Why are the arts not ‘viable’?

1st October 2020

Once again, the arts industry has been pushed aside by our government and left with no support, job protection, funding - nothing. 

I am of course talking about the recent unveiling of the new support scheme that, as Rishi Sunak puts it, "is focussed on those companies that can provide viable jobs with genuinely viable, secure futures for their employees."

The protection measures sadly won’t help the arts, so the demise of our once hugely viable industry will continue, all thanks to the Treasury that has failed us yet again. 

But why does the government think the arts are not viable?

The arts and culture sector added £10.8bn to the economy at the last count in 2016, £390m more than the previous year, more than the agricultural sector and roughly equal to cities such as Liverpool and Sheffield. (Find out more about how much we actually contribute to the UK economy in our past blog).

It’s not just about the money that we bring into the UK economy. Yes, it is very important, but what about all the positives it brings for creatives and audiences? For example, incredible entertainment, storytelling, music, costumes, hope, escapism, joy, colour, magic, stress relief and more.

Art enriches our lives and we can’t take that for granted.

Lovers of the arts don’t just have to come to theatre or museums to get their culture fill. You can pick up a book at home, listen to music or watch a series on TV or Netflix. These days everything has moved online, so getting your hands on some form of art is easy. Without creatives and artists, this would not be possible.

And to think the UK Government have deemed the arts as ‘low skilled’ with no value, is totally unacceptable.

I feel that we are continually having to justify our jobs and the importance of our industry. At the end of the day what we do as creatives/artists is our job. It isn’t a hobby. We love what we do and we work hard. I am becoming quite frustrated by it all as we shouldn’t be having to fight this fight.

Award winning writer and theatre maker, Guleraana Mir, wrote on Twitter recently: "We must stop looking at music and the arts as some sort of light-hearted add-on to the government’s priorities. What musicians produce is what the rest of us consume when we have time off. It fosters cohesiveness, creativity and curiosity, and it is what the country lives for". I completely agree. 

Artists, musicians, creatives, theatre makers and more, create environments that allows us to escape from our everyday lives, which is fantastic for our mental health. 

To me, artists are essential workers. They are getting many of us through this very dark and challenging time.

But how are the government treating these artists who have no doubt been entertaining them during lockdown? I’ll tell you - appallingly. Even the self-employment scheme, which has now been extended, still does nothing for our freelancers who are still very much unsupported. Our friends and colleagues have been abandoned for six months, many are in fragile positions and are losing their livelihoods. Something needs to change now.

Like Philippa Childs, head of entertainment union BECTU has said, the UK’s creative sectors “will not get through the crisis” without the governments support.

Without financial backing we are just moving round in circles – limited audience numbers are able to see performances safely, theatres can’t generate sufficient income, theatres are sadly closing, and our freelance creatives and artists are leaving the profession. This has got to stop.

Jon Morgan, Director of Theatres Trust, has said: "Following six months without their main source of income, theatre reserves are already gravely depleted. With no way of reopening safely and viably on the horizon for many theatres, the future of the sector is still very much in jeopardy".

Sadly, it is now a waiting game, but we can’t wait around too long. I still feel hopeful for the future. That’s because I believe in the creative power of my colleagues. I am positive that we will be back stronger than ever. We have to.

Imagine life without the arts. What a bleak world we would live in.

As George Bernard Shaw said: "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable".