In the past week we’ve heard from Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, that those who work in the arts and cultural sector who are losing their jobs due to the pandemic should retrain and find jobs in other industries. However, what Rishi Sunak is failing to see is what impact that statement will have on the economy and the lives of those it will affect.

In 2019, the Arts Council England reported that the arts and culture industry grew £390million in a year and contributes £10.8billion annually to the UK economy. The sector contributes £2.8billion to the Treasury via taxation, and generates a further £23billion each year.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) 2018 report  for employment showed that there were 2.04 million jobs in the creative industries, an increase of 1.6% on the previous year. This is double the rate of the UK's overall employment growth rate of 0.8% over the same period.

We can’t ignore the fact that the arts and culture are a huge part of the economy and livelihood of the UK, and the fastest growing industry.

An industry that allows this country to have real influence internationally. Other industries look for creativity minded and skilled people as an influence and inspiration. We are problem solvers, we are resilient, we think outside the box and take risks enabling industries to grow and flourish. We innovate, create and push boundaries. Without us you’re left with no TV programmes, no festivals, no cinema, no new fashion, no new phones or laptops, no new buildings… the list goes on.

This all goes without mentioning the benefits of the arts and culture on our lives, wellbeing and mental health. In my blog about how creativity is sustaining us during lockdown, I spoke about how the arts and creativity are an integral part of everyone’s lives, giving us joy, stories, drama, community and more.

How the arts shape my life and career

At the age of 14 years old I fell in love with art. At lunch times in my secondary school the rooms were mine and my friends’ haven. It was where I found my voice, my way of expressing myself and understanding the world around me. After school I did a National Diploma in Fine Art, from there I did a BA (hons) in Fine Art and two years after graduating I did an MA in Arts Management.

What you don’t see here are the hours, days, years, spent learning on the job, training in areas such as mentoring, evaluation, fundraising, marketing, networking, coaching and more. This is just my training and there are millions of us that have invested in our skills that are powerful and transferrable. To be told that we need to retrain is as Sue Perkins, comedian and presenters said in the Independent this week: ‘Shameful’.  

In my 14 year career I have always worked with children and young people. Numerous times, too many to count in fact, I have been told by them and their parents that they’re not going to further their love and talent in and of the arts into a career, because they didn’t think it was a viable career choice (have you seen the stats above??? THEY ARE!!).

At Creative Youth Network we not only hear stories such as this, but we are confronted daily by young people who desperately want to work in the sector, but due to their backgrounds, vulnerabilities and age can’t gain access or get jobs in the arts. From not having equal access due to their heritage, being unable to afford unpaid internships (a common way of starting a career in the sector), not having the background or networks that allows them to know the right people to get a foot in the door.

The arts, cultural and media sector is desperately trying to be more diverse, but remains a nepotistic industry open to those who know the right people in the right places. Many of those we work with don’t believe in themselves, lack the confidence and self-esteem needed to develop their practice and hone their talents. And many can’t afford the training I was so fortunate to receive to allow me to be in the position I am today.

So with Rishi’s comments and job losses throughout the sector, how are those from marginalised backgrounds, already facing barriers, meant to gain access to the sector? This is only polarising the sector further, meaning that those in jobs remain in jobs and where jobs come up there will be even more competition from those who have been able to work in the sector beforehand, leaving very little room for those in early stage careers or with no formal training. The sector will become even more exclusive and lacking in representation.

Last week Creative Youth Network received 126 applications from 16 – 25 year olds looking to gain one of four places on our Creative Futures programme.

The programme is dedicated to young creatives facing barriers to developing their careers. We particularly focus on those from low income households, care leaving backgrounds, and those not in employment. Nearly all who applied are out of employment due to the pandemic. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I fully expect that we will be  experiencing much unemployment in the sector, especially for those in the early stages of their careers who will now be competing against those who have been trained and have experience for fewer jobs sustained by less funding.

Where do we go from here?

Through programmes such as the Kickstart scheme, Creative Workforce for the Future and our very own programmes for emerging creatives, we have a duty to ensure that we continue to support young creative talent to break into the industry.

We need to:

  • invest in support and models that work to enable those who face barriers to overcome them, develop networks and skills, and gain access to jobs that will help the sector grow back better and recover from the pandemic.
  • support SME’s in the sector to understand the needs and barriers that those who can help regrow their businesses have got, enabling them to provide paid placements and opportunities that enrich both of their experiences and are mutually beneficial.
  • ensure large institutions open their doors and take on paid placements and in-house training opportunities for early stage career creatives so that they can rebuild their businesses whilst supporting those in need of employment.

By doing this, we can not only ensure there are pathways into careers for diverse, young and talented creatives, but also that the sector is supported to not just regrow but to build back better with a workforce that truly reflects the diversity of audiences, ready and waiting, fully trained and able to help our whole economy prosper.

These are some of our calls to action for the government, and for the sector. What else do you think needs to happen?