learning programmes, to fuel in young people a joy in the arts which will inspire them throughout their lives.


Follow @LDN_Culture on Twitter with #LondonTogether and #OurCityTogether for a daily advent calendar unveil at 10am to celebrate and support London’s culture and creative businesses.

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