Non-stop digital work to revive arts goes on as the future of freelancers remains questionable

Shefali Saxena Monday 19th October 2020 06:23 EDT

ITV News tweeted on Tuesday that Rishi Sunak had said that “musicians and others in [the] arts should retrain and find other jobs’. The arts community in the UK obviously went into a frenzy and apparently started preparing “to descend on 11 Downing Street with flaming torches”, The Guardian reported. 


But, that’s not the full story. 


According to The Guardian, “After much uproar, ITV deleted the tweet and said it had been misleading – but thespians were already orating, and Liam Gallagher was already halfway out of his jacket, looking for a scrap. What had Sunak actually said, then?”


Sunak had said, “It’s a very sad time … I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis. And that’s why we’ve put a lot of our extra resource into trying to create new opportunities for people.” Asked whether he was really telling people from the arts and music world to simply go and get a new job in a different sector, he said: “That is fresh and new opportunity for people. That’s exactly what we should be doing.” 


Taking a dig at Sunak, the publication wrote, “He didn’t say it as bluntly as some soundbites put it. But yeah, it’s in there, isn’t it? He didn’t not say it.”


Exploring how the upcoming Covid-19 restrictions might impact the arts community, which has almost anyway stretched up to almost a year long lockdown/dormancy, Asian Voice reached out to artistic directors of Asian theatres in the UK to get a sense of the current situation.


Artistic Director and Joint CEO, Tara Arts, Abdul Shayek told Asian Voice, “The sector as a whole will take a while to come back to normal. There's a lot of work left to be done. He believed that the shift was happening before Covid. People were exploring digital by and large.”His main worry continues to be centered around people who have freelanced all their lives and are now looking out for new career options. He said, “During good times people who freelance in the art sector, struggle to make a living but they do it because they are passionate about it and they believe in it. It is really insensitive of Rishi Sunak to say this if he did.” 


He cited the example of  the banking crisis in 2008  and shared that if Sunak shows this kind of disregard for the art and culture sector, by that logic bankers should have started looking for new jobs.  “Art and culture sector is more important than banking today in my opinion,” he added. 


Shayek further emphasised, “Things are hard enough when times are good, when times are hard, it is a final straw for a lot of people. It’s not surprising that we find ourselves in the current circumstances, but it’s important to respect the artists in history, it’s important to respect the artists today, and it’s fundamental that we make way for the artists of tomorrow,” he said.

According to Shayek, “We’re (Tara Arts) not going to necessarily run out of money now, we may run out of money probably next year. That’s the problem and there are a lot of organisations that are in a similar position. We’re trying to look at where the skill gaps are. The biggest challenge is that the freelance community is currently suffering. We are trying to hold onto as many of them as possible because the freelance arts community is big in this sector. That also contributes to diversity, especially from the BAME community. We don’t want to lose our freelancers.” Shayek explained that at Tara Arts, the team is trying to utilise digital tools and platforms and trying to upscale people to be able to work on those platforms. 


Asian Voice reached out to Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director at Tamasha Theatre Company who said it’d be difficult for him to distil a quote for us on this topic since it’s a huge and complex area. However, Fin shared some recent examples of how theatre and narrative storytelling are changing as a result of  Covid-19. Titled “Under The Mask”, Tamasha’s upcoming play will be screened on Sat 14 - Sun 15 November at Onstage Unreserved, Oxford Playhouse. The context traces back to March 2020, when hundreds of final year medical students finished their studies early, and started work on the frontline of the Coronavirus pandemic when the burden was carried alone by a generation of young doctors and nurses, who couldn’t even get a hug from their parents, in case they passed the virus on. 


Helena Bell, Artistic Director Kali Theatre Company told Asian Voice, “I think because Kali are so busy on script development (which is over fifty per cent of our workload) and we are ACE funded to do this work alongside our tours we haven’t yet experienced too many of the hardships some colleagues in venues are enduring as we’ve just postponed everything (tour wise) to next year and adapted to the new normal. And we’re making non stop digital work instead to keep our writers and actors in work! (And reaching a huge new online audience!).   But of course longer term we’re fully dependent on the venues being back up and thriving in order to do our normal tours and reach out to live audiences so if they go bust then we will have to adapt to a very different way of working. So that is a worry! Kali is not now going out with any live work until May 2021 and consequently watching the situation very closely to see if that will still be possible.” 

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