Over the recent weeks, there has been much controversy surrounding the lack of support granted by the government to the arts sector. With forced closures and the loss of revenue caused by COVID-19 restrictions, job losses have risen exponentially and many theatres, art galleries, publishers and more have been hit hard.
Financial aid packages have been made available, but as shown on the Arts Council England website, government action is having to be supplemented by many external sources just to keep the arts alive.
In this situation, public trust in the government – especially from those involved in the arts – is likely to be fragile, hence why an advert released last week caused such shock and outrage. The advert in question pictured a ballerina and was captioned “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber,” insinuating that those within the arts will not be protected and should instead look to other sectors for an alternative job.
It is important to note that this advert did not come directly from the government, but from Cyber First – a cyber company aiming to advertise and recruit. However, this company does receive government backing and as a result the HM Government logo was included at the bottom of the image.
This means that although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden disowned the advert, calling it “crass” and emphasising that it did not come from his department, it cannot be completely separated from the government when they so explicitly back the company.
Moreover, it is necessary for the government to realise that the huge social media backlash was not fuelled by the advert alone. Their failure to adequately support the arts, and the subsequent fear from those within the sector, lies behind the whole thing and hasn’t been properly addressed.
To add to the tensions, a few weeks prior to the release of the advert, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was criticised for comments made during an ITV news interview. Following the encounter, ITV News Politics released a tweet stating that “@RishiSunak suggests musicians and others in the arts should retrain and find other jobs.”
Sunak claimed this misrepresented what he was trying to say and the tweet has since been deleted, but in the transcript of the original interview, as detailed by Full Fact, he is quoted saying that many people won’t be able to continue in “the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis” when directly asked about the arts.
If those who are already established within the arts are facing the prospect of losing their jobs, how is someone fresh out of university expected to be given an opportunity?
These comments just exacerbate the notion that the government are not serious about supporting the arts, suggesting that even if they did not directly produce the cyber advert, they are largely in line with its message.
From a personal perspective – as someone hoping to be involved in the arts following graduation – this advert and the Chancellor’s comments give me even less hope for breaking into an already competitive job market. If those who are already established within the arts are facing the prospect of losing their jobs, how is someone fresh out of university expected to be given an opportunity?
In addition, my personal experience of lockdown proved to me just how indispensable the arts are within our society, so it is shocking to see the dismissive treatment that the industry is receiving.
Many sectors such as the NHS have been rightly praised during this crisis, but there seems little appreciation of the fact that the arts were also essential for many people. Can you imagine how much worse lockdown would have been without Netflix to watch? Without books to read? Without music to listen to?
It has also recently been reported that the advert is involved in further scandal because neither the subject nor photographer gave permission for their work to be used. HITC reported that Krys Alex, the photographer, replied to comments about the ad by saying that she was “just learning about this,” and when asked whether she had given permission for the image to be used, responded with “Not at all!”
If everyone in the arts got a job in cyber, adverts like Cyber First’s could not be made
This just adds to the impression that the arts are not respected or valued, as even those who are vital to the production of this advert were not consulted or credited.
It is hard to ignore the irony of this, especially when you have seen the graphic shared widely on social media which points out just how many different people within the arts would have been involved in the creation of the advert. If everyone in the arts got a job in cyber, adverts like Cyber First’s could not be made.
The advert was taken down shortly after its release due to the huge backlash it received, but it has had a lasting impact. Flippantly dismissing it as “crass” does nowhere near enough to reassure those in the arts that the government is serious about supporting their sector.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen what the full impact of the pandemic will be on the arts. But one thing is certain: if everyone in the arts does ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’ and get a job in cyber, society will be much worse off and, in my opinion, the blame rests firmly with the government’s inadequate response.
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