"After an initial plea for emergency funding back in April, we are only now receiving the government’s word on what they will do to help the industry, and the still the promises remain vague."
There has been solidarity and support amongst music lovers throughout the pandemic, as artists continue to release new music mid-lockdown, and fans enjoy thousands of live streams. Yet there remains a sorely missed delight: live gigs. We’re all waiting impatiently for the day that we can book a ticket securely, knowing with certainty that the night will go ahead. In other words, we all await the day the music industry can return to normal. But what if it never does? The truth is, the UK music scene will not be able to return to its former state unless the government takes serious action, soon.
On Thursday, artists and fans alike took to Instagram to lay down the facts and threats the pandemic poses to the music industry. The campaign, #letthemusicplay, asked fans to post a picture of the last gig they attended pre-lockdown: another example of harmony across the board and more importantly, a reminder of what is at stake.
But not everyone is aware of the significance of the UK music industry. Some members of the public would rather see the government flood their funds into other sectors; they may see the arts as trivial, or unimportant. Despite the frustration that might come with these responses, the matter stretches beyond the subjective value we place upon the arts. What’s just as terrifying is the blindness to the economic impact the arts hold. Last year, the live music industry alone supported 210,000 jobs across the UK. Up to 50% of this workforce is facing unemployment post-lockdown. We face a national, urgent deficit that concerns not only the entertainment and enjoyment of consumers, but thousands of people’s jobs and livelihoods. After an initial plea for emergency funding back in April, we are only now receiving the government’s word on what they will do to help the industry, and the still the promises remain vague.
Astonishing figures show the rate of emergency arts funding across the world’s economically leading countries: Canada with the equivalent of £300 milllion, Germany with around €1 billion to keep its art sector on its feet. What are the UK government providing for emergency arts funds, in comparison? Staggeringly little. Specifically, what support have the UK government given, or promise to give, to live music venues? So far, nothing. In April, the UK arts council released emergency funds of £160 million, but this money was taken directly from prior projects that could not go ahead due to COVID. No new money was given to the Arts Council. In other words, pre-existing funds have been the only comfort for the arts to fall back on, with no other emergency funds in place.
With a clear set plan from the government on the re-opening of bars, restaurants, shops and pubs re-opening this weekend, they must turn their heads towards the arts: towards the theatres, arenas and music venues. Conditional timelines need to be drawn up, plans to re-open these institutions (without social distancing) put in place, whilst support for the self-employed must be released. Clarity is needed.
Looking towards a post-pandemic future is like trying to peer through a fog. Uncertainty lies everywhere, and it would be easy to grant our leaders some leniency. But the belated, unaffected response from the government in the plea for emergency arts funding is inexcusable. Hundreds of revered venues cannot be allowed to crumble without a word from the government. If the Royal Albert Hall does not receive emergency funding, it will go bust by March 2021. Already, Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre is having to close its doors for good. We cannot allow the UK to be stripped of its most vibrant cultural landmarks, nor can we forget the smaller, but significant blooming venues that will be swept under the carpet if they’re not quickly rescued.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen many petitions and donation sites shared to contribute to the effort to save the UK music scene. It’s inspiring to see the community band together, but it’s also a reminder of the incompetence and indifference of our leaders. Why should it be up to those who have the most to lose, whose very livelihoods depend upon the arts, to fork out donations? When will the significance and scope of the arts sector be fully recognised, be taken as seriously as it should? Even if we cannot change the opinions of those in power—convince them of the cultural richness of the arts and of music—what we must do is hold them accountable to the economic and social consequences their ineffectiveness will have. The impact of the arts and of music industry must be realised and funded, before it is too late.
[Update 5/7/20: As a result of the campaign, a £1.57 billion lifeline has now been given to the UK arts industry .]
Words by Kate Wassell.
5th July 2020.