Madness and Sanity — Will the Arts survive?
There is a fine balance between madness and sanity. In fact, there is a fine balance in life for most things and we are at a juncture of slipping into madness — at the very least our flirtation has started. With a broken approach to handling the pandemic and assisting businesses within the UK, and now the prospect of further forced lockdowns like the one faced by Leicester, it is becoming harder for businesses, and in particular the hospitality sector, to plan and prepare. There is a growing feeling, not just with businesses but with people in general, that we are falling into a spiral of madness, and one in which there has been very little relief from. The pandemic is still a very much live issue globally and there is a still a very high economic risk of businesses closing, particularly as companies are slowly weaned off the furlough scheme. With no money coming in and all you have is expenditure, there can only be one direction of travel and that is towards insolvency and a greater chance of economic depression. Throw into the mixing pot the issue of human behaviour and our fundamental need for socialisation, and the unrest caused by lockdown has been tolerated this far. Our need to get back to something approaching normality is palpable though. Despite 71% of people surveyed (Redfield & Wilton Strategy) believing that there will be a second wave of the virus in the England, people are wanting to venture out an enjoy a pint or two. The varied approaches between the different leaders of each country within the UK is beginning to leave a bitter taste among some in England.
One such group is the Arts. The arts work hand in hand with many restaurants and bars who offer pre theatre meals or are located close to other venues such as museums. So why has England been so slow to react, not just from a global perspective but also from a UK viewpoint too? Among all this talk about viruses and businesses and help being provided to them to ensure their survival with a firm eye on ensuring the economy bounces back, the forgotten and not talked about in England has been the arts. The arts have been completely disregarded until the funding announcement this week, and many have already had to close their doors. The arts not only employ staff but also rely on suppliers, often freelance works and outside businesses in building production sets. Their plight if they are not supported effectively throughout this pandemic and economic challenge will not cause a ripple but a disastrous tidal wave that will have a grave effect on the economy and society overall. It will be a wave that we have been warned by the industry is not coming but about to hit and smash everything in its sight. Thankfully, the government’s financial package has now arrived and will at least stall that tidal wave for now.
Before you push your noses in the air and say, “there are bigger things to worry about,” the arts industry generates almost £11 billion pounds for the UK and employs almost 2 million people. The collapse of an industry that size would no doubt help hurtle the UK to its economic depression. There is also the cultural and social effect any form of collapse would have. In contrast to England, the other countries within the UK have acted more swiftly such as Scotland announcing a £10 million relief fund for the arts venues in their country, Wales providing £7 million and Northern Ireland making £4 million available. Once again, England has done things differently and the arts have been forced to wait right up to the wire to be told what help is on offer. At the very beginning of lock-down, the arts had foreseen the issues with social distancing and informed most of their staff and freelance contractors it was unlikely that at the very least the theatres would be reopening before January. The fate of other arts venues is dependent on levels of social distancing and lockdown. Keeping them solvent has been incredibly difficult — Nuffield Southampton Theatre is already in administration with 89 redundant and the National Theatre announced 400 job losses last week, -and there may be an additional economic responsibility upon the venue, particularly if they employ a large amount of people in an area that is economically deprived. Like hospitality, in order to survive they have to achieve 85% attendance. The impact is grave. I have often talked about the eco system and here this is no different; all arts venues, production companies and hospitality are interdependent. Take a moment and think about what is included in the arts– live music, community arts, and let us not forget pantomimes. the life blood of a lot of regional theatres. Every year 75% of the population engage in the arts in one form or another — just think how often last year you visited venues like the Leeds Arena, Leeds Playhouse, Huddersfield Theatre or the Leadmill in Sheffield. This is not a minority interest. Of course, this also includes festivals like the Leeds/Reading Festival. The cost in redundancy will be high. Surely the decision to spend money now on keeping the arts alive is the right one. The UK is one of the leading lights in culture and attracts visitors from around the world. Let’s hope that with this package of support from the government, our phenomenal arts sector can avoid being a tragedy only to be talked about in years to come but instead continue to dominate on the world stage.