UK's lockdown-hit arts venues to get $2B rescue package

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FILE - In this Saturday, July 4, 2020 file photo, visitors wearing PPE stand apart as they view Irises, 1914-17, by Claude Monet, a the National Portrait Gallery, London, as it prepares to reopen following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England. The British government has announced more than 1.5 billion pounds (almost $2 billion) to help the countrys renowned arts and cultural institutions recover from the coronavirus pandemic, after some theaters and music venues warned that without support they might never open again. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP, File)

LONDON – The British government has announced more than 1.5 billion pounds (almost $2 billion) to help the country’s renowned arts and cultural institutions recover from the coronavirus pandemic, after some theaters and music venues warned that without support they might never open again.

The 1.57 billion pound ($1.96 billion) package for museums, galleries, theaters, movie theaters, heritage sites and music venues includes almost 900 million pounds in grants and more than 200 million pounds in loans.

Details of how the money will be distributed haven't been released, but leaders of arts organizations breathed a sigh of relief at the announcement.

“When we heard last night, we slept for the first time since March,” Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of London’s Young Vic theater, said Monday. “It is a real vindication that we have been listened to and that the government understand that we were dying on our knees and also that we are an important part of our country’s recovery.”

Tamara Roja, artistic director of the English National Ballet, said “this package gives our sector a fighting chance of survival.”

Monday’s announcement comes after intense lobbying of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government by arts leaders, who say British culture is a 100-billion-pound a year industry, essential to the economy and to the nation’s global image.

Some U.K. arts institutions are beginning to open their doors after more than three months of lockdown, starting with the National Gallery in London, which reopens Wednesday. But social distancing rules and an almost total absence of tourists mean they face a big financial hit.

Theaters and concert venues haven't been told when they can admit audiences, and several major venues, including Nuffield Southampton Theatres in southern England, have already announced they will close permanently or lay off hundreds of staff.