We started the week with one of the country’s greatest artists, the Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus, facing redundancy – and it only grew worse from there. In the Tories’ ongoing quest to rid the nation of any fun whatsoever, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said this week in an interview that the public – including those working as musicians and performers – might have to think about retraining in light of the pandemic.
I am a stand-up comedian, but work three days a week as a picture editor, two or three shifts a week at a pub, write this column and do pretty much anything else I can while making a bit of money from comedy too. It’s only those at the very top of their respective games in the arts who make enough money to actually live the life they want to.
I know comedians with regular TV gigs who work at charities, tech companies and as waiters by day. I know screenwriters of huge TV shows who do tedious copywriting for banks to pay the bills; artists who work as tour guides; actors who temp as receptionists. The point is, we ‘retrain’ all the time. We just don’t shout about it – a bit like Tory MPs don’t when they have second gigs as the Chairman of a board somewhere for six figures, or as the editor of The Evening Standard.
Despite the fact that it happens across the board in the arts, it’s unspoken. You want people to think you earn enough from your profession. As Tim Burgess pointed out on Twitter, were the bankers asked to retrain when they actually fucked it up for everyone? No. Of course not. And this isn’t even our fault! This Government licks the boot of the City and must imagine that whatever they watch, listen to or enjoy after work is just conjured from thin air: “Bring forth the jesters of the court!’
Creatives work hard. If you boost the arts, you’re not paying people to sit around and spend months coming up with a new play. You’re just about keeping us afloat while we serve you in restaurants and look after your kids and work for your brand.
Being in the arts isn’t something you go into for the money. We know the deal at the start. For all the Instagram quotes telling you to follow your dreams, when have you ever been met with anything but scepticism when telling someone you’re going to follow them? Just post the quote and go back to being an office drone. It’s safe. It’s responsible.
The Government seems to think that the arts isn’t an industry worth saving. But we are working our bollocks off trying to make something for other people to enjoy. And we need it. Britain has had the worst arts rescue package in Europe, and without the arts – without theatre, comedy, dance, music, books, TV and poetry – not only is there no fun, but there is no spotlight on the Government. There is no way of highlighting what’s going on through culture, no mirror held up to their utter bullshittery.
And don’t tell me they don’t have the money. This is the Government that has spunked millions up the wall selling contracts to their mates for inadequate Test & Trace apps and private deals for PPE that didn’t meet regulations. And, if we delve into the archive, £13.8 million for a ferry service with no ferries. Not to mention the million-pound Union Jack repaint job on BoJo’s jet.
Meanwhile, the City trades on, big business pay minimal tax and the Tories continue to peddle the narrative that they dealt with this crisis impeccably. Give the arts a proper cash injection (not the hit-and-miss Culture Recovery Fund, which seems unlikely to reach the who musicians who need it) and keep them afloat like other industries have been afforded. The NHS saves lives. The arts improve lives.
Granted, Tories’ idea of a fun night is parlour games, singalongs and guessing who can tie their jumper round their shoulders quickest (I imagine). They might never have had their lives changed in a dive bar watching a band, cried with laughter above a sweaty pub down a back street, or worked two jobs to be able to put on your one-man play for three nights in a village hall.
I take back what I said at the start: I’m not level-headed. Every week the arts feel ignored and unimportant is one more week where the collective anger rises. So in the words of Bob Geldof, don’t tell us to retrain – just “give us your fucking money”.