Musicians express fury as arts jobs not ‘viable’ in COVID-19 economy

28 September 2020, 16:07 | Updated: 30 September 2020, 12:45

Anger as music and arts jobs not 'viable'
Anger as music and arts jobs not 'viable'. Picture: PA/Twitter – Louise Alder

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

“In Germany I am ‘viable’. I choose to stay there,” British soprano Louise Alder said in a tweet.

In anticipation of the furlough scheme ending, chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a new scheme to “protect as many viable jobs” as possible during pandemic times – leaving many in the UK arts sector asking, “what counts as a ‘viable’ job?”.

Well, writers, actors, dancers, musicians, composers, creatives – yours don’t, apparently.

The wage top-up can only be claimed by employees working a third of their usual hours. So, industries still in shutdown or unable to employ workers over the coming months won’t receive any support.

Since the chancellor’s announcement, arts workers have been taking to social media to voice their dismay over the lack of government support for a now-collapsing industry.

British soprano, Louise Alder, tweeted: “Hi Oliver Dowden, I am British. I cannot currently work in the UK because my industry doesn’t exist. Last night I sang [at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera house] to a socially distanced audience who clapped as if it were a full house. Therapy for the soul…

“In Germany I am ‘viable’. I choose to stay there.”

Read more: What are the new rules for rehearsals, concerts and live music venues? >

Conductor and music education advocate, Vaughan Fleischfresser, tweeted: “You’d be hard pressed to find someone more skilled or more viable than a pro musician. You’d also be hard pressed to find a non-musician who fully understands the skill and viability inherent in a pro musician.

“There’s a reason our world is filled with music, and it isn’t magic.”

Read more: Met Opera closure leaves ‘devastated’ musicians without pay for over a year >

Actor Michelle Collins chimed in, saying: “35 years an actor I now have a non-viable job. Thanks Rishi Sunak, is that all of us in the arts? We are prevented from working so cannot even work if we wanted to. Absolutely insulting to me and all those people who thrive in and enjoy the arts. Brings 120 bill into economy.”

In 2018, the creative industries brought £110bn to the UK economy, employing an estimated 3.2m people.

Industry leaders warned in June that the creative industries could end up losing £74bn in revenue this year, leading to a “cultural catastrophe” and the loss of 400,000 jobs.

The Labour party has said Sunak’s new scheme, in which only staff working a third of their hours will receive wage top-ups, is “impossible” in entertainment and hospitality.

“The chancellor is consigning whole sectors of our economy to the scrap heap, damaging lives and livelihoods, and threatening the recovery,” said Lucy Powell, the Labour party’s business spokeswoman.

Theatre workers have warned the scheme “won’t help them whatsoever”, as many venues are unable to open anytime soon, so heads can’t take advantage of the scheme.

There’s been some noise around a possible ‘Seat Out to Help Out’ scheme for entertainment venues, matching seats sold 1-for-1, which was proposed to government ministers in the summer.

Conductor Sam Evans tweeted: “Government policy continues to mean that many in the Performing Arts cannot work. It’s time to get the theatres/venues back on stream, by paying for social distancing at the box office. Match the seats sold, 1-for-1.”

While The Times reported ministers were seriously considering the scheme, we have heard no official announcement and so far, no new cash has been pledged for it.

In these anxious times for our communities, artists are needed more than ever. They bring us together and help give us comfort in our times of need. And if we don’t support them now, it’s increasingly likely – based on these recent, sobering insights – that they’ll be forced to take their wonderful talents elsewhere.