Who wants to live in a cultural desert? It’s time to acknowledge the true value of the arts
The UK cultural sector makes a huge contribution to our economy and wellbeing. Unless the government wants to preside over its demise, ministers must step in with funding support, and put creative subjects at the heart of our national curriculum.
Last year, during the first UK lockdown, people turned in droves to the arts. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ surged 38 per cent in 2020 and British consumers spent a record £9bn on entertainment as the public sought to alleviate boredom and combat loneliness. It is ironic, as well as tragic, that the very sector people valued and needed most was the sector least supported by the government, and those working within it out of employment the longest.
In the year before the pandemic struck, the UK arts and culture industry grew by £390m and directly contributed £10.8bn to the economy, paying £2.8bn in tax. It also generated £23bn in associated areas including services and hospitality, creating 363,000 jobs. On average, each person employed in the arts added £62,000 to the economy in 2019, compared to £46,000 for other workers.
But the pandemic has wreaked devastation on the music profession. Many musicians have left the industry, others have been forced to find jobs elsewhere, such as stacking shelves in supermarkets or driving delivery vans. There has been little direct government help for most musicians – one-third of musicians were ineligible for self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) grants, and three million people were ineligible to receive either furlough or SEISS.
A similar scheme to Eat Out to Help Out could alleviate financial pressure on venues
The problem with taking a second job to pay bills is that it becomes impossible to maintain the daily level of practice required to remain technically proficient. After as little as three days without practice, muscles lose their strength and it takes time for dexterity to return.
With work in the music sector being precarious and sporadic, it has been hard for musicians to know whether to accept a concert/gig and turn down work outside the industry; new restrictions have meant sudden cancellations and a double loss.
Audiences are hungry for culture, and musicians are desperate to get back to work. Music must be overtly supported and valued if it is to survive in the coming years, and the need for stability in the profession is urgent.
At the end of last year, I regularly gave two, sometimes three, concerts a day, to honour all the ticket holders and make it financially viable for promoters to offset the costs of hall hire, front of house and backstage staff etc. But this is exhausting to do on a regular basis.
A similar scheme to Eat Out to Help Out, whereby the cost of unsold auditorium seats would be covered by the government, could alleviate financial pressure on venues, especially while social distancing is in place.
There has been considerable contraction of events in smaller towns – small arts organisations must be protected as they provide the glue to keep communities connected.
We proudly applaud and acclaim our British performers when they win Oscars and Grammys, but our future stars may be in short supply if our national curriculum continues to undermine and devalue creative subjects.
Creative subjects are core, essential and facilitating – and they put a great deal of money in the Treasury’s coffers. We are rapidly losing our footing on the international stage; countries such as China have overtaken us, pouring funding into state-of-the-art venues and celebrating Western classical music and culture with breadth and vision.
In short, there is not a moment to lose. The arts and culture can be decimated far more quickly than they can be rebuilt. Music, film, dance and art nourish the soul, drive tourism, create jobs, contribute fulsomely to our economy, and will repay crucial investment in a myriad of ways.
Tasmin Little OBE is a concert violin player.