We need to save the arts sector: How a pandemic left an entire industry at risk

In 2018, creative industries contributed £111.7bn to the UK economy, but as Covid-19 has disrupted live performances and events, the arts sector is suffering.

With a possible 400,000 job losses, £74bn of lost earnings and over half of all music venues and theatres facing permanent closure due to Covid-19, the arts sector needs saving before it is too late.

Benefits of creative products

As the UK announced lockdown in March, the public prepared to spend weeks in isolation. To cope during lockdown, people turned to the arts for comfort, from reading books, to watching films or attending virtual gigs.

The number of people using streaming services rose by a third, while broadcast television channels also saw an increase of viewership. Fiction books sales also increased by a third, and Waterstones experienced a 400% increase in online sales after closing their stores.

Those who have been relying on these art products are now beginning to understand the demand for the arts sector to be properly funded and how important saving it is.

Government approved petitions gained several thousand signatures, with people using social media to share posts raising awareness about the arts funding issue. Despite this, the extra funding and support have come too late, with several businesses already having been forced to close.

When the world went into turmoil, people turned to the creative industries for comfort, but will they continue to support the struggling arts sector?

Campaigns

Multiple campaigns have begun to surface aimed at saving the arts industry. Notably, the social media hashtag #savethearts gained 109,000 posts on Facebook and a further 75,000 posts on Instagram. This campaign encouraged those working in the arts industry to share images of themselves performing, flooding social media with artistic expression. Using personal experiences, artists intended to spread awareness of the importance of saving the arts sector. 

Following an online petition gaining attention and support, the UK government agreed to invest £1.57 billion worth of funding into the arts industry. However, many felt this investment only occurred due to public outrage and that it was too little too late for some arts venues. 

The arts industry has been neglected since the pandemic and there has been little attention paid to the imminent collapse of companies within the industry.

Lack of financial support

Many self-employed and freelance artists have been unable to access government aid such as the furlough scheme. Hitting the film and television industry particularly hard, there was an estimated 50,000 workers ineligible for financial support.

Over 160 live music venues in the UK were reported to be at risk of closing due to the pandemic. Two major music venues in Manchester, Gorilla and The Deaf Institute, recently announced their closure but have since been saved by new owners. Both grassroots venues have hosted artists who have since become big names in the UK music industry such as The 1975, Sam Smith and Florence and the Machine. 

There has been a real push to save grassroots venues as they often provide a gateway for music artists to gain attention and support. Without these smaller venues, there are fears of a ‘cultural catastrophe’ which would impact up and coming artists by reducing their chances of having greater success in the industry.

The lack of financial support available for those in the arts is likely to have a negative impact on the state of the UK’s arts and culture scene in the coming years. Many people will have been forced to take on alternative employment to ensure financial security, meaning the arts industry will have lost many freelance and self-employed artists. 

Reopening of arts venues

Recent government guidelines authorised indoor performances to begin in August, providing that they are able to implement social distancing restrictions and other safety measures. Yet professionals in the industry have expressed their concerns, with choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne stating it “is not financially viable [to reopen venues] under ‘Covid secure’ conditions”.

Under social distancing guidelines, theatre venues would only be able to allow 20-25% capacity but as budgets are tight, any less than 70% capacity would result in a loss.

The UK government’s DCMS department issued guidance for returning safely to work on 11 May, but the performing arts were not included in this until 9 July. The August return date for indoor performances remains strictly for professionals in the industry, meaning anyone who participates in performing arts leisurely will still be unable to perform. 

The future of the arts may be bleak if businesses do not get the financial support they require to continue. Perhaps the sector can only really be saved by the government, but we must support artists in whatever way we can to ensure creative industries will survive this pandemic. 

We will need their art to get through troubling times, so let’s make sure they have the ability to keep producing and showing creative talent.