Love ’em or Lose ’em: We Must Support the Arts – Liberal Article
How did you entertain yourself through lockdown? I’d be willing to bet good money that most people got through lockdown on a steady diet of Netflix; free live streams from various companies like the National Theatre; with perhaps a bit of TikTok thrown in for good measure. The arts were key in getting us through to the other side of lockdown. And in this winter lockdown, I’m sure they will help us again. So why doesn’t the government see that?
It took until 5 July – three and a half months into lockdown – for the government to offer support to the arts industries in the UK. Theatres had been dark since 16 March, with countless productions being forced to delay or cancel their performances. Thousands of creative directors and freelancers were put out of work. Until the grant came in, it was estimated that 70% of UK theatres could close by the end of the year.
Even when the grant arrived, it was too little, too late. We had already so many. Nuffield Southampton Theatres went into administration in May, others had already shut their doors. Even by mid-October, theatres had still not received any money. The governments’ inaction meant that theatres could not plan for the winter. For pantomimes to go ahead, the theatres needed to know by 3 August. The government didn’t heed this and now even more theatres, especially ones that make a significant portion of their income from their pantomimes, are facing major economic dangers.
Furthermore, the government seems incapable of adequately allocating the grants, even when they eventually make them available. For example, a Birmingham nightclub, Sundissential, was awarded nearly a quarter of a million pounds despite being dormant for almost three years.
Theatre and the arts are economically viable. According to a Centre for Economics and Business Research report commissioned by the Arts Council in April 2019, arts and culture contribute £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy. In comparison, the Premier League brings in £7.6bn each year. They should be valued and helped equally.
Premier League teams are socially bubbled and helped to run with regular testing of players, so they can carry on playing through the new lockdown. A new production of the musical Rent at the Hope Mill Theatre was permitted one performance before closing again for the new lockdown. The only way they can keep going is selling tickets to an online broadcast of the show. Creatives are not just people who mess around for a living. Even by the metrics of our society that bases your worth on your economies, they are still of value.
While it is accepted that the ‘Fatima’s next job could be in Cyber’ advert was in fact from several years ago, it was part of a wider discourse on how the Conservative government treats the arts. After cutting arts in schools for years, encouraging actors and musicians to re-train is an insult. Vocations like this are built over a lifetime, none of this is a whim.
The hours spent in dance class or practising the violin, the amount of time, money and dedication that goes into a career like that. Could Boris Johnson perform a West End musical eight shows a week and remain standing? How about dance a ballet en pointe? Sing an opera? These are highly skilled people, and telling them to retrain is as misguided as telling rocket scientists to retrain and abandon their careers that they have worked decades for. This consistent undervaluing of the arts sector will end in tears.
If there is no industry for new artists to emerge into, where will we be? Who will make your television programmes, perform on your stages? Johnson’s government have tried to claim their efforts to be “world-leading” (the deplorable Test-and-Trace system being one of them).
Consider where we were world-leading: The Arts. The West End is one of the best places in the world to see theatre. The next generation of creatives destined for those stages is out there. And where have you put those actors, directors, set designers, everyone who cut their teeth on regional theatre and the fringes? You’ve put them out of work because you said you couldn’t support them when you could afford to support everyone else. Shame on you.
The government needs to prove that they value the arts and put their money where their mouth is. If Sunak can open the public purse for everyone else, why not creatives?
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Emma Hall
Point of Information
The Arts Can’t Take Any More Empty Promises – A Labour Response
When BoJo was first elected in 2019, people were already anxious about the potential effect of his premiership on the arts sector. His legacy with the arts was, and for the most part still is, somewhat of an oxymoron. Admittedly, he has seemingly pledged his support for some cultural projects in the past. But, his stalwart loyalty to the cause of Brexit, and his habit of embellishing acts just to make himself look good, leave a lot to be worried about.
And just over one year on, clearly we were right to be worried.
It’ll come as no surprise then that I completely agree with Emma’s article. The Conservatives have shown on multiple occasions that they do not care about the arts – particularly not the smaller, independent theatres anyway.
What they do care about, however, is how they come across to the public, especially in such uncertain and untrusting times. In July, they pledged a seemingly very generous ‘£1.5bn lifeline’, and a ‘record-breaking package of support’ to the sector.
Sounds great right? Not quite. In reality, these bold statements and empty promises do nothing to help those in the sector who are genuinely suffering. But laughably it makes the Johnson and his government look good.
It will be particularly interesting to see if anything changes as we approach the end of 2020 and the long-awaited Brexit. Will Johnson truly consider the arts and culture sector as he finalises deals? Or will he prove that the worries at the start of his premiership were rightfully placed?
Call me pessimistic, but I don’t see a lot changing anytime soon.
Written by Co-Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Adapt or Die — A Conservative Response
The logic is slightly faulty here. Yes, undoubtedly, the arts industry brings in a vast amount of revenue with a normal context, but it is currently totally obsolete. The parallel with the Premier League is false: TV viewership, advertisement contracts, and the like, make the Premier League a viable business model even during a pandemic.
The writer seems to be taking this personally, but it’s not personal. It’s the market. There is no financial viability for things like the arts, right now. Am I saying that I do not value arts? No. Am I saying that the arts do not have value? No. Am I saying that artistic are whimsical and unskilled? Never would I say something so absurd. I would love to see them flourish if they could; however, the fact of the matter is that the government has bigger things on their plates right now than performances.
The government has health services to fund; an economy to prop-up; the education system; the penal system; defence bills to pay; and so, so much more. I do love the arts, but they are not a priority whilst we haemorrhage money like there’s no tomorrow.
Furthermore, it is not ‘the arts’ that are dying, but certain business models within this industry. As Emma conceded above, Netflix and other streaming services that display art, have made a roaring trade.
The death of so many theatres is a tragedy, but then, a global pandemic is a tragedy. It is a brutal truth but: the arts must adapt or die.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis