The arts and culture industry is facing an unparalleled crisis. Theatres and music venues have been closed since March, with many artists losing their main source of income. Some cinemas did reopen temporarily, but many shut their doors again when studios pushed back the release of major films.
Board directors and CEOs at Britain’s major cultural institutions, meanwhile, are making deep cuts. This has prompted strikes at the Tate, Royal Academy, and Southbank Centre. Workers at the V&A museum are likely to join them in the fightback soon.
Many small, independent venues across the country may be forced to shut their doors for good. With ticket sales non-existent, these venues are unable to keep afloat. In June, it was reported that as many as 70% of theatres could go bust, putting 400,000 jobs at risk. With a new national lockdown underway, things are not going to get easier anytime soon.
Struggling to survive
Many parts of the culture sector were ineligible for government help earlier in the year. With their main source of income (from tickets) gone, venues had to rely on donations and handouts from bodies like the National Lottery and the Arts Council.
In June, after months of inaction, the government finally announced that it would set up a Culture Recovery Fund, worth £1.57 billion, to help the arts industry. To date, more than 2,500 venues have received a collective £500 million in funding, with larger theatres like the Globe in London receiving the maximum individual sum of £3 million.
But this is not enough to keep an entire industry alive. Even before the pandemic, smaller venues in particular were struggling. At performances, once a show had finished, it was not uncommon to see actors appealing to the audience to make donations to support the theatre. When even the Royal Opera House says that its reserves will not last past autumn, how are smaller venues expected to cope?
Contempt for culture
Speaking to Parliament, Rishi Sunak stated: “I can't pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis. That's why we've put a lot of resources into trying to create new opportunities.”
Whilst his comments were not specifically about the arts and culture sector, it is clear that workers in this freefalling industry – in the absence of government support – will certainly be in need of “new opportunities”.
The Tory government has been happy to throw billions at the banks and big business, in order to prop up the capitalist system and the bosses’ profits; yet it appears nonchalant towards workers in the arts industry who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
To add insult to injury, an advert from 2017 – originally used to promote the government’s Cyber First programme – has recently resurfaced. This shows a picture of a young ballet dancer with the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet.” This is accompanied by the campaign slogan: “Rethink. Reskill. Retrain.”
This ad is a disgrace! The total lack of respect for the arts by this dreadful government has to stop!! Talk about also crushing young performers dreams! Rethink Reskill Reboot??!! How dare they! @OliverDowden @RishiSunak @BorisJohnson #WeAreViable #SaveTheArts pic.twitter.com/nyZy44l0JA— Anne Vosser (@AnneVosser) October 11, 2020
This cack-handed poster shows that the Tories’ disdain for the arts is nothing new. They have an open contempt for anyone who does not help to line the pockets of their friends in big businesses. Their only concern is for the capitalists’ profits, not for struggling artists, actors, and performers.
The backlash was immense. Hundreds of thousands of people expressed their disgust online. Those within the industry attacked the government’s neglect for the arts. At the Olivier Awards last month, actress and singer Cassidy Janson told her co-stars, “don’t any of you ever retrain”.
Under this pressure, the offending image was quickly removed from the Cyber First website.
Victim of capitalism
It is clear that the government cannot and will not save the arts and culture industry. Left to the mercy of the anarchic capitalist system, theatres, music venues, cinemas, and museums will go bust. A sector that provides so much societal enrichment will become yet another victim of the crisis of capitalism.
To save the arts, we need to put the entire industry into the hands of the working class. The labour movement must support the fightback by striking workers across the sector, and push for bold socialist policies such as nationalisation and workers’ control.
Above all, we must demand that it is the bosses who pay for this crisis. While workers face job cuts, the billionaires are getting ever richer. This wealth should be expropriated from the fat cats, and used to fund both our material and cultural needs.
Capitalism is killing our arts and culture. Only a socialist society – run in the interests of people, not profit – can save it.