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23/05/2020 14:15:06  

The boss of the National Theatre and director of Tate Gallery discuss how culture has been hit by – and responded to – Covid-19, and what happens post-lockdown

At 2.30pm Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre and Maria Balshaw, director of Tate art museums and galleries, convene on screen – the new abnormal – for a conversation about the Covid-19 crisis and how they plan to help their institutions survive it. Norris is first to admit our get-together is not ideal as his blurred silhouette appears: “I’m at home, in the bedroom, because it’s the best internet spot. If things get really bad, I’ll have to speak to you on the phone.” Balshaw, at home in Kent, is similarly quick to identify the idiosyncrasies in her new working life: “I’ve got my museum director husband [Nick Merriman, chief executive of Horniman Museum] with me – we rotate in and out of this room.”

Erratic bandwidth is the least of the problems Norris and Balshaw face. Before lockdown, there was a £110bn creative industries sector, the fastest-growing in the UK. Now, the challenge is to keep cultural institutions out of intensive care. For although Arts Council England has launched a £160m emergency package across the cultural sector, the longer our museums and theatres remain closed, the more perilous their future becomes. But beyond the immediate question of when the Tate and National might reopen, this is, more positively, a moment of potential change: there are questions of how cultural appetites are altering as art in lockdown becomes more democratic. And questions about whether the Covid-19 crisis will make a good subject for theatre. What sort of art might develop post-lockdown?

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