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On Monday I slipped into the British Museum and made straight for Edmund De Waal's exhibition Library In Exile - which I had seen briefly at the opening in March, just before lockdown. I wanted to look again at Edmund's selection of 2,000 books written by people exiled from their homes, surrounded by his exquisite porcelain sculptures. All those writers, from Ovid to Jean Rhys, feeling out of place where they were, dreaming of home and yearning for its safety.
We have all come to know that yearning in recent months and we all dream of returning to our familiar haunts, surrounded by people, noise and bustle. Wandering through the Museum again was certainly stirring. But it was tinged with melancholy. Not because of the masks, the timed tickets or the social distancing, but because it felt so empty. These places were built to be shared.
But London is coming back to life. Slowly, carefully, some of our great cultural spaces are opening up. I know how much effort they are putting into keeping staff and visitors safe. But I also know how desperate they are to get back to (a new) normal and how deep the financial chasm they are in.
At the Arts Council we are working quickly on the allocation of our part of the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund created by the Government. We are racing to respond to the urgent need, and the majority of applicants will know decisions by the end of October, if not sooner. Coming on top of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and our £160 million in emergency funding, the fund is the single biggest commitment to the arts that the country has ever seen. It shows a belief by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that the creative sector can bounce back. The future is still precarious but this is our best hope of limiting the damage.
And in some cases, much of life goes on. In Stratford, construction work has restarted in earnest at East Bank - the new powerhouse cultural quarter in the Olympic Park. London, like all capital cities, has world famous cultural institutions, but we also have hundreds more arts spaces in every neighbourhood. How can we all help support it? By enjoying ourselves, simply. If you can, go to a socially distanced performance or visit a museum and linger in the shop afterwards. Or look online for how you can help. Either way, art needs people just as people need art.
Sir Nicholas Serota is chair of Arts Council England