UK Arts & Culture Industry Unrepresentative And Undermined: Is The Government To Blame?

Photo Credit: Kasturi Roy via Unsplash

It has been revealed that only 16% of those employed in the arts and culture industry are working class, according to a report by Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC).

This, as well as other statistics in PEC’s report, has revealed a huge social class imbalance, raising concerns about the inclusivity of the arts industry, and more importantly, how sustainable these figures are, going forward. Considering that as of 13th August 2020, 46% of arts workers remain furloughed – the arts industry being the hardest hit by the pandemic – this working-class, creative minority face greater financial struggle than those employed elsewhere.

The study, surveying the circumstances of 150,000 employees in the UK, further revealed that 54% of arts producers and directors come from privileged backgrounds. Those without a degree or higher-class status are more likely to be employed in the arts industry than those belonging to the working class or those qualified up to GCSE level only. The lack of inclusivity and accessibility suggested by these figures also highlights a severe lack of diversity in the arts. Can art really be appreciated by, and relatable to, all audiences if it is primarily produced by the upper class? 

During the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, a noticeable call for the appreciation of arts by ethnic minorities was raised. A very necessary light was shed onto creatives shadowed in the media, such as Reni Eddo-Lodge and her essential read Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, as well as the works of Bernadine Evaristo. This call for greater diversity within the arts industry exposes a noticeable racial and social class gap in the consumption of our creative media; the BLM movement gave attention to hidden talent in the arts industry that had been buried beneath the works of those from higher-class, white backgrounds. The fact that the working class only make up 16% of the arts workforce only confirms this.

The arts industry also faces great financial struggle, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, on top of accessibility issues. From 4th July, restaurants and bars across the UK began to reopen for business, while theatres and live venues waited until 15th August to reopen with social distancing measures in place. Considering the government’s delayed reboot of the arts industry, it is safe to say those in creative employment have been financially neglected and under-appreciated. There’s no doubt that the hospitality industry has greater governmental priority than the arts industry; cemented by the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme throughout August, offering customers up to 50% off their meal for eating out. (Any money deducted from the full price bill can be claimed back from the government as financial aid.) However, only recently has the government started brainstorming a similar scheme to recover our arts industry with the reopening of theatres and stadiums, aptly coined ‘Seat Out To Help Out’. 

The neglect shown to our arts and entertainment industry during society’s move to the ‘new normal’ is almost ironic. Lockdown saw millions of people across the UK turning to creative outlets in order to fill their time in quarantine. The National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors attracted 2.6 million viewers in a week, following its online airing. With the UK’s greater dependence on, and newfound love for the arts, it could be argued that it deserves to be an essential service.

Despite the delay in recovering the industry, the government have still pledged financial aid to keep the field afloat. A total fund of £1.57 billion has been offered to arts venues such as theatres, museums and galleries to prevent their closing. Emergency grants have also been made available to independent cinemas and music venues. A further £20 million has been made available by Arts Council England’s Emergency Fund, supporting individual artists and creative freelancers.

And what is there to be said for inclusivity in the industry? There is no doubt that diversity remains a prominent issue in all aspects of society, which has been made especially noticeable in the arts industry with PEC’s 16% working class statistic. However, that is not to say that diversity is a completely neglected issue. The Creative Case For Diversity, created by Arts Council England, encourages its funded organisations to display diversity in the work they produce, making room especially for those from ethnic minority and lower social class backgrounds. The PEC has also announced greater dedication to increasing accessibility and social mobility in creative industries over the next two years following its recent research.

Lockdown can be considered a huge turning point for the arts industry, in which greater attention was shown in a state of nationwide boredom. Political enlightenment during the pandemic, such as the worldwide BLM movements, also aided the arts industry by opening our eyes to creative works beyond the boundaries of the white upper-class majority. However, there is no doubt that more work needs to be done for promoting greater accessibility and diversity within the industry. 

Words by Flossie Palmer.

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