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Arts in Lockdown, Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - In Conversation with Louise Halliday of the Royal Albert Hall

Posted on 16 February 2021

On Tuesday 9 February Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law, was in conversation with Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs of the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), as part of our "Arts in Lockdown" Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  

Louise and Amanda talked about the RAH and its journey through three lockdowns. They discussed the high impact that the pandemic has had on the organisation, its staff and the entertainment industry as a whole, and their future projections for the sector.

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.   

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Good afternoon to everyone, lovely to see you all and welcome to the latest conversation in the Arts in Lockdown series.  I’m Amanda Gray, I’m at Partner in Art Law at Mishcon and I’ll be your host today.  I’m really delighted to introduce Louise Halliday.  Louise has been the Director of External Affairs at the Royal Albert Hall since June 2018.  Before that, she was Head of Marketing and Communications at the Royal Albert Hall and before that she spent nearly 20 years at the English National Ballet in various roles, including being the Marketing Director and Communications Director.  Prior to this, she was a ballet dancer.  Maybe I can kick off and just ask you if you’d give me an overview of the last ten months. 

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

Gosh, when I look back at the last time I was at a show was Brian Ferry at the Hall on the 11March, I think it was or the 13 March, and we could feel the threat of the tsunami, everyone knew it was coming but no one knew quite what it meant and then of course it happened very, very fast after that and it became apparent that there was a closure order from Downing Street and on the Friday people were advised not to attend theatre or concert halls and on Monday we closed officially.  Over the period from then until now we’ve cancelled 333 events, we’ve refunded about £9 million of tickets, we’ve foregone about £30 million of income that we would have made had we been open.  The thing that’s been most difficult for all of us, and I think for everyone in the creative industries, is the constant sense of shifting sands because we just always felt it’s not going to be long, we’re going to be closed for a couple of weeks, oh no we’re going to be closed for a month, oh no we’re going to be closed for two months, so we’ve been always trying to remain on the front foot to look after our staff, to retain as many staff as possible and to keep as many of our talented people on the books and available to come back so we could retain the agility to get back and to welcome people back to the Hall as soon as we possibly could, as soon as we safely could. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Was there, through your different experiences of being lockdown 1 and now we’re in lockdown 3, a very different experience for you and also those working at the Royal Albert Hall?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

I think for myself, the first lockdown was probably a shock more than anything, the second one was disappointment because we had geared up for re-opening, we’d geared up, we were going to do a Christmas season so we had put the season on sale, one metre plus socially distanced which was two and a half thousand people and then when we came out of the November lockdown into the tiers, in Tiers 1 and 2 capacity was limited for all indoor venues at a thousand and we opened on the 9 December, we did three performances at a thousand capacity and then Tier 3, London back into lockdowns.  I think we all felt, okay now is the time we just have to sit and wait because we can’t afford to expose ourselves to being too entrepreneurial anymore, we just have to sit it out and ensure that when we do re-open, we open in the best possible shape. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Are there projects in hindsight, looking back, to we talk about Christmas, are there projects that you think right okay, that works, that didn’t work and in hindsight we wouldn’t have done x, y or z?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

I think, had we known that we weren’t going to be re-opening properly until 2021, we probably would have tried to do more of our capital projects but, that said, with no income, how do you pay for those capital projects?  The reality was that by November, without a CBILS loan of £5 million, we wouldn’t have been operational.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Tell us a little bit about that lifeline and also about your challenges with funding.

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

The Culture Recovery Fund was announced by the Secretary of State which is a £1.57 billion fund to support the cultural industries.  It’s a fantastic headline and of course it’s wonderful that the cultural industries are being supported.  £1.5 billion doesn’t even cover the value of the music industry in a year, let alone the entire creative industries.  We all know that the only way back to financial sustainability is for us to find a way to work our way back to it, you know, to open again and to be actually generating income. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

With the various lockdowns, you obviously have gone from being the cultural destination in terms of a venue to shifting to having an online presence, you must have been cheered by the incredible response to your new online venue.  Do you see that as being a permanent development?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

My feeling is that model was of its time because it was Royal Albert Home, it was artists from their homes to your home, people were incredibly generous with their time, they gave these concerts free of charge, we streamed them free of charge and then the public donated to support the Hall.  So, it was a model that really felt that it captured the moment and the zeitgeist.  Is it long-term the way we are going to go?  I think artists need to live and they need to earn money and I don’t think we can continue to stream free concerts forever.  We’ve done some behind closed doors concerts, I think we’ve done about 33 behind closed doors concerts actually in the auditorium which are paid for, I think there’s definitely mileage in those in the long-term and we definitely reach a bigger audience.  Streaming is global so, you’re reaching genuinely all over the world and it’s a branding exercise I think more than a, you know, income generating exercise. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Can you talk to us a bit about the impact the closures and cancellations have been, had on performers themselves?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

These are young people who have committed their entire lives to becoming this thing and it’s a very limited timespan for being a ballet dancer or for being a performer.  They’ve only got a few years and they’ve had a year of their performing life taken away from them. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Other venues were holding back maybe from trying to re-open, you pushed forward with it.  Has that changed your approach as we are hopefully soon going to be coming out of this?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

You know, when we are re-open, we need to have much more certainty that we are going to be open for a long period and I think we have to be realistic and realise that this thing is with us.  That said, we don’t see any point in throwing in the towel until we need to and we’ve got shows still on sale in May and June of this year because who knows, May and June are around the corner but yet, everything is changing so quickly so we just have to listen to what Government says and until there is more clarity, we will continue to do what we can to ensure that we re-open safely as soon as we possibly can.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

So what else lies ahead for the Royal Albert Hall?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

We spend about £12 million a year on the building.  We spend about £40 million a year on staff.  Obviously last year the staff costs were diminished greatly because so many people were furloughed but we still continued to invest in the building.  First of all, we had two major projects ongoing, one was the great excavation which was to, it’s a sort of double-height basement, that’s finished and topped off but we can’t fit it out because we don’t have the cash to do it but the other thing is we’ve done a huge external restoration, cleaning restoration and sort of refurbishment of the whole of the outside of the building and the other really big project that we’ve been doing is cooling because if you’ve if been in the Hall in summer up in the gods, well a Telegraph review once described it as “hot as Hades.”

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Yes.

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

So one of the really long-term pieces of work that we’ve been doing is heating and cooling which also helps with ventilation which at the moment is so critical because, you know, we know that the virus circulates so effectively indoors but good ventilation, that’s going to really, really help to make sure that we’re safe.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

What for you have you learnt about the sort of significance of Arts?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

What have we been doing?  We have been consuming the Arts.  We have been watching dramas, we’ve been reading books, we’ve been painting, we’ve been creating.  That is the only thing.  Going out, enjoying nature and then enjoying the Arts, is what we have filled our times with, these are essential.  Performing arts, in particular, it’s just that sense of shared experience which you get in sport as well but that sense of coming together and sharing something together in a group of people, there is something so moving about that and something that makes you feel so alive, I kind of yearn to get back into an audience. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Do you think that it’s affected arts looking forwards more generally having gone through this experience, do you think the landscape has changed?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

There’s the obvious financial impact and the financial impact on the institutions but actually the really devastating financial impact on freelancers and suppliers, and actually on artists too because their income has been completely decimated, we know that we’re losing great people who just haven’t been able to work in our industry anymore, it’s too uncertain, they can go and get a job in a different industry and they have transferrable skills, we’re losing them.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Do you think it’ll also, in terms of long-term financial pressures, discourage innovative or risk-taking across the Arts so that things will go for more performances that will be more certain of getting bums on seats?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

I like to think that out of adversity comes creativity and, you know, we have seen so much adversity over the last year and when people make great art, then the public is hungry for it so, I think if we can retain that spirit of creativity and we can nurture the artists at the real kind of grassroot level then I think there will be a real appetite for real, genuine creativity. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

There’s been a lot of focus throughout the various stages of the pandemic on mental health, particularly of youngsters.  How is, you know, looking forward and now, how is the Royal Albert Hall and other institutions if you can comment, how are they going to continue to reach out and engage with those issues?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

What we have felt very strongly is that we have got to get people back into the building and we need to go out to people who can’t come into the building because the personal connection is absolutely essential so, we will pick that up as soon as we possibly can.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Prince Albert’s founding vision was to create a venue for the nation.  How has the pandemic against a backdrop of all the growing debate about representation, influenced your plans to stay true to that vision?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

We want to be a place, a sort of vessel for hosting stimulating debate and we always have been, you know, we had twelve suffrage meetings and Winston Churchill has spoken, and the Dalai Lama, and we had the world’s biggest science lesson but I think we have to acknowledge that the Royal Albert Hall came out of Empire, it is a Victorian institution and some of, some of the history is a bit uncomfortable and we have to acknowledge that and we have to be honest so, we have a whole programme that we have just started really investing in this, it’s been going for a few years actually but on equality, diversity and inclusion to try to ensure that we are genuinely there for everyone and that we look and reflect the country and the city, that’s the biggest single responsibility I think we’ve taken out of this situation. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

And how is that being rolled out?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

We are starting with internal processes and recruitment changes and training.  If we can start talking honestly about where we come up short internally, then we can start to actually see the change happening. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

As we are coming out of lockdown and hopefully, and life is normalised, what is the thing you are most looking forward to in terms of our work with the Royal Albert Hall?

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

I’m just looking forward to seeing everyone I work with, I love the performances and all that of course, but it’s the people, for me, it just, my team who are amazing and have been so resilient through all of this.  Being able to see them all and sit down in the café and have a cup of tea with people, god that’s going to be good. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Thank you so much Louise, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.  Looking forward to sunnier times and thank you everyone…

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

They will come. 

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

They will do.  Thank you for joining us, a pleasure to see you, thank you.

Louise Halliday, Director of External Affairs

Royal Albert Hall

Lovely to see you.  Thanks, Amanda.  Bye.

Amanda Gray, Partner in Art Law

Mishcon de Reya

Bye, bye. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit Mishcon.com.

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