Creativity does not offer any magic protection from the economic consequences of the pandemic – but we have to put health first
I know artists are meant to suffer for their art and die alone in a garret, but this is ridiculous. Cinemas are open, but numbers are drastically down. Theatres and live venues teeter on the edge, balancing health risks and financial risks, trying to plan against possible lockdowns and impossible-to-predict futures. An email from a contact at a major gallery last week informed me that visitor numbers are 80% down from what they should be. The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition – bumped back so it is now called the Winter Exhibition – has just opened, but it won’t be the annual crowd-pleaser it is usually.
I am not romantic about art. The damage to the “creative industries” is not more important than damage to other areas of economic life. I don’t think everyone who calls themselves an artist is owed time and space to express themselves, and enjoy career-long critical attention and a good living just because they have creative urges. But the overwhelming majority of arts projects are not associated with huge venues and big-name impresarios. Instead, they are fragile, freelance, contingent affairs. For every film, play or exhibition that doesn’t happen, there is a huge cohort of producers, technical crew, creative artists and venue staff from sound mixers to bartenders and security who don’t get employed.