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Secret Cinema’s $1.3M UK Government Grant Provokes Backlash

UK event cinema organization Secret Cinema has received criticism after it was revealed that the company has received a £977,000 ($1.3M) grant from the UK government as part of its Culture Recovery Fund.

The fund, administered by Arts Council England, was created to support businesses adversely affected by the pandemic disruption and is offering grants of between £50,000 and £3M. It is part of the UK government’s wider £1.57BN Culture Recovery package.

According to reports today, around a third of applicants were rejected, with 1,422 of 2000 applying organizations receiving backing. The money is designed to help these orgs survive through to March 2021 amidst ongoing pandemic challenges.

The parameters of the fund were to provide “financial support for cultural organisations that were financially stable before COVID-19, but were at imminent risk of failure”.

Commentators on social media (including filmmaker Charlie Shackleton, see below) criticized the company for taking the money due to the high cost of its events, which differentiate it from struggling indie film venues and community organizations, and also highlighted its loss-making status.

Secret Cinema’s parent company Secret Group’s accounts show a loss of £2.9M for the year 2019, and a loss of £1.4M for the previous year, that’s despite recording turnovers of £15.8M in 2019 and £10.8M the previous year. The company has private equity backing from Active Partners’ $131M fund and has tie-ups with the likes of Netflix and Disney for future events.

Contacted by Deadline, Secret Cinema declined to specify how the government money would be utilized, or to provide comment.

The org was able to wrap its Stranger Things experience prior to the lockdown. It had planned to put on a Dirty Dancing event in the UK this year but had to pause that due to the pandemic, rescheduling to summer 2021.

Back in August, the company made its inaugural move into the U.S., partnering with Netflix to deliver Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience in Los Angeles.

UK indie arts venues have struggled greatly during the pandemic. Unlike Secret Cinema, however, they are eligible to apply to the separate BFI-administered £30M Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas in England, which is open to applications now.

That pot will award non-repayable grants to struggling cinemas. To date it has given more than 40 indie venues some £650,000. It closes applications on October 30. As a non-physical venue, Secret Cinema was not eligible to apply to the BFI fund.

Other cinema venues did also benefit from the Arts Council grants due to their status as mixed arts venues, including Bristol’s Watershed which received £731,993.

The full list of orgs that received backing from the Arts Council fund is available to view here.

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