Are the Arts Redundant?
Millie Browning discusses whether there is a place for the arts during an economic crisis, amid Rishi Sunak’s latest ‘retrain’ campaign
The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on all industries but none more than the arts and culture sector. After months of theatre closures and cancelled shows, the latest blow to creatives has been alleged comments by the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggesting that, in the face of COVID-induced economic hardship, “musicians and others in the arts should retrain and find other jobs”, according to ITV. If this wasn’t a big enough knock, these remarks were then followed this week by a maladroit government-approved advert further encouraging people who work in the arts to retrain in cybersecurity with the tagline; “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”
Unsurprisingly, this line of thought was met with a significant backlash from many working in the industry, who took to twitter and news forums to register their frustration. “There is one sector – only one – in which the United Kingdom is actually world-leading. It’s the arts – and this Government is actively trying to destroy it” wrote one user.
These latest campaigns, aptly labelled by Caitlin Moran as coming from their “hopes and dreams crushing department”, indicate the lack of importance placed on an industry so often reduced to merely ‘hobbies’ that do not produce ‘proper’ jobs. It is, of course, so much more than this. The UK’s culture is a true celebration of the multiplicity of our national identity. Research suggests that participating can contribute to ‘community cohesion’ and reduce ‘social exclusion and isolation’. There are also health benefits (always key in a pandemic!), arts and culture can ‘have a positive impact on specific health conditions’ such as depression or Parkinson’s and ‘almost 60% of people are more likely to report good health if they’ve attended a cultural place or event in the last 12 months.’
The UK’s culture is a true celebration of the multiplicity of our national identity
One could argue that none of this is relevant during an economic crisis of such explosive proportions but, even if we ignore the emotional benefits, the industry still generates a substantial amount of money. According to Arts Council England, the sector contributed £10.6 billion to the UK economy in 2019. It also creates 363,700 jobs annually, with many going to those not generally favoured by the employment market, particularly younger generations and women. These do not just include actors, musicians and painters but make-up artists, photographers, hair stylists, graphic designers, producers, directors, sound engineers etc. At a time where unemployment is predicted to skyrocket, might it be that the arts and culture sector could actually become a vital industry in supporting those entering the working world?
If you’ve turned on your TV, listened to music or walked into a shop today then you’ve come into contact with some form of art. Whilst no one is claiming that the work of creatives equates to that of the frontline health services at this time, we shouldn’t forget that the arts and culture sector does hold a significant place in most of our lives. As Michelle Obama said, “the arts are not just a nice thing to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it… they all define who we are as people and provide an account of our history for the next generation”.