Committee: Wales risks “losing a generation of artists” due to coronavirus

(Title Image: Senedd Cymru)

Culture Committee
Impact of Covid-19 outbreak on the arts sector (pdf)
Published: 5th June 2020

“We cannot risk losing a generation of artists or abandoning all of the positive work and investment which has gone into making Wales a world-leader in arts and culture. We are urging the Welsh Government to take swift action to support this important part of Welsh life.”
– Acting Chair, Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)

1. Freelancers fall through the gaps of the UK Government’s self-employment support scheme

Artists are described in the report as “the ultimate gig economy workers” as many work on commission and their income varies massively, some having several jobs at once.

As many performers can’t provide a track record of accounts, they may not be eligible for UK Government support for the self-employed, particularly if they’ve been working for less than three years.

Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), said the issue has been taken up with the UK Government but “We haven’t had as much response as we’d hoped”.

Fortunately, around £7.5million was made available by the Welsh Government, with £2million of emergency funding aimed at individual performers.

2. Arts organisations are facing substantial financial losses

Nick Capaldi from the Arts Council of Wales said the Council’s portfolio was losing £1.4million a week, while the Millennium Centre was expected to lose £20million this financial year. It’s been the organisations least-reliant of public funding which have been the hardest-hit.

Enough emergency funding has been provided to ensure the Arts Council portfolio stays afloat until September 2020, but a full financial recovery may not happen before Easter 2021 depending on how quickly Wales eases lockdown restrictions.

The Committee recommended that guidance on reopening live venues and other related businesses should be published by 1st August 2020 and also recognition that arts organisations may take several years to fully recover and may need extended support.

3. There’s a danger arts organisations will fall back to old patterns

Any work done to date on improving diversity and reaching new audiences may be completely undone if arts organisations fall back on established audiences post-recovery instead of trying new things.

There were several calls for the Welsh Government to support innovation, such as online delivery of creating activities, live streaming (which some theatres have been doing during the lockdown) and podcasts.

The Committee’s broad conclusion was that the recovery phase should be seen as an opportunity to rethink how the arts are supported, but there was a risk that a digital-first strategy could lead to people thinking that creative content should be free.

They recommended the Welsh Government “begin conversations with representatives from the arts sector to set a long term policy direction which is sustainable, inclusive and accessible.”

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