The past twenty months have not been easy for the Arts. It was one of the first sectors to close completely almost overnight when the Covid 19 pandemic spread across the world. Now it’s one of the last to finally reopen its doors.
From the West End in London to Broadway in New York, millions suddenly found themselves unemployed with the option of either taking on whatever job they could find or receiving government existence. The fact that many artists are self employed to begin with and that the industry is precarious enough at the best of times doesn’t help.
To add insult to industry, these workers who spent their valuable time, money, and energy training, perfecting their craft and learning a trade, were patronized by a political class who didn’t see what they did for a living as a “real job.”
Remember the incredibly crass ‘Rethink, Reskill, Reboot’ campaign pushed by the Tory Government? It featured, amongst others, a ballerina called Fatima. The caption underneath stated, “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”. Whether Fatima has any interest and/or aptitude for the cyber industry doesn’t seem to matter.
I remember as a kid watching the Oscars one year. When Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for crime drama Traffic back in 2001, he chose to dedicate his acceptance speech to all those who spend their day creating (whether it be it a book, dance etc) and that this world would be unliveable without art. He was and still is right.
For most people, the pandemic has shown that the Arts is essential, not expendable. When we had to stay in our homes and locality throughout the toughest of restrictions what was one of the activities that kept us all entertained and sane? It was reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching Netflix. In other words – Art. Made possible by creators, artists, and technicians.
The live entertainment industry embraced digitalisation as a way of bringing their work to a brand-new audience. Concerts, musicals, plays and literary festivals all went online. They used this opportunity to raise much needed money for charity. Not just charities for out of work theatre professionals but for covid research, the HSE, and other worthy causes.
As we are coming to what is hopefully the end of this crisis, the Arts must revitalise itself to stay ahead of the game. As well as getting back to live performances they should continue to stream either in real time or as a recording. This hybrid system will not only boost viewers but provide a valuable revenue inflow.
The Irish government’s introduction of a universal basic income scheme in last month’s Budget is to be welcomed. Other tax breaks, grants and bursaries need to be looked at too. Cinemas should consider showing old movies and classic blockbusters alongside new releases as a way of keeping viable in this age of downloading and streaming. They could also show pre-recorded and/or live ballets, operas and musicals currently playing in the West End or on tour.
I’m sure there are many more ideas that could be brainstormed. Fortunately, we have people with careers in creativity, not just in cyberspace.