Well, what a year it has been! It is a tumultuous time for people. From panic buying to most of Britain’s economy shutting down for Lockdown one, two, or however many more there will be. One thing we know that is for sure: The way we have run our world is not working. Capitalism is failing us. Welcome to Art-Rising’s 2020 year review where we will speak about the last 12 months and what they mean for the arts sector, future implications, the failure of opposition speaking out against the insanity of this cataclysmic Tory government, the consequences of Brexit and the COVID-19 economy and what Art-Rising will do for the future.
An Election loss and the Powerful Tory majority.
It was already looking to be a grim year for the arts sector as it stood. The prospect of a majority Tory-led government makes creatives shiver as the funding and potential creative spirit become dashed as the Tories lead to a fiscal iron rule. At the time of their election manifesto, there had been no promise of funding for the arts, but no intent to cut it either. People believed that the arts would stay in the same position as it always did, to gather audiences with the commercially driven West-End musicals that played night in, night out. The economy had already been in decline from this point, however. There had been a slight boost of GDP in the first quarter of the year, due to political stability from the Tory 80-seat majority but the numbers started to dwindle as soon as that prospect turned to the discussion Brexit.
Nevertheless, it is not only Brexit that has created economic instability… Falling production rates, wage gap inequality and big-tech companies have all placed their mantle of capitalism firmly and rooted themselves into the fine work of the hegemonic system. In the Labour 2019 election manifesto, spending promises were made to reinvigorate art’s subsidies, and the boost would have been available to all sectors of culture, across the country. Unfortunately, that did not come to pass, and therefore we now have a party who consider the arts. You cannot lay the blame entirely at their feet, for their masters (the ruling class) have given them the power to do so. In January, Cameron Mackintosh had opened Brexit with open arms suggesting that “all of our worlds are now the stage”. Of course, Brexit will do very little to benefit the arts sector, but it could have irreconcilable damages in the labour force for years to come with the dismantling of labour and union control. This was one of the European Union’s strengths, and this is from someone who is very critical of the EU. This spontaneous burst of appreciation for Brexit only further shows where producers like Cameron Mackintosh lie in support, and it has seeped in his support for the commercialised sector of theatre and the neo-liberal economic ideology that has plagued our society for the past 40 years. The damage it has done has been catastrophic for the arts.
And then came COVID-19…
When people discuss COVID-19, they always say that “we will always remember the year of 2020 and how it was a shambolic time”. The unfortunate challenge to that statement is that it will not be just 2020 to be detrimental to this. This will last for a generation. The economic impact of the virus and subsequent government’s failure to react to the crisis in time has led to an economic disaster. This is particularly the case in the arts. There must be some questioning why the arts sector suffered so much when the rest of the economic sector managed to hold their own for a substantial time. Is the truth? Theatre was already economically dying. The arts have been knocked off its perch for a substantially long time with the neo-liberal economic policies of the 1980s by Thatcherism. Blairism helped bear the early noughties burden by giving creative class flows to organisations, but the structural damage had already been done. Theatre collectives were now board members, hierarchies had been established, and the theatre's economic language had been reduced to the consumerist value of the “product”, and not the value of the artwork being created on stage. The most significant blow to the arts?
A whopping 2008 financial crash with ten years of austerity in the mix for good measure. If you want to ask what COVID-19 did to the arts, the truth is that it has only exacerbated the issues. Since the COVID-19 crisis, a tsunami of redundancies has sent ripples across the sector, pleading with it to reconsider and leaving many out of work. Unions such as BECTU and Equity were too late to act, as they saw surges in membership only to be left with a membership angry at them for not attacking the ruling classes against making them redundant. Since Sir Keir Starmer was appointed Labour Leader, the opposition has done nothing to criticise the government on the state of the arts sector. Sure, there has been a comment, or two about freelance work and Labour MP’s have been woefully shy in trying to debate it in the House of Commons, but Labour is not looking to sort out the situation. Instead, they are looking to bash about Jeremy Corbyn and any socialist member who stands in the way of their new totalitarian regime (and they say communism is authoritarian geese…).
That “BIG” (modest) bailout.
Then, a supposed miracle came: The £1.57 billion arts rescue package. Not to already accept that thousands of workers had already been made redundant. This included companies like Nimax, ATG and Cameron Mackintosh’s dual companies CML and DMT. The package was a relief package, but the situation could have been prevented far before the pandemic events. In 2018, Germany increased its spending on the arts by 23% to around 300 million euros a year. This is also to consider that Germany has over a hundred more subsidised theatre venues then us. The little comparison of The Arts Council’s grant given by the Tory government at the time was £200 million, whilst an annual turnover for the arts was estimated at 12.8 Billion. With all that money accumulating that amount of turnover, why has there been a lack of arts funding in this sector when it produces that amount of money and provides an excellent economy to Britain? The answer is that they allowed the private sector of theatre to run amok with the economy, and now the arts sector is paying the fullest price for it. I believe that in the long-term, the more subsidised investment will only create a debt that the arts will not contribute back. That is why we need to re-think the economic strategy and develop a nationalised programme of the arts, led and facilitated by the arts council. It is now the only way to save the theatre from the brink of disaster. The pandemic was the first blow, but the pandemic's economic repercussions will last for years to come.
The Arts cannot continue like this
Lyn Gardener recently had written in The Stage about the things she had learned about the theatre in 2020, suggesting:
The reminder that, although theatre claims to love artists, it resists giving them real power. It was summed up for me in the early weeks of the pandemic when David Byrne of New Diorama in London said theatre likes to think of itself as vastly different from businesses such as Uber, which has no cars, and Deliveroo, which has no kitchens. However, our funding system is geared towards supporting organisations and not those people who make the art. Theatre seldom has artists on its payroll or in its senior management. It is time artists and backstage workers had a proper seat at the table, as well as stable resources and access to them.
We would completely agree with that at Art-Rising, but we would go even further. A demand must be made that union representatives should have a seat at the table and be given powers to authorise workplace democracy. It is not good enough to hold union representatives to task over some tribal matter about disciplinaries; they must be given the power to hold the ruling class to account and not let workplace harassment or bullying continue as we discussed in an article earlier year with Cameron Mackintosh. It is up to us to begin pressuring Unions, Labour and all organised movements to push ahead and develop an organised force to combat and revolutionise the arts. One which will be turned into a force of political power to hold the government to account. That is why we must stay united. I urge all politically like-minded people to hang on and not give in, for when the working-class begin to feel that burden, then the real work can begin to develop an orientation towards a socialist art.
We also have to take into account the marches of the BLM protests. It signifies that the art establishment and the ruling class have failed to act in the interest of minorities and the working-class. We must stand together with ALL minorities in order to fight fascism, wherever it may arise. We can only do that together.
The Role of Art-Rising
Art-Rising has not been as relatively active as we would have like to have been. We came out of the gate during the pandemic, and we respect the people and families who have lost their lives over the pandemic. That is why we had to cancel our protest a few months ago. It did not help that the council and police did not coordinate with us properly, but it is a discussion that we can work towards in the future. There are only a few of us, and we do not have the power of more prominent theatre companies or politically motivated tabloid machines, that is why I ask you to forgive us in trying to keep up with the workload that comes with building a movement like this. Since being founded this year, we have taken every stride to build the theory of our movement and continue to do so. We have had to strip back our operations down to a purely theatrical one, for we think these better suits our thinking and expertise. We want to create and share with you our work, and we believe we will be in the position to do that this year. Be patient with us, for we will develop a movement around us to secure the future of socialism in the arts. You can go one better, join us or send us submissions at email@example.com! We need people who are like-minded and ready to organise into a brighter future.
The pandemic has made theatre, and the arts look bleak, but I believe this is the turning of a new dawn. We will fight back and with an organised movement at our side. We hope you have a comradely New Year’s festivities. Come and join the fight in 2021!
We look forward to seeing you there.