“My industry has been decimated and the aftermath will be catastrophic.”
Neo-Liberalism’s ideological devolution for the Arts in Britain during the Coronavirus outbreak.
By Joe Langabeer, Co-Founder of Art-Rising
The Guardian article ‘'Stressed, sick and skint': how coronavirus is hitting arts workers’ gives an account of the situation experienced at this current time by those who work in the artistic industry, and explores the damming effects to the halting of the economy for a self-employed worker and the people who work in technical and administrative capacities. At the time of writing, the government have introduced a stimulus package for self-employed workers, to accompany the ‘Furlough scheme,’ thanks to which companies will be able to pay up to 80% of their employees’ pay, providing they are willing to apply for it. On the surface, this seems to be a beneficial manoeuvre for employees and self-employed workers. However, as we further analyse, the consequences of free-market actions in relation to the Arts could have disastrous consequences for years to come.
Firstly, it is important to present a historical analysis of the matter at hand. Before Thatcherism, artists were well-funded by government initiatives, such as the Arts Council England who would fund political and thought-provoking art that challenged the aesthetical relevance of the artistic industry. Theodor W. Adorno, who had championed such a challenge to the aesthetical nature of art, wrote in Aesthetic Theory that “art represents the masses, by confronting them as that which they could be, rather than conforming to them in their degraded state.” To give Adorno a full account would take longer than this article has time for, but his this statement is particularly relevant when considering the larger context of artistic aesthetical value. The majority of the prominent works flourished in the 1970s was developed by small companies dedicated to the discussion of Marxist literature and socialist political development. They extended their activism to demonstrations and protests as well as producing art that was politically involved. Among them, we would like to mention in particular ‘Red Ladder Theatre Company’ and ‘7:84.’ These companies were funded directly by the state, which allowed a wide variety of theatre to flourish. Thatcherism and the neo-liberalist ideology, along with expansion of free market, started cutting the Arts Council’s funding and paved the way for the commercialised sector of the Arts. A specific example of this is found in Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘McTheatre’ franchising, which majorly contributed to the successful dominance of the commercialised sector of the theatre industry. The Arts Council admitted of being afraid of funding projects that associated itself with political thought as it would have translated in being subjected to more cuts. This has all been documented in ‘Thatcher’s Theatre,’ an analysis of theatre during Thatcher’s neo-liberalist economical agenda. New Labour had restored some of these financial aids but did not reverse the ideological thought that came from Thatcherism, and allowed the continuation of capitalism to be entrenched through the artistic industry.
How does this apply to the coronavirus situation? The artistic industries have been left with little subsidised funding for them to thrive in the 21st century. This has allowed the commercialised sector to exploit the workforces, forcing them to accept ‘gig-economy’ type conditions: zero-hour contracts on a product-by-product basis, minimum wage and insecure work conditions for freelancers and contract workers. Venues and companies associated with the commercialised sector have started to present the idea that working for them is a ‘privilege’ in order to produce in workers a more voluntary approach. The coronavirus pandemic, as it stands, has led companies to threaten immediate redundancies and deliver to freelance workers broken paid promises. An insecure workforce has been relentlessly exploited by the dominant artistic industry, and now it is up to the workforces and their unions to start organising and fighting this exploitation at the hand of the current capitalist structure.
There is another equally important point to focus on. The current capitalist ideology within the artistic structure has led to passivity in the efforts of aesthetically challenging of the Arts. An essay written by Louis Althusser, who was a French Marxist philosopher, entitled ‘Ideology and Ideological state apparatuses’ examines how the dominant class can use the capitalist ideology to pacify the masses. This phenomenon, combined with the dominance of capitalism within the arts and the extensive cutting of Thatcher’s government, has led to a stagnation of the artistic industry. This result has prevented the structures of the artistic world to develop its own industry and has not allowed the aesthetics of the artistic spectrum’s to be challenged. For this to change, a case must be argued for a total nationalised ownership of theatres, and the creation of consistent state funded sources, that could allow the production of work that challenge artistic aesthetics. Coronavirus has shown the weakness of capitalism and the strength of its exploitation of its artistic workforce. The working masses of the artistic world must come together to demand for better conditions and the overhaul of the systematic failures of capitalism that have been plaguing the values of Art.