The British government has provided very little support for the struggling arts sector since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, and has now gone as far as to release a new media campaign that suggests musicians, actors, dancers, and other performers should move on and try something else for a career.

The government-backed campaign shows ‘Fatima,’ a ballet dancer, tying on her ballet shoes with the message, “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet.” The campaign has caused enormous controversy on Twitter, and the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has been berated for denying the importance of the arts sector to the U.K. economy, despite its near return in a limited capacity earlier this year.

The “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” campaign has been deemed wholly inappropriate given the constant closures of UK venues and the lack of support from the UK government to help self-employed performers struggling for work. It is estimated that 40% of musicians have been unable to benefit from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, while contract earners have benefited from the government’s furlough scheme.

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“I don’t know if the government know they appear to have recently created a ‘Hopes & Dreams Crushing Department'”, says one Twitter user. Another quotes, “Takes on average a decade or more to become a professional ballet dancer… Not a real job though, is it? Get behind a desk, Fatima.”

Despite many performers being fueled simply by the passion and love of their craft, musicians, creatives, and industry personnel still require financial compensation in exchange for their talents and entertainment services to cover standard costs of living. However, this new campaign expects performers to simply give up the full-time, life-long passions that they’ve turned into careers and find the same emotional fulfillment and financial security elsewhere.

Watch Monday’s announcement from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussing the country’s new three-tier reopening guidelines/restrictions below.

Boris Johnson Announces England’s COVID-19 Three-Tier Reopening Plan

[Video: Guardian News]

A new survey conducted by the U.K. Musicians’ Union found 70% of musicians are unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work, while 36% of musicians do not have any work at all. The poll concludes that 88% of musicians do not think that the British government has done enough to support musicians during the pandemic.

The neglect from the U.K. government for musicians and those in the arts is both alarming and disturbing. It does not seem to matter how many years one has spent honing their craft or building an entertainment business. In the eyes and ears of Her Majesty’s government, being a musician is not perceived as a real job.

The arts enrich our lives. Imagine a world without music, film, theatre, or any other form of live entertainment. This could very well become a disturbing reality in the not-too-distant future should live music not return. Not only are the livelihoods of artists and performers in danger, but even more so for those who work behind the scenes such as production techs, venue employees/gig workers, and industry executives. The lack of government support for musicians on top of poor guidance is wholly irresponsible. While the government did promise to invest £257 million to save 1,385 theatres, arts venues, museums, and cultural organizations across England earlier this year, it’s difficult to see how individual musicians can benefit during these times of turmoil.

It is estimated the domestic music industry contributes over £5.2 billion to England’s economy on an annual basis, thus making enough noise from a financial perspective that the government should and must take musicians seriously. Freelance musicians, actors, artists, and other performers are vital to the economy and deserve protection during this unprecedented financial hardship.

UK Government “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” Ad

uk government campaign arts

Gideon Waxman is a London-based drummer and music educator who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper, one of the web’s most popular free online drumming resources.