Harrogate arts leaders fear 'cultural catastrophe' without Government support

The Harrogate arts and culture scene has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with Harrogate International Festivals being forced to place all summer events online and the social distancing rules having a potentially devastating effecting on the finances of our theatre, museums and galleries.

Sunday, 28th June 2020, 12:17 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th June 2020, 12:20 pm
New exhibition launched - Richard McTague, owner of Harrogate independent art gallery RedHouse Original with assistant gallery manager Emily Merriott ready for reopening for the first time since lockdown. (Picture by Ernesto Rogata)

The world may feel like it is starting to get back to normal after the changes announced this week by Boris Johnson but it is clear some areas still have some way to go.

Along with nail parlours, swimming pools and foreign holidays, the Prime Minister’s latest steps to ease lockdown from July 4 did not encompass all of the arts world either.

In particular, after a week in which the Creative Industries Federation forecast that 406,000 jobs could be lost across the whole of the arts in a ‘cultural catastrophe’ for the UK, theatre has yet to be released from the clutches of a punishing lockdown.

Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals.

Parts of Harrogate’s cultural sector will be able to reopen - indoor venues such as museums, arts galleries and cinemas - albeit with significant levels of social distancing still in place, will open on July 4.

The Government has been holding talks about how to reopen the cultural sector but no action or timetable has yet emerged.

As a result, there remain serious concerns over future of our arts scene.

Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals, welcomed last week’s developments but highlighted the need for greater support for the arts.

She said: “I think the gradual reopening of the hospitality and entertainment industry is welcomed but there is much to do to support the arts.

“The arts are an integral part of people’s lives and nowhere more has that been recognised with the increase in reading, radio and streaming over the pandemic.

“The live community experience is vital. It should be opened safely and with the relevant financial support to ensure that artists, their work and the venues that help create and house their work will survive for the future.”

Helen Sutcliffe, of Sutcliffe Galleries in Harrogate’s Montpellier Quarter, said they had already opened safely within social distancing guidelines last week when the Government started to ease the rules.

She said: “The one metre rule for social distancing will make things a lot easier. But we are finding it very easy to ensure that customers don’t accidentally get too close.

“We have the door open and just ask customers to wait outside if we have more than four people browsing.”

Another independent gallery in Harrogate taking the situation in its stride is RedHouse Originals, located on Cheltenham Mount.

Renowned for a cutting edge status in modern, contemporary and street art, its owner Richard McTague said social distancing came naturally to galleries.

Mr McTague said: “We’re very happy to be back already. Our online exhibition during the lockdown had a fantastic response but we’ve missed seeing all our collectors and visitors.

“As we are a gallery space, our customers naturally have respect for the works on display, and for each other, giving others time and space to view and appreciate the artwork.”

If the ‘new normal’ presents few logistical headaches for many art galleries in the Harrogate district, it’s a different matter for cinemas where seating arrangements are key.

But the managing director of Harrogate Film Festival, Adam Chandler, said the reopening of cinemas was a hugely exciting opportunity.

He said: “The industry will be delighted that they can begin to welcome people back. As a lover of film, I will be booking my tickets, too.

“It’s great news as well for Harrogate Film Festival.

“We’re programming for the March 2021 Festival and it’s a great we might be able to hold events as normal.”

Harrogate Odeon is to reopen on July 16 but, so far, the Everyman cinema chain has not revealed an opening date for its Harrogate cinema,

Everyman's chief executive Crispin Lilly said a roll-out of its 33 sites, including the Harrogate theatre on Station Parade, will be completed by July 17.

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