London Initiative Will Give Away 1,000 Free Theater Tickets Every Week

The program aims to make culture accessible amidst the rising cost of living

Grease West End
A press night performance of Grease at London's Dominion Theatre on May 17, 2022 David M. Benett / Getty Images

A new program in London will soon start giving away unsold theater tickets to those who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Called the Ticket Bank, it will aim to dole out 1,000 tickets per week to theater, dance, music and comedy shows. The tickets will be free or pay-what-you-can.

The Ticket Bank is an arts-oriented variation on a food bank: giving donations, or any available surplus, to those in need. The pilot program will launch on January 9, 2023 and run for one year.

“There are brilliant people putting together food banks and heat banks, but that doesn’t give humanity its basic needs from a soul point of view,” Chris Sonnex, who conceived of the idea, tells the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood. “People who are suffering as a result of the cost of living also need access to community, entertainment and things that warm the soul.”

Sonnex is the artistic director at Cardboard Citizens, a performing arts organization for people with experience of homelessness. Art, he tells the Guardian, is a human right.

The initiative is focused on the skyrocketing cost of living, which puts cultural experiences out of reach for more and more people—especially in major cities like London. But it also aims to help cultural institutions like theaters, which have seen dwindling audiences due to economic crises and pandemic restrictions.  

London isn’t the first city to launch a unique program to reinvigorate interest and participation in the arts. Several other cities, including Quebec and Brussels, have opened up their museums for free mental health visits in recent years. Twice yearly, during New York City’s Broadway Week, popular shows offer tickets at a majorly discounted rate.

Sonnex enlisted the Cultural Philanthropy Foundation, an organization aiming to “democratize access to culture,” to help make the project happen.

“Very rarely [do] you come across an idea that is so simple and brilliant that you can’t believe it doesn’t already exist,” Caroline McCormick, the foundation’s chair, says in a statement. “When Chris Sonnex told me his idea for the Ticket Bank, my response was as simple as his idea. ‘We have to make this happen.’”

Seven theaters have agreed to participate in the imitative: the National Theater, the Roundhouse, the Barbican, the Almeida, Gate, Bush and Tara theatres. Another seven will be announced in January.

“Everybody’s seen the value, everyone wants to make it work,” McCormick tells BBC News.

A group of London and United Kingdom-based partners will ensure the tickets reach people and communities in need or historically underserved by cultural organizations.

While “a million different barriers” make accessing the arts difficult, “one of the biggest is ticket prices,” Sonnex tells the Guardian. “It’s important to reach as many people as possible to say: This is for you.”

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