Coronavirus / Arts agency expects to come through Covid-19 crisis but warning made about ‘scale of challenge’ for creative sector

Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell: 'considerable change' - Photo: Adam Jones
Shetland Arts chief executive Graeme Howell. Photo: Adam Jones

SHETLAND Arts’ chief executive says he is confident the organisation will manage to come through the coronavirus crisis – despite it losing 100 per cent of its commercial income while venues remain closed.

Graeme Howell said, however, that the “scale of the challenge for us and for the creative sector as a whole should not be underestimated”.


Shetland Arts closed its Mareel, Bonhoga Gallery and Garrison Theatre venues in March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while it has also cancelled its live programme of events.

It has also placed the majority of its staff on the government’s job retention scheme.

It is unclear exactly when the venues will reopen, but social distancing and hygiene measures will likely have to be in place.

Howell said Shetland Arts, which counts Shetland Charitable Trust among its core funders, will lose all of its commercial income while its facilities are closed.

“We then need to ensure that reopening will be financially viable for the organisation as a whole,” he added.

The smaller of Mareel's two cinema screens is currently out of action.
The smaller of Mareel’s two cinema screens.

“Shetland Arts is unique amongst the three trusts [which also include Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Recreational Trust] as we generate such a large proportion of our total income, around 65 per cent, through trading and our core funding from Shetland Charitable Trust and Creative Scotland is key in enabling us to do this.”

Howell said the key issues going forward would be around the “requirements for social distancing, which are currently under review, the cost of implementing any additional PPE [personal protective equipment], when large scale gatherings are allowed and what the level of confidence of our users will be”.


He added that when the arts agency cancelled its live programme it decided that a priority during lockdown and recovery was to “focus as much of our effort and funding as possible to supporting the creative sector in Shetland”.

“Keeping money circulating in Shetland is going to be key to our economic recovery and there has been a lot of cultural content made available online by much better resourced organisations than Shetland Arts that, if you have sufficient broadband and IT which can be a challenge in Shetland, is accessible at the moment,” Howell said.

“We have continued to employ freelancers to deliver a range of workshops and events, from writing partnerships with Pitlochry Theatre, to wellbeing groups and youth companies.

“We are working with Shetland College UHI to continue to teach and support the students that study film and music with us.”

Shetland Arts has been taken advantage of social media in particular to deliver content to islanders during lockdown.

A weekly story time for bairns in conjunction with Shetland Library has attracted over 10,000 views so far, while there have also been wellbeing choir and art videos.


Previously recorded events have also been broadcast on social media.

Shetland Arts will also soon be announcing a lunchtime performance series featuring artists based in Shetland, and an arts festival is set to take place once restrictions allow with the aim of reconnecting the isles post-lockdown.

“We have done a range of financial projections that we update as new information becomes available and there are cost savings that we are currently able to take,” Howell added.

“We are confident that we will manage to come through this.”