14 April 2020

Art in the time of Coronavirus: Support for Charitable Arts Organisations

Charitable arts organisations have been hugely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. All of the large museums and galleries have had to cancel exhibitions and events, with enormous revenue consequences. Many charities delivering arts programmes (for example, in prisons, care homes, and for vulnerable children) have also had to cancel these because of social distancing rules. Large numbers of freelance creative practitioners have suffered significant income losses. At the same time, arts charities have been under pressure to provide sophisticated virtual content to adults and children at home. Against this backdrop the arts sector is likely to be eligible for only a small portion of the charitable sector funding announced by the Chancellor on 8 April 2020, despite the fact that many provide therapeutic support to large number of individuals and have an enormous positive impact on mental health.

Below we summarise the support currently available to the arts and heritage sector:

Arts Council England

Arts Council England is making £160 million of emergency funding available for arts organisations and is changing the funding requirements for individuals and organisations currently in receipt of Arts Council funding. Of the £160 million:

  • £50 million will be made available to organisations not in receipt of regular funding from the Arts Council. National Portfolio Organisations, Music Education Hubs and Creative People and Places lead organisations are not eligible to apply. The maximum grant per organisation is £35,000. Eligible organisations are those with a track record in publicly funded culture. Two rounds of funding will be available. Round one opened for applications on 9 April 2020 (closing on 16 April 2020). Round two will open on 16 April 2020 (closing on 30 April 2020). The budget will be split equally across both rounds.
  • £20 million of financial support will be available to individual artists, creative practitioners and freelancers so that they can better sustain themselves, and their work, in the coming months. The maximum grant is £2,500 per person and is aimed at creative practitioners whose main work is centred around Music, Theatre, Dance, Visual Arts, Literature, Combined Arts, Museums practice or Libraries. Again, two rounds of funding will be available. Round one opened for applications on 9 April 2020 (closing on 16 April 2020). Round two opens for applications on 16 April 2020 (closing on 30 April 2020). Again, the budget will be split equally across both rounds.
  • £90 million will be available to National Portfolio Organisations, being all those organisations within the Arts Council’s 2018-2022 National Portfolio of Organisations. The Arts Council hopes that the main focus of the fund will be to help National Portfolio Organisations to reboot their programmes of creative work. Organisations that benefit from the funding are expected to show how they will support the freelance creative practitioners on whom they rely. The funding will come from reallocation of National Lottery Project Grants, Developing your Creative Practice, and the Arts Council’s Development Funds for the 2020-21 period.

What about current Arts Council beneficiaries? National Portfolio Organisations in receipt of funding will continue to receive funding, with relaxed funding conditions for up to six months, as necessary. Where possible, the Arts Council will also advance up to six months of future grant payments to assist with cash flow and relieve immediate financial pressure.

Some existing development funds are continuing as planned, for example, the Arts Impact Fund, the Centre for Cultural Value and Creative XR. Others have been paused. Further details are contained on the Arts Council website.

For further information, see www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19

National Lottery Heritage Fund

The National Lottery Heritage Fund announced its emergency fund, known as the ‘Heritage Emergency Fund’. This is a £50 million fund to support the heritage sector over the next few months with grants of between £3,000 and £50,000. Grants are intended to support immediate actions needed to stabilise operations and manage unforeseen risks. Applicants must be:

  • a not-for-profit organization
  • a current or previous recipient of a grant from the Heritage Lottery and
  • an owner, manager or representative of heritage, or be able to demonstrate the delivery of participatory heritage activity.

Local authorities, private owners of heritage, organisations mainly funded by UK and devolved Governments, and organisations that have already accepted emergency funding from another National Lottery distributor may not apply. Applications open on 15 April 2020 and can be made until 30 June 2020.

For more information, see www.heritagefund.org.uk/funding/heritage-emergency-fund

Digital Culture Network

The Digital Culture Network is an Arts Council initiative to develop the digital skills of arts organisations, find new ways to reach and engage audiences, and help develop business models. The network offers organisations in the arts and culture sector access to assistance with:

  • working and collaborating remotely
  • keeping up engagement with audiences
  • strategies for generating income through online retail and donations
  • maximizing the organisation’s website.

For more information, see www.artscouncil.org.uk/developing-digital-culture/digital-culture-network

Museum Security

The pandemic has given rise to a number of thefts of artwork, including of a Van Gogh painting from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands. Arts Council England has published new guidance on security and conservation for closed venues and sites (applicable to organisations that have taken out loans under the Government Indemnity Scheme). The guidance is also useful for museums and galleries, more generally. The guidance confirms that security and conservation staff are permitted to travel for essential work, although they should observe social distancing guidelines while at work. Institutions should ensure that all security equipment is regularly checked and maintained and keep records of all visits to the building in question. For more information, see https://collectionstrust.org.uk/resource/gis-advice-on-meeting-security-and-environmental-conditions/

Conservation Issues

The UK Heads of Conservation Group has produced guidance on the conservation and care of collections during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes advice on access and the need to assess collections from a risk perspective, including consideration of pest infestation, poor environmental control (e.g. humidity), dust, light and other building features including water ingress, leaky radiators and the risk of other debris. Care checks of collections should also be scheduled. For more information, see www.icon.org.uk/news/conservation-and-care-of-collections-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

Tax Reliefs

Finally, there are a number of existing tax reliefs available to arts organisations in relation to abandoned productions and exhibitions.

Theatre Tax Relief

If a production is abandoned at any point during the production phases the theatrical production company may be able to claim relief for qualifying production expenditure incurred before the production was abandoned.

A similar relief allows a touring production to claim tax relief on expenditure. This is subject to the requirement that:

  • at the start of the production phases, the production company intended to have live performances at 6 or more separate premises; or
  • there were to be at least 14 performances, held in at least 2 separate premises.

These reliefs can be claimed on a company tax return. For more information, see www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/theatre-tax-relief/ttr60040

Orchestra Tax Relief

If a concert or series of concerts is abandoned at any point during the production phases, the orchestral production company can still claim relief for qualifying production expenditure incurred before the concert or series of concerts were abandoned. For more information, see www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/orchestra-tax-relief/otr20040

Museum and Galleries Exhibition Tax Relief

If an exhibition is abandoned at any point during the production phases, the abandonment will mean that the production company may be able to claim claim relief for qualifying production expenditure incurred before the exhibition was abandoned.

A company qualifies if it:

  • is the primary or secondary production company for the exhibition
  • is a charitable company which maintains a museum or gallery, or is a company wholly owned by a charity that maintains a museum or gallery, or is a company wholly owned by a local authority that maintains a museum or gallery
  • intends from the planning stage that the exhibition should be public and
  • spends at least 25% of the core expenditure of the exhibition within the EEA.

For more information, see www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/museums-and-galleries-exhibition-tax-relief/mgetr10010

For further information, please contact Neasa Coen.


The current global crisis is evolving rapidly, and the rules and guidance for individuals, companies and other entities to manage its implications are similarly fast moving. Notes such as this may be out of date almost as soon as they are published. If you have any questions prompted by this article or on any other matter relevant to you, please get in touch with your usual contact at Forsters.

COVID-19 Information Hub - helping you and your business through this unprecedented time

Our Insights

"Best in the business’ according to some, Forsters LLP is praised for its ‘extremely sophisticated client skills, quality of service."
Legal 500 UK