Trade bodies to 'engage' with Covid-19 culture panel but note industry's absence

Trade bodies to 'engage' with Covid-19 culture panel but note industry's absence

The Publishers Association and Association of Authors' Agents have said they "look forward to engaging" with a new expert advisory panel set up to investigate the pandemic's impact on arts and culture, despite a lack of representatives from the industry.

The Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) announced the panel yesterday (4th August). Meeting monthly, it is tasked with investigating Covid-19's effect on the arts, cultural and creative sectors making recommendations for the government's recovery plans.

Recommednations from the panel will be based on insights and data from UKRI AHRC live research projects. They include the Towards a National Collection project on bringing the UK's cultural assets together to make them more accessible and assembling digital collections..

It is co-chaired by the executive chair of AHRC, Professor Andrew Thompson, and Neil Mendoza, recently appointed the government’s commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal. Members include Chris Michaels of the National Gallery, recording artist Imogen Heap and Dr Joanna Abeyie of consultancy Blue Moon.

However no one currently working in publishing or bookselling has been included on the panel. Although Mendoza founded the Forward contract publishing firm in 1986, he sold it on in 2001. The news comes after trade figures criticised the DCMS for including no one from the industry in its Cultural Renewal Taskforce.

Meeting monthly, the panel will consider new business models for the creative sector, monetisation of digital content and the return of live events. It forms part of the Boundless Creativity project, which seeks to explore and demonstrate innovation during the pandemic and provide an evidence base to inform cultural recovery.

Mendoza said: “Our culture holds us together. From heritage sites to immersive theatre, culture in all its forms is a vital part of our lives throughout the nation. This project is a unique and immediate opportunity to explore the impact of the pandemic on culture and learn how digital innovation can support the sector’s ultimate recovery and renewal. I look forward to working with this talented panel of experts and creators to bring together insights for the benefit of the sector.”

Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors' Agents, told The Bookseller: "Following the government’s Cultural Renewal Taskforce, I note the new DCMS expert advisory panel, and while I look forward to engaging with the panel and DCMS in future, I do regret the absence of a publishing trade presence on the panel itself.  Writers, books and publishing underpin so much else in education, film, theatre, and the arts in general, and I feel very strongly that those who work so closely with these creators and core drivers within the UK creative economy need to be listened to closely – more than ever in these times of crisis when such far-reaching decisions are made so swiftly.

"The AAA – with its members representing writers across all media – and other organisations such as the Society of Authors, the PA, the BA and the Alliance for Intellectual Property feed data and views to government through various routes, and we continue to share information with ACE, DCMS and direct to the IP Minister and MPs. We have important insights to share, and will continue to campaign across our sector in order to protect so much that is under threat from many quarters. Fully informed engagement is key."

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, also said it was “vital” to engage with the project as part of many ways the PA liaises with government.

He said: “It’s absolutely vital that publishing is at the heart of the creative industries post-Covid recovery and we look forward to engaging with the Boundless Creativity project. There are numerous ways in which we interact with government, they consult with us regularly on publishing’s issues and, in our experience, listen carefully. The recent cut in VAT on digital books and journals being just one example of an ongoing commitment to our industry.”

The UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council said in a statement: "The co-chair of the panel is Neil Mendoza, who has a distinguished career in publishing having co-founded the pioneering publisher, Forward. In addition, the AHRC/DCMS Joint Research project and indeed the whole Boundless Creativity initiative has the senior input and leadership of several authors, including Professor Andrew Thompson, co-chair, and Professor Edward Harcourt.
"AHRC’s partnership with Hay Festival this year was also essential in bringing the Wordsworth 250 celebrations to a wide audience digitally, and the learnings from this collaboration will be incorporated into this review."