Over the last few days, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s words have made appearances and misunderstandings throughout national media. As some continue to admonish him for his controversial statement surrounding the viability of workers in the arts and culture industry, others have begun to excuse his judgement, arguing that perhaps we’ve simply all made a song and a dance about nothing.
During an interview with ITV News, Sunak said: “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis”. When the Chancellor was pushed about whether this was directed at our country’s “fabulous musicians and artists and actors”, Sunak claimed that the creatives of the UK would have to “adapt”, “as in all walks of life”.
Following this, a 2019 government-issued advertisement resurfaced and sparked fury across the country; it asked workers to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” In the image, a ballet dancer perches on a bench untying her pointe shoes, and the caption reads “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”.
There is something worryingly ominous about this campaign, especially considering that it resurfaced after the Chancellor’s controversial words. The idea that professionals within the arts industry don’t know that their futures may entail working in entirely different sectors, simply because the government doesn’t value them enough, seems no different to imagining Sunak working in Nando’s in a few years (as many people on social media have joked). Maybe the Chancellor needs to rethink his career options, too?
So, what exactly can we make of this? It seems clear to me that the government don’t expect those in Sunak’s career position to ”adapt”; neither do they expect accountants, teachers, or medics. The hospitality industry has definitely been one of the hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, yet I don’t think any of their workers will be forced to consider retraining “for the greater good”. In fact, it only appears to be those working in arts and culture that the government have targeted.
Yes. The same creatives who produced the entertainment that kept the country going throughout lockdown.
Let us just consider where we’d be without Netflix, Instagram, Cosmopolitan, and even TikTok, during the past few months. The actors, producers, writers, artists, singers, and photographers that have kept spirits high, and given us something to do during isolation, are now being told to just “try something else”. Who’s to say there are enough jobs in other industries? Research conducted recently has announced that unemployment rates have risen drastically during the last three months, which doesn’t bode well for anyone in any walk of life.
People are facing a recession and redundancies across all sectors, and many workers find themselves coming to the end of their furlough schemes. Despite the difficulties surrounding a career in the arts, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, creative jobs continue to offer countless freelance opportunities. The cyber security jobs that the government are so keen for people to take up aren’t endless.
Here arises the age old debate of whether the arts are necessary. Well, let it be known that the government’s message is clear; funding (or a lack thereof), the pushing of STEM subjects in schools, and a suggestion that an entire industry should retrain, tells you all that there is to know about the Conservative government’s priorities.
It’s not going to take a journalist to tell you about art worker’s viability. And if you’re reading this, you probably already know how important the creative industries are in the functioning of society.
According to data from Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10 billion per year to the UK economy. On top of that, the mental and emotional impact of the arts industry is phenomenal. The personal stories of individuals who find joy, solace and purpose in expressing themselves creatively, and continue to entertain and produce new work for others, are truly touching.
What about any of this isn’t viable?
Arts workers aren’t flouncy hippies who watch Loose Women because they have nothing to do all day. The arts are at the core of society, and every other industry indulges in and relies upon them.
Words by Meghna Amin.
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