Festivals: An endangered species?
After the loss of last summer’s festivals to Covid, many are growing concerned that the same fate lies ahead for this summer. Lucy Aylmer discusses the measures required to protect the industry’s future and predictions for what the 2021 festival scene could entail.
The dominance of the UK’s festival market is rapidly shrinking due to the effects that coronavirus has had on the industry. Speculation has aired that summer 2021 festivals may not go ahead due to a loss of confidence in the industry. Michael Eavis who co-organises Glastonbury festival with his daughter Emily has reaffirmed this bleak outlook by cancelling Glastonbury festival for summer 2021.
Festival insecurity has become apparent for many reasons; the widening gap in the labour market has proved difficult for festivals to outsource freelance contractors such as scaffolders and sound engineers as many professionals have been forced to retrain in different industries. Unsurprisingly, this situation has become worse with revenues plummeting by 90 per cent in 2019 and staggering job losses predicted at 170,000.
The discussion agreed that government intervention was needed by introducing a government backed insurance policy and a decisive target date for when events can safely reopen.
Insurance issues also plague the live music industry. Pre-covid, Risk Management magazine entitled music festivals “almost uninsurable” due to the numerous risk factors. General liability is the main component of insurance programmes, which cover: property damage, customer injury and product liability. Often they come with exclusions in order to protect the insurer. For example, Event Insurance, a company providing insurance to festivals, state they will not cover cancellation circumstances that arise from expected situations that might cause the event to be cancelled. In this case, the uncertainty attributed to coronavirus can lead to speculation and fear that mass gatherings such as festivals are unlikely to go ahead. Therefore, festival providers face extreme difficulty in gaining insurance cover.
Whilst there are many sensible arguments why festivals wont go ahead, there is reason to hope. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee held a discussion panel about the future of festivals. This allowed MPs to hear from key players in the industry, such as Sacha Lord, co-founder of Parklife Festival, and Anna Wade, the communications and strategy director for Boomtown Fair. The discussion agreed that government intervention was needed by introducing a government backed insurance policy and a decisive target date for when events can safely reopen. The committee feel it unjust that the film and television industry has received £500 million of government funding, and maintain that other creative industries should receive financial support too. Indeed, countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland have already introduced government-backed insurance policies for live music events, which added further proof and reassurance that the UK should introduce a similar scheme for festival relief. Additional measures such as lowering VAT rates, an extension of business rates relief and ongoing furlough support were also discussed by the select committee.
Festivals are about bringing people together with the shared experience that live music imbues. Restricting people to their ‘bubbles’ is extremely ambitious, and frankly, unrealistic.
Instead of operating at reduced capacity or implementing social distancing, festival organisers, such as Sacha Lord and Anna Wade are advocating for compulsory mass testing of festival attendees. This can reduce the rate of Coronavirus infections by making sure attendees are tested before and after the event. Alternative suggestions of implementing social distancing have been met with strong disapproval from industry professionals. Sacha Lord believes that it is impossible to introduce social distancing at a festival and will ‘anticipate operating at 100 per cent’. Lord makes a sound point; festivals are about bringing people together with the shared experience that live music imbues. Restricting people to their ‘bubbles’ is extremely ambitious, and frankly, unrealistic.
If the government can appoint a clear target date for the return of live music events and offer government backed insurance covers, the road ahead could look promising. At the time of writing, the vaccine had already been distributed to 5.4 million people in the UK. By spring, the aim is to have vaccinated the nine most vulnerable groups, according to Nadhim Zahawi, the Covid vaccine deployment minister. The UK are deploying an incredibly ambitious vaccination programme that could fast track our way to a resumed normality. It seems that a promising vaccine and an efficient inoculation programme could shed a sliver of light onto the uncertain future for many in the creative arts industry.