Matt Burtcher and Andy George, Directors of the terrific VAULT Festival are facing incredible uncertainty because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Here, they write about the potentially grave implications they now face and the ways in which you can help.
We made the difficult decision to close VAULT Festival early over the phone. There were some tears, rants, deep breaths, and collections of thoughts. Then we pressed on. The following hours were spent drafting statement after statement, phone call after phone call. There were calls with our senior team to let them know, we had 97 shows to tell, and over 3000 audience members.
In the midst of all this, Andy managed to put down the phone and laptop long enough to spend 20 minutes meeting and holding his new nibling for the first time; experiencing a momentary surreal calmness in the eye of the storm.
Since then, the Festival’s pack down has kept us busy, as has supporting and communicating with the artists and staff affected by our early closure. VAULT Festival is built around five core principles: Opportunity, Equality, Honesty, Respect and Kindness. What feels concrete amongst the uncertainty is that these principles are needed now more than ever.
VAULT Festival only exists because we believe that it has the power to make a difference to people’s lives. When we launched in 2012, 7,000 people came underground to watch 23 shows. This year 616 shows sat side by side in our programme and that audience was on course to grow to nearly 90,000. We believe the reason for this growth is simple: there are innumerable artists looking to present work in London, yet the opportunities to take creative risks without breaking the bank are few. The hard work each year is more than worth it when you see the incredible shows that have come out of the last eight years.
What’s not always obvious is the financial knife edge VAULT Festival operates on. We’re not publicly funded, so we rely on tickets and drink sales at our bars to survive, together forming 96% of our income. Bar sales are factored into our budgets and mean we can give the artists the best financial deal we can. When deciding to close, we not only lost the tickets, but also the drinks and food sales which are fundamental to making this whole operation possible.
Like many of our friends and colleagues in the arts right now, we’re scared about what the future holds. We’ve worked non-stop for a long time to get the Festival to where it is and that it might not recover from this is painful. But we are also very grateful to have each other and our wonderful team, the fantastic artists who’ve brought work underground from our beginnings to now, and the many audience members who’ve joined us for the ride. There’s been overwhelming support from every corner, and that keeps us afloat in this stormy time.
We don’t want this to be the end, but honestly speaking, we don’t know what will happen going forward. Whether we can continue at all will be dependent on what happens over the next few weeks and months, but we’re remaining hopeful that we won’t slip through the cracks, and hope is always worth fighting for.
So, what do we do next? Our entire industry is asking itself this question, and in true form finding bright ideas, bold initiatives and creative ways to offer help. Lots of artists and venues are taking their work online, so watch their streams, download their podcasts, and keep engaging with them. They want to fill your lives with culture and colour, and they’ve got so much to give.
Once we’re out of lockdown, get out there and show up! We’ve seen a massive switch to last-minute ticket booking over the past couple of years, and the best way to support artists (in our opinion) is to buy your tickets early. It will significantly reduce their stress and anxiety levels to know they’ve sold some tickets, allowing them to focus on bringing you a brilliant show rather than worrying about their finances.
Finally, if you want to support VAULT Festival – and be a part of ensuring our future – we’ve come up with ways to help you do just that. Read about the companies and shows behind our Lost Week on our website, consider making a donation (or turning your pre-booked tickets into one) if you have the means, or stock up on merch. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates and stay in touch. Most of all, we hope we can all remember to be kind. Be kind to yourself, to others, and to your past and future self. It’s not just a core VAULT principle, but a very human one.