Today’s blog comes from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet member for Strategic Planning and City Design.

The people of Bristol know how central our music venues and events are to the city’s culture and sense of identity. It’s difficult to imagine what Bristol would be like today if we’d never had St Paul’s Carnival, Lakota, Thekla or Motion, for example.

That’s why we’re backing the #LetUsDance campaign, launched by the UK’s night time economy and events sector today, issuing an urgent plea for support from the UK Government. They ask that dance music venues and the events and festivals sector be protected and recognised as an important part of the nation’s art and culture, in parity with the wider live music sector, to ensure equal access to support.

In March, all of the UK’s music venues closed their doors due the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 90 per cent of venues and festivals at imminent risk of closure according to the Music Venue Trust (MVT).

The impact of these venue closures on our city cannot be underestimated. As well as dealing a catastrophic blow to the culture of our city, mass closures of music venues would mean the loss of a £5 billion industry and thousands of jobs nationally.

Added to this is the knock-on effect for other businesses. MVT estimates that for every £10 ticket sale for a grassroots music venue, £17 is spent elsewhere in the local night-time economy, supporting the jobs of the 91,600 people who are directly or indirectly employed by the sector here in Bristol.

This month, the sector welcomed the announcement of a £1.57 billion package of emergency grants and loans, to be distributed through the Arts Council, to support cultural organisations to survive the pandemic. This backing is vital for many of our celebrated institutions and we are pleased to see them getting the recognition they deserve.

However, the government narrative to-date on the fund has not been clear about how this money may or may not be used to support nightclubs or events and festivals organisers. The position of freelancers and others who earn a living from the music industry remains uncertain.

For a sector that was already struggling, and for whom the impact of this crisis will be felt for a long time to come, this fund must be inclusive. The value of smaller, independent or grassroots venues must be recognised alongside the larger institutions that are so visible in our cities. Electronic music must be considered as worthy of support as live music. And those venues with no prior experience of working with the Arts Council, or of submitting bids, must not be disadvantaged.

As a local authority, we have been supporting businesses through the distribution of nearly 8,000 grants totalling more than £93m. We have redeployed staff to increase the size of the teams assessing applications and I’m proud of the speed at which we were able to respond to this challenge.

But despite existing support, we recognise that some businesses are falling through the cracks. As well as working with the West of England Combined Authority to take steps to support the sector, we will continue to put pressure on the government to expand their offer to be more inclusive.  

That’s why we’re calling on everyone who cares about the culture of our city to support the campaign. You can help to raise awareness by posting your favourite picture from a nightclub, festival or event on social media, with a note supporting its place within arts and culture. Pre-made social media graphics can be found and downloaded here and make sure you use the hashtag #LetUsDance with all posts.

Marti Burgess, co-chair of the Bristol@Night board, launched in 2018 to amplify the voice of those working in the night time economy, has shared the following statement in support of the campaign:

Bristol is a city that is proud of its sound system culture, events, festivals and night time economy.  When Covid hit, these were all forced to either shut down and/or shelve plans for what would have been a busy summer season. 

The government support seems to have let many of our great businesses fall through the cracks. If the definition of those eligible for the Arts package is narrow, very few of our venues, festivals and events will be able to access funds, meaning that some will not survive.  We really want the definition of ‘live music venue’ to be as inclusive as possible so that all of Bristol’s cultural institutions stand a chance in what remains an incredibly difficult time. 

The city’s culture, in its widest sense, is so important to our city identity. Thankfully we have the support of our city council and the Bristol MPs.  Both Kerry McCarthy and Thangam Debbonaire have recently spoken up in parliament in defence of our city’s night time economy and fantastic festival and events culture. We are grateful for this advocacy and hope that together we can achieve the financial support the sector so desperately need.

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