One year on from the forced closure of theatres and other cultural venues, a council report spells out the value of culture to the city and what the impact of the pandemic has been on Manchester’s world-class cultural scene.

Every year the council collects data on the economic and social impact of cultural organisations through its Cultural Impact Survey. The survey – now in its fourth year – demonstrates the return on investment to the council in supporting the cultural sector. It is open to all cultural partners in the city and is compulsory for those funded by the council as part of annual monitoring.

The 2019/20 survey results, which have just been released, will be particularly important in the coming months as they provide the pre-pandemic baseline against which the impact of Covid-19 can be measured.

The cultural sector was the first to lockdown back in March 2020 and according to the government’s roadmap will be the last to be fully released from restrictions as this latest national lockdown is eased.

Pre-pandemic the 2019/20 Cultural Impact Survey shows that the level of Earned Income across the 47 arts and culture organisations in the city that responded to the survey was just over £34.68m.

Fast forward a year and it is anticipated that the majority of earned income generated by cultural organisations under normal operating conditions will have been lost in 2020/21.

Other key findings of the survey include a figure for the estimated economic impact of the cultural sector in Manchester – including jobs and visitor spend in the city – which has been calculated from the survey data by leading economic and social impact research company Ekosgen to be £283.2m.

Ekosgen have also estimated that cultural organisations in Manchester contribute a social value of around £8.7m to the city. This is made up of £78,000 of social capital generated through apprenticeships, £2.4m of social capital generated as a result of volunteering, and £6.3m health and wellbeing NHS cost savings from engaging in the arts as an audience member.

Although some cultural organisations have benefited over the last year from national government support for businesses – including funding delivered through the council, from Arts Council England emergency support, or the government’s Culture Recovery Fund – and others have been involved in sector-led local initiatives that have helped sustain cultural businesses and helped them and artists to deliver creative activities during lockdown, it’s clear that many companies and individuals working the industry will nevertheless be in an extremely difficult financial position this year, especially from April onwards.

Last July, three months into the pandemic the council launched its Culture Recovery Plan setting out a vision and strategy for the sector post pandemic – aimed at supporting cultural organisations as they emerged from the challenges of Covid and highlighting the vital role culture would play in the wider recovery of the city.

Nearly a year later and in the face of continuing challenges across the cultural sector due to the impact of Covid-19, this plan is being urgently refreshed to factor in the latest national roadmap on re-opening, the additional financial support measures announced in the government’s Spring Budget, and the ongoing restrictions around social distancing that are likely to continue to cause severe challenges as the sector begins to re-open.

New initiatives are also planned for the next year to help support cultural organisations to rebuild their businesses and their audiences, and these include the setting up of a new one-stop culture website for residents and visitors. and the further strengthening of partnerships between cultural organisations in the city.

Challenging though the last year has been, local cultural organisations have continued throughout to reach out to their audiences – old and new – and also to local communities.

Although at the start of lockdown companies were forced to postpone or cancel exhibitions, events, and project plans, most cultural partners reacted quickly to the challenge of the suspension of normal face-to-face activity, finding new ways to deliver their programmes online or in different ways.

Digital success stories include Manchester Jazz Festival’s ‘Jazz Unlocked’ in May, Manchester Histories Festival ‘DigitFest’ in September and Manchester Literature Festival in October.

Other organisations continued to reach out to local communities to provide a wide range of help and support through culture for them. The Men’s Room stepped in to support homeless people by staffing the emergency accommodation put in place; Reform Radio set up their Buddy-line project, pairing up young people with older people to help reduce feelings of isolation during lockdown; Venture Arts set up regular Zoom sessions with all its learning-disabled artists who usually attend regular activity sessions at the centre; and other companies provided creative activity packs for vulnerable people who had to isolate and shield.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills, Manchester City Council, said: “Anyone who knows Manchester knows that it is a city of culture like no other – recognised across the globe for our music scene, festivals, galleries, theatres, and hugely talented artists and creatives of all kinds.

“The latest Cultural Impact Survey demonstrates clearly what the value of culture is to the city, not just in economic terms, but also the added social value that it brings with it.

“This last year has however brought our cultural sector to its knees.  Although the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund and other measures have provided welcome support, we know there are some organisations that are just not going to survive this crisis without further Government support into 2021/22.  This support is vital.

“Despite everything the last twelve months has thrown at us as a city we remain steadfast in our commitment to culture and the pivotal part it has to play as the city emerges stronger and more determined than ever from the pandemic.

“As our latest survey shows, our cultural organisations are very much worth it in economic and social value terms alone, and we will continue to work closely with them and with artists to help make sure Manchester gets its cultural mojo back – sooner rather than later – and to ensure the city continues to be a place where good things happen and where everyone can achieve their potential.”


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