Scotland’s strict social distancing measures risk “irreparably damaging” the country’s arts sector, the chief executive of Perth’s leading arts charity has warned.
Horsecross Arts, the charity behind Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre, is seeing Scottish venues cut from UK promoters’ tours, leaving a huge hole in their programming and finances.
And Nick Williams, chief executive of Horsecross Arts, blamed “extreme” social distancing regulations. He said: “Curtains are going up in England, but doors to Scotland’s important arts venues are firmly shut.
“Touring shows are the commercial lifeblood for most concert halls, but with many of these tours originating south of the border, venues are already seeing promoters lose confidence in presenting shows in Scotland.”
Curtains are going up in England, but doors to Scotland’s important arts venues are firmly shut.”
Currently in Scotland, venues must operate at a capacity which ensures two-metre social distancing. As a result, Perth Concert Hall is permitted to open at only 16% of its 1,200 customer capacity.
Meanwhile in England, the rules are much more relaxed, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming the current “one-metre rule” for social distancing maybe be scrapped in England altogether on June 21.
Scottish Government rules under fire
As well as the disparity between Scottish and English regulations, Mr Williams highlighted the penalisation of the arts sector by Scottish Government policies.
He explained: “Concert halls are generally well ventilated with good airflow systems, high ceilings and spacious interiors. Audiences sit side by side, all facing in the same direction, for a limited period – and can be asked to wear masks.
“Customers could be sitting at one-metre distance from other households in our café without masks, then having to move to two-metre distancing with masks as they enter the auditorium.”
To curb the damage, Mr Williams called for the Scottish Government to urgently release a clear roadmap out of lockdown for the arts sector.
Urgent calls for clarity
“If we don’t gain clarity from the Scottish Government in the next few weeks, we know that promoters will withdraw their tours from the autumn programme, and only present them in England and Wales, where they are viable,” he said.
“That risks irreparably damaging not just the arts sector in Scotland, but the towns, cities and thousands of local businesses that venues help support.”
He also criticised the Scottish Government’s “lack of interest” in running test events, such as those being run in England and across Europe.
It is thought that such test events, combined with data from pilot schemes in England, could inform an easing of social distancing restrictions.
Vicki Unite, chief executive of Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, backed the call for clarity from the Scottish Government, stressing that Perth’s cultural venues are “critical to our night-time economy”.
She said: “Huge investment has been made by our businesses to make them Covid-secure. They are critical to our recovery from the pandemic and we can’t afford to see them put at a disadvantage compared to those in England.”
The utter madness. Lack of engagement with the sector is shocking. I think that @jasonleitch @devisridhar @FionaHyslop and others should come and talk to us and see how nonsensical it all is. Very happy to you show around @HorsecrossPerth (Theatre and Concert Hall) to discuss https://t.co/wHiJ1wQuWY
— Nick W ⚫ (@nick_i_williams) April 28, 2021
According to Mr Williams, Horsecross Arts is planning to invite politicians, civil servants and clinicians to one of Perth Concert Hall’s Lunchtime Concerts at the end of May – to see the impact of the restrictions for themselves.
He said: “We looking at the potential collapse of the entire Scottish performing arts sector for the second time in 12 months when we should be focusing on reopening, rebuilding and bringing people back to live performances”.