One Year On
It's been a while since we posted any updates here. In truth, it's because we quite genuinely ran out of steam a little around Christmas. It's been a long and difficult road for all of us, navigating Covid-19, lockdowns, and the hardships it has brought. In this last year we have seen the enormous divides that still exist in this country in terms of race, justice, socioeconomic status, class, and in the past week alone the devastating divide that still exists in terms of attitudes toward women's issues and safety.
We still have an awful lot to learn, and a long way to go.
But we have learned some things. We've all learned the value of the proximity of loved ones. We've learned the value of space, private and public. We have learned so much more than (I imagine) many of us knew about the transmission of viruses, as well as the make up and effectiveness of vaccines (or considerably less, if you've been sucked into the social media disinformation machine). We've learned that perhaps work isn't the rigid infrastructure we thought it was, as we've adopted and adapted to new ways of working remotely, with innovative methods of doing the same jobs more efficiently. A lot of us have learned the value of support, whether personal or professional, as 11.2m of us have claimed £53.8 billion in furlough payments as of the middle of February 2021.
Some of us weren't able to claim such support, however. One year on, we find that the support networks we have seen spring up around us are still sorely lacking for the arts sector.
It's a year to the day since theatres in the UK were told to close. A year of dark auditoriums and creative pursuits put on hold, which is a sad enough reason to recognise this anniversary. Crucially, however, we must recognise the lack of aid that those in the arts sector have received so far.
In March of 2020, when theatres were told to close, they were done so with no indication of support or a safety net. Productions that were due to take place that very night were cancelled. Ticket refund policies at venues up and down the country began to be tested to their limits. Indeed, many venues begged their production companies, or their audiences, to allow the tickets to be rescheduled or refunded as a voucher toward a future performance, to insure against losses.
In May, the National Theatre warned that, without further support, it would have to shed 30% of its staff, having lost 75% of its income. That announcement came the same day that Sonia Friedman, one of the country's top theatre producers, said that the theatre industry was on the 'brink of total collapse'.
By June of 2020, the situation had reached such a critical point that top UK artists, nominees and winners of coveted Olivier and Theatre Awards, including household names such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emma Rice, Andrew Scott, Tom Stoppard and James McAvoy, co-signed an open letter to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, warning of the ruination of one of the UK's proudest, most famous industries. It warned of losses of £74bn to the economy, as well as up to 400,000 jobs that would be at risk.
A month later, and three since the closure of theatres, the UK remained the only European country yet to have pledged any support to its arts industry. When that support finally did arrive, with the headlines of a 'world leading' amount of money pledged, at £1.57bn, it excluded thousands upon thousands of creatives employed short-term, self-employed or freelance, who make up over 70% of the creative workforce in the UK.
From 11th July, outdoor performances could open. However, this announcement was made without warning, leaving many venues and companies no time to arrange productions at all. Not all venues have access to outdoor spaces of course, and with the limits imposed with the need for a socially-distanced audience, this became more difficult still.
On August 1st, it was announced that indoor performances could resume, but again only with socially-distanced audience models in place. This reduced many venues capacity to below 30%. Facing such numbers, shows that could run at a profit were precious few, with many companies (Off the Ground included) deeming it financially impossible to reopen with restrictions still in place. Still the silence as to further support for those employed by the sector was deafening.
Continuing into October and venues that remained closed, or professionals seeking to claim support were still being excluded by way of self-employment restrictions, proof of earnings, or freelance status. 'March for the Arts' was founded in Liverpool, protesting against the government's measures so far. On October 7th, 400 musicians gathered to play outside UK parliament by way of protest.
By November theatres had been ordered to close again, with the introduction of a second national lockdown.
Continued through to December, into the Christmas break and beyond, into Lockdown 3 (the sequels are always worse, aren't they?), thousands of creatives do not qualify for the arts grants offered by ACE or the SEISS grants. Each round of applications and each rejection drive some further and further into desperation.
There have been some outstanding initiatives and schemes set up by private companies to help those in need. Listing them all here would be impossible, but if you are a creative in need of support, be sure to check out the following to see if you qualify:
- SOLT UK Artist's Fund: (https://theatreartists.fund/)
- ACE Covid-19 Support: (https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19)