Taking Practical Steps on the Road to Recovery

*First published 21/10/20 on Arts Professional* Photo: Brian O'Regan, Whale Theatre

In the face of seemingly insurmountable problems facing the sector back in June, an active platform for sharing resources and ideas, and providing a forum for some of the tougher conversations during closure, set out to find some solutions.

An open call webinar led by The Arts Working Group and Ticketsolve prompted 300 registrations from organisations and theatres across the UK, who compiled a list of the most important questions and concerns facing the sector. Using these as a jumping off point, the working group set out to create the Recovery Toolkit and its various modules.

A key focus of the Group, which includes representatives from theatres, venues and arts and cultural centres across the UK, is to help organisations formulate reopening plans that protect staff and audiences alike, but also make financial sense. It is also taking these solutions to policymakers, to ensure appropriate supports are in place to make reopening possible.

Practical solutions

Among the valuable outputs from the Group is a toolkit covering areas from Risk Assessment to Bringing Back Volunteers. Using their collective experience, the group hopes to provide some concrete recommendations that can help arts organisations on the road to recovery.

There are five modules within the Arts Recovery Toolkit so far:

  1. Arts Advocacy
    Advocating for support from local and national governments is always important, health crisis or not. This module provides practical advice and examples on getting started with advocacy.
  2. Risk Assessments
    Risk assessments are the very first step. Without understanding and addressing the risks, there will be no reopening.
  3. Clear Communications
    Regardless of how reopening will play out (and when), communication is critical. This module looks at best practices around keeping communications clear and concise for reopening.
  4. Returning to Volunteering
    For many arts organisations, volunteers are integral to their teams. This guide was created to help strengthen communications around the new procedures in place for the safety of volunteers.
  5. NHS Covid-19 App
    If your arts organisation, culture or heritage venue, theatre or museum is in England or Wales, you will need to get your organisation’s own coronavirus QR code to help with NHS Trace and Track. This toolkit explains what you need to do to create the QR code or codes for your venue(s), how to do it and the consequences of non-compliance.

Rescheduling, Refunds and Donations

Back in March the sector's first reaction to closure was to reschedule anything that could be rescheduled and cancel the rest. This, of course, translated to refunds. For some organisations, tools such as The Ticket Exchange Tool helped to convert would-be refunds into credit notes or donations with over 60% of audiences opting for donations or credit notes. But March cancellations have pushed into Autumn 2020 and even early 2021. Regardless of how refunds are being processed (manual or automated), processing is taking an inordinate amount of time, making an already Herculean task nearly impossible.

The current rebate window limit is set at 180 days by acquiring banks. If a refund is to be processed after this time period, theatres must contact audience members directly and process a manual refund. While this task is not only cumbersome and time consuming for theatres, audience members aren’t inspired by confidence to make a haste and return to venues while being asked for credit card information over the phone. This has and will continue to impact customer confidence in the arts, which is already on the precipice as organisations are experiencing difficulties in refunding all orders processed after six months. The Arts Working Group is currently raising awareness of this issue through a campaign to change the date restrictions. This change will help ease the burden on overworked staff whilst boosting customer confidence for the arts industry and other sectors as well.

Looking Ahead

For many, 2020 will be a write off. But not for everyone. There are some great examples of organisations taking steps towards recovery and we’ve started to see streaming and pared down Christmas programmes become a real option to salvage at least some of 2020. These stories are important to help arts organisations rethink what reopening will look like.

The reality is that reopening is going to be a long and certainly not straightforward process over the coming months. We can likely expect local lockdowns, which means some organisations will be open while others remain shut, and others still will not open until full capacity is allowed. We are in for the long haul.

As such, data and shared stories of what works and what doesn’t will provide a framework for reopening and recovery. The Arts Working Group would love to hear stories and case studies so they can be shared with the wider arts community. Of particular interest is any data (anonymised of course) that could be used to create additional whitepapers and toolkits for advocacy and practical planning. Data, as always will play a key role in assessing what works and what doesn’t with audiences and staff, and what will drive customer confidence.

To get involved with the Working Group and learn collaboratively about practical routes towards the recovery of the arts industry, come and join us! Just get in touch at workinggroup@ticketsolve.com.