Guest post: Following Rishi Sunak’s ‘retrain’ controversy, perhaps the creative arts are essential – but they just don’t know it yet.

In Grime, Other by Vicky Thompson

“The government need to open up their eyes and start treating the music industry as a real industry, as they’re just treating it like a hobby when its a real industry that is paying billions to our economy alone” – Skatta Coventry

On the 6th of October, 2020, Rishi Sunak appeared on ITV News to speak an unpopular suggestion claiming that “artists should retrain and find other essential jobs.” Although this may seem understandable to some, given the lack of opportunity at this time, many are struggling to accept that the chancellor failed to recognise how incredibly life-saving and beneficial the arts industry as a whole has been during the most empty periods of lockdown, and how without it, the nation may struggle to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Is it perhaps time we began to consider the arts industry including music, film, dance and art in all its various forms as somewhat essential to the nation’s mental wellbeing during such unprecedented and dull times for us all?

Artists, musicians and the general public are calling for a higher level of respect for the arts industry during the absence of live shows in such hard-hitting times.

In an interview with Full Fact, the Chancellor of Exchequer said that “everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality and that is what we have to do.” Although this may be true to a certain extent, it’s not entirely supported. Music, amongst many other arts, have been the absolute backbone in providing mental stability during an incredibly lonely and isolating lockdown.

An article with Bloomberg Philanthropies in August 2020 covered a study by University College of London with a participating cohort of 72,000 adults in which the data suggested that “people who have spent 30 minutes or more each day during the pandemic on arts activities like reading for pleasure, listening to music, or engaging in a creative hobby have lower reported rates of depression and anxiety.” It’s important to recognise how much higher this statistic could have been had it not been for the escape of music, and the innovation of art.

However, the idea isn’t all based on the consumer, as those who make a living from this are also involved in this change, especially new and aspiring artists. Artists who have trained for years in one particular profession, providing purpose and passion, as well as many people who not only work in the arts but other non-essential sectors fear a reality of robotic training in areas they cannot fulfil to the highest potential.

This fear amongst many other reasons was first introduced when the government leaked the advert including Fatima the Ballerina, which quoted “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber, but she doesn’t know it yet.” This began to make artists and performers believe that there is no longer going to be a place for them moving forward, whether they liked it or not.

An ever-growing rapper from Coventry known as Skatta claimed we are living in a time where many of the born and bred artists are to “reimagine themselves.”

He stated, “ I had to get a job just before the pandemic, I started in a warehouse, and I’m a music artist, I was touring all over Europe and set up to make £100,000 and then lockdown destroyed it.”

“I quit the job in the end because I realised I just shouldn’t be doing this, I’m a music artist, I’ve been trying to get funding from the Musicians Union and PRS Foundation and Help Musicians, they are helpful and they can help a lot of artists who are stuck right now, but it’s not a big help, it’s only small contribution through these particular times.”

He continued to express; “It’s really bad that they’re making artists and consumers go and retrain and to reimagine ourselves into a completely new platform, a new way of adjusting, I don’t think it’s too fair, especially for the artists out there that can’t make those leaps to adapt their careers in this time.”

“It’s gonna be a lot harder again when the pandemic does die down, as a lot of the companies involved have just gone completely bust so, it’s caused a big distortion in the industry, and it’s that question of when it does reopen, how many of them are going to be able to reboot? Who’s going to open their doors to our performers? How are our performers going to get paid?”

“They need to open their eyes and filter the music industry as a real industry, as they’re just treating it like a hobby but in theory, it’s a big massive industry who’s paying billions to our economy. I do hope there is a change real soon.”

“I refuse to retrain in an entirely new job because of the pandemic, I’m a music artist, I’ve always been a music artist, and it’s what I know”

Genevieve Miles an indie-pop artist from the West Midlands highlighted an important and thought-provoking suggestion that she came across, she mentioned that “all streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify etc should have a blackout day, to make everyone realise how reliant we all are on the arts, I think that’s an amazing idea to make certain people respect and appreciate the arts a lot more as a whole.”

No matter how much work one may put into a new sector, if an individual does not feel a passion or drive for that area of the profession, the work will never truly be done to the best of its ability and should be saved for those who have the tenacity and drive to work within those sectors.

One day, the pandemic will be a thing of the past, and as the question circulates, can leaving a whole industry behind be ignored? And when will entertainers be treated as essential, to some degree?