The Covid 19 Pandemic has seen recruitment freezes, redundancies, pay cuts and funding pulled from key areas in society to redistribute towards combating the virus and its impacts. The Arts sector has understandably had to mostly shut down, including museums, theatres, and galleries. Some have been able to translate activities digitally, such as the movie release of ‘Hamilton’ earlier this year, and museum tours being made widely available. However, understandably, there is still a major loss of income from consumers, tourists and funding bodies. Salt was rubbed in this wound when the Government launched its campaign asking people in the performing arts space to reconsider their career paths and join completely different sectors to remain employed.
The arts contribute £10.8 billion to the UK economy, with £2.8bn via taxation and 363,000 plus jobs. This includes book publishing, sound recording, music publishing, artistic creation, and arts facilities. With social media being a more accessible and much cheaper substitute for say, buying a ticket and travelling to an art gallery, it has also acted as a platform to hold accountable the lens in which we look through at the arts and culture sector, from the art that is chosen to be platformed to how the cultural sector is organised in terms of workforce. For example, this year The Tate received major backlash when it attempted to reopen its doors since it had cut over 200 jobs, which were disproportionately held by people of colour (BAME). It raised a wider debate about how institutions centred around art and culture needed to be decolonised, to recognise its history and the stolen artefacts they profit from, and how they use people of colour especially to uphold the institutions they are then treated as replaceable within. The Tate was called for comment again in August when Dianne Abbott MP tweeted about the mural in the Rex Whistler restaurant, titled ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meat (1927), showing Black children as slaves. Social media is playing an interesting role in changing how we receive and profit from art and cultural products; it will no longer be justifiable to spend thousands, or millions, on a painting to showcase with no one to see it, whether it is because of Covid, or from ethical and political boycotts. It could be that the economic pressure put on art galleries specifically by Covid is a unique opportunity to really acknowledge and adapt to the changing culture of the public and what histories they want reflected in Britain’s most prestigious spaces. This opportunity for innovation would allow more people to have access to these spaces, and break down the narrative that art can only be understood or appreciated by the elite. Despite this, the ‘human experience of art’ is said to be a ‘fundamentally sensory and social experience’, difficult to replicate on digital platforms. The commercial art world and the world of art trade is looking reflectively at its own practices and how to adapt to the ever changing world of interaction.
In 2017/18, 91 organisations surveyed by the Arts Council England received £545 million in private investment, an eight percent increase from 2016, and noted that a mixed funding model was vital to the sustainability of the sector. Philanthropic donors are important in ensuring that other pathways to access and success are open to various other people and projects, many of which include smaller organisations that are most at risk of dissolving. Individual giving currently makes up 43 percent of private investment in the sector, with businesses making up 18 percent; Sir Necholas Serota noted that there is a long term relationship between the cultural sector and the wider community…private investment is crucial for the financial support it brings…and helps build’. With the shutdown of live music venues, performing spaces and events in the arts and performance sector, the UK Report noted that the creative workforce ‘remains highly exclusive…because of the role of social networks’, and recognised that ‘competition for those opportunities will intensify; the winners will be those who already have economic, social and cultural resources’. Since current private investment is ‘disproportionately skewed’ towards London based arts and culture organisations, who receive 66 percent of private investment, and the 50 organisations that currently receive the greatest amount (almost 60 percent of all private investment), there is scope here to consider a redistribution of giving. We know that structurally those with the means to give are usually those who have the advantages and opportunities in society to accumulate that wealth, and some may be ethically minded, the typical investor will be looking for returns and will want to give to organisations that share their values in some way. This means that smaller and diverse arts and culture organisations are at risk of being erased, forgotten and severely underfunded. In a society where the concept of returns underpins almost every financial and policy decision we make, we must reform the narrative that those returns must be financial. Investment in the arts and culture community that open up pathways, focus on representation and historical accountability, and provide a platform for those chronically under supported in the creative space will see a huge cultural return. This is especially poignant since the creative space is driven by social networks and close relationships, which in direct and indirect ways, have a major impact on societal and community health and wellbeing. We cannot deny that the arts is another medium for seeing the world, and how we see the world translates to how we see people, how we treat people, how we build and sustain communities and how we prioritise our fundamental values and beliefs.
In a UK report on Covid19 and DCMS sectors, it was stated that ‘we are undergoing a fundamental change in the way we live…we have to imagine a different future. It will be from the cultural sector that the essential new ideas emerge’. The mixed funding model in the arts and culture sector must be viewed with a critical social eye as much as an economic one, and private investors must be critical of where their money goes, geographically, socially, artistically and politically.