Q&A: The Music Venue Trust on how cancelling the Festival Of Britain could save UK venues

Q&A: The Music Venue Trust on how cancelling the Festival Of Britain could save UK venues

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has called for the government to cancel its 2022 Festival Of Britain and divert funds to grassroots venues.

CEO Mark Davyd sent a letter to Boris Johnson last week, encouraging him to ditch the post Brexit celebration in favour of curating a "cultural infrastructure relief" – and has started a petition with an aim to focusing political minds.

Here Davyd tells Music Week why the £120m earmarked for the project is best spent on grassroots music venues, theatres, community centres and arts centres...

Why are you suggesting the cancellation of the 2022 Festival Of Britain?
"Anybody who runs the most simple household budget can get this. If you were planning to buy loads of cake but actually needed something to eat for a whole week, you'd buy tins of beans. This is not any different to that. They have £120m in a cultural budget that they've already allocated, it doesn't come from anywhere new, they've already said they will spend it, so cancel that festival and take that money, put it into a fund and the problem is solved. It would easily cover an eight-week lockdown in lots of other sectors, but we're taking about grassroots music venues. We've costed that for government. At this point people don't want a festival of Britain, they want to try to keep their cultural institutions. The plan is to hold the festival in our grassroots community spaces, and they won't even be there! It needs a dramatic rethink."

Before the government announced all venues would close from Friday (March 20), you also called for it to legally shut down venues. Why?
"The need to have the lockdown doesn't relate to insurance, it relates to perception by the public, the liabilities the venues have if they do not get an official notice to close. For example, on a contractual relationship between an artist and a venue, if the venue pulls the show, then force majeure does not apply. If the government tells them to close, the artist and the venue can have a sensible conversation about who is losing out and what can we do about it. But without that, venues are obliged to pay the artist in full by contract. That's not even the worst of it, the worst problem we have is several dozen members who are in tied breweries in which their lease is reliant on them trading. If they refuse to trade, the brewery can simply take the building back. The reason it needs legal force is public perception and what rolls out from that, the legally enforceable measures and the importance of people having a clear contractual position that they are not in charge of. A very limited number of our members may have insurance cover for this, but it's very limited, it's not an issue of just insurance but of everything you're liable for. Also people understand that venues want to be part of protecting their communities and the government should not be leaving in this position frankly."

Finally, once the Covid-19 outbreak is addressed, how do we get the sector back to normal?
"We've got some ideas for streaming from venues to support the artists, we've also working on a recovery plan for when things reopen, but the most important thing to do now is stabilise the sector. Let's get that right and then we have time to work out what we're going to do next."

* Get the new issue of Music Week, out today, for an extensive investigation into how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the music industry. Make sure you can access vital music biz information wherever you are by signing up for our digital edition here.

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