When it comes to the arts, taste is personal. Maybe you love going to the theatre to watch Shakespeare, or perhaps you prefer the panto, a musical or a good comedy night. Orchestral music could be your preference or maybe you prefer it in the latest blockbuster.
We all benefit from the arts whether we actively participate or not and your world will feel very quiet if the arts were to disappear. Can you imagine a wedding with no music, a film with no lighting design, a children’s book with no illustrations, a nursery with no-one to lead the Christmas play, a film where none of the actors had costumes? Whilst we’ve all been in lock down at home, how many of us have turned to this industry to entertain us?
On a personal level, I cannot wait to get back to rehearsing and performing again with my lovely choir. We’ve had regular Zoom catch ups and have even put together performances with us all contributing remotely (watch via this link). It’s been a huge learning curve in the use of technology, and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved, but it doesn’t beat performing together and musically bouncing off one another.
Creative industries are a huge part of the enrichment of our society, making us healthier and happier. An active participation in the arts improves mental and physical wellbeing, increases the employability of people by developing confidence, resilience and soft skills, makes us more socially cohesive by developing tolerance and empathy and makes us more engaging and engaged. Creative industries have been growing at twice the rate of the economy and account for more than 5% of the UK’s economy which is bigger than the automotive, life sciences, aerospace, oil and gas sectors combined. The government’s own figures show that the creative industries contributed £111.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018, before allowing for the related impact on the hospitality industry (every £1 spend at the theatre sees £3 spent in restaurants, hotels and bars).
With all this in mind, I continue to be perplexed as to why an adequate rescue solution for this industry before it collapses beyond repair has not been forthcoming.
Most venues are utterly dependent on ticket sales to cover their overheads. Every day now brings news of another venue closing or another swathe of redundancies. The Old Vic in London and the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon are struggling and even the Royal Albert Hall could face bankruptcy in months and not reach its 150th anniversary without an injection of funding. The National Theatre has just axed 400 casual staff. The most at risk are those venues in the regions: The Nuffield Southampton Theatre, which is in the hands of administrators, has been unable to find a buyer and has made 89 members of staff redundant. It would be criminal to allow the demise of the main points of cultural access outside of our major cities. The performing arts industry has been stripped of its ability to earn revenue and large swathes of the industry could be wiped out within 6 months.
The infrastructure of the cultural industries means that everything is interconnected and for tens of thousands of individuals across the country, their livelihood has vanished overnight, and in many cases, it seems unlikely to start up again until well into 2021. A significant number of people in the industry have not qualified for furlough nor self-employment aid.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has released documents containing guidance as to the phased return of sport and reopening of recreation, museums and visitor attractions. But the list of sectors to which the DCMS has contributed guidance contains no mention of live performance. The Cultural Renewal Task Force that has been set up doesn’t even have a representative from the music industry.
I am frustrated when I look at the pictures in the news of inebriated revellers not socially distancing with pubs being allowed to open from 6am on 4th July. I am frustrated at the fact that people can now travel on airplanes with recycled air. And yet, am astonished that it is felt that theatres and classical music venues with distancing measures and ordered seating present a higher risk. The continued restrictions on our activities as performing artists would seem confused and unjustifiable when compared to other sporting and leisure activities, and effectively suffocate any glimmer of hope for independent recovery for artists and venues. A comprehensive, informed and far-sighted rescue package from the government is therefore even more important to achieve; it is already long overdue.
I fully appreciate that the situation is complex but with willingness, creative thinking and discussion, a way forward must be found. #savethearts #letthemusicplay