Last weekend was a big one for the people of England. On July 4th, pubs, bars, restaurants, hairdressers and many more establishments opened their doors to the public for the first time in 4 months. This announcement and the further easing of lockdown restrictions has massively helped the aforementioned industries get back on their feet whilst also instilling a sense of normality back into communities. However, the fact that some industries remain completely in the dark cannot be ignored. For example: indoor gyms, beauty salons, tattoo parlours and bowling alleys are among those that must keep their doors shut for the foreseeable future. There's no denying that these industries will be facing unimaginable consequences as a result of lockdown restrictions, however in this post I want to focus solely on an industry that - until today - has been completely underfunded, unsupported and ignored during this crisis, and that is the arts industry.
It has been announced today, after 174,292 petition signatures and immense pressure from social media users and people within the industry, that the government will finally start to support the arts industry through the lockdown. Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) took to twitter to announce that the government will be providing a £1.57 billion emergency support package to keep the arts afloat during this time; this is the most financial support that the arts have ever received from the government. Over the last few weeks, many have feared for the future of the arts, so this announcement is an amazing step towards restoring, and hopefully saving, this industry. However, many questions still remain unanswered. Is it too little, too late for some venues? Will freelancers survive? When can theatres reopen?
From live music gigs to theatre trips, studying Drama to seeing some of my closest friends try and make a living in this industry, it's safe to say that the arts have always played a big part in my life. In the days before COVID, trips to the theatre were a regular occurrence for me and I was at my happiest when attending a concert or festival with my friends. The arts are deeply embedded into what I consider as 'normal life,' mirroring the fact they play an essential role in the running of our society. In a plea to save London's theatre's, Nickie Aiken, the MP for the West End, stated that every £1 spent at a theatre brings £5 back into the local economy, and, in 2014, the West End attracted over 18 million tourists to London. Although this relates just to London alone, the theatres and venues in the rest of England, Scotland and Wales are equally as important to our society. When looking at figures like these and considering my personal feelings towards this industry, it's clear that a life without the arts is unimaginable. So why has it taken the government so long to step in and ensure that their future is guaranteed?
On the 4th of July I went back to work for my first post-lockdown waitressing shift. Everyone was appropriately distanced and respectful of the rules, but whilst I was working I couldn't help but think of the arts industry. How is it that people can sit in an indoor restaurant, get drunk at the pub, and have a stranger wash their hair but can't take a trip to the theatre? As people up and down the country returned to work, I thought about the dancers, singers, actors, musicians, artists, directors, costume designers, lighting producers, sound technicians, front of house staff and all of the other people who make the arts unfold effortlessly. These people are not only unable to return back to their professions, but they are unable to do what they love. As the rest of the nation is being freed, they remain trapped.
The new announcement to fund the arts is long overdue, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. I still fear for the future of the arts though. Just three days ago, The National Theatre let their front of house and backstage staff go, and Manchester's Royal Exchange have revealed that 65% of their staff may face redundancy. If this is how the big theatres have been hit, do the smaller independent ones even stand a chance?
I just hope that this funding is enough to keep this essential and beloved industry afloat, and I can't wait until the day that we can show up and support these incredible creatives first hand.