Cultural Life Support / not induced coma

A letter to Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Dear Mr Dowden

I have worked in the theatre and festival sector for 45 years, and have 5 years to try and work before retirement.  The industry has enabled me to be freelance and employed, to pay my taxes (and even at times moving to the higher tax bracket). I am now one of hundreds of thousands of workers who may be heading to join the unemployed very soon.

The theatre infrastructure has been nurtured by successive governments and inspiring Ministers across both sides of the house to be an export success story; a supporter for the wellbeing and educational aspirations of this country; a massive driver in community and urban regeneration; a growing centre for direct and indirect employment; a tourism magnet and the envy of the world. You know this of course.

I am so worried however that you and your fellow Cabinet Ministers are choosing to allow charitable and commercial organisations to move to enforced coma in order to survive and then, maybe, to restart and come back to life in a year or more.  The collateral damage will, of course be massive to individuals, to communities, to connected servicing businesses, and in the end to the Treasury coffers.

If the major employers (buildings and regularly funded companies) continue to shut down, then the freelancers (actors, designers, musicians, and administrative supporters) will join the unemployed, or will have to choose to abandon their careers and re-focus their skills.  70 years of talent development will be lost. 

All that work in the last few years to diversify the workforce, to better represent the multi-cultural society in which we all live, to create work which tackles challenging issues and give a platform for marginalised voices – all this will have to start all over again. We have so much more to do. You know all this.

I suspect that you may be having the struggle of your life getting this message across to your Cabinet colleagues before it is too late.  Many of those put into enforced comas will die. The reputation and the interconnected fibres of our culture will be severed and may die without life support.

It will then be for the next generation of creatives to start all over again, if they can find the energy and the will to make it happen.  They will never forgive us if we didn’t fight to keep ourselves and our creativity alive, so that we have a vibrant infrastructure to pass onto them to refashion and take forward, to serve the audiences and participants of the future.

One of the leaders of a major city yesterday talked to a conference challenging us not to be taken down by “the dead weight of the status quo” and described his major challenge to make change as being the “vested interests…the treacle that slows everything down.” I know you as a Minister working with, I suspect, an exhausted Civil Service department, will be trying to manoeuvre through so much treacle. Please continue. Please find a way before it is too late.

Give companies, buildings, organisations, and freelancers a financial life support to allow us to regroup and move forward. Help us move from intensive care to vibrant health without the danger of these induced comas.  Help us get back to paying our taxes, our VAT, employing more and more people, developing intellectual property to share around the world, offer healing and education to those in need. 

But also let us all listen even more to the many inspiring voices who are thinking how theatre and the arts could be better, be different, more diverse, more inclusive, and more effective within the communities we serve.  Let us all – Ministers, leaders, practitioners push through the status quo and the treacle, and reignite our cultural life.

Let us come to remember 2021 as a golden moment of renewal and repair, not a time for despair, recrimination and unemployment caused by a lack of support at this point in 2020.   

Thank you

Chris Grady

Please consider framing your own concerns to oliver [dot] dowden [dot] mp [at] parliament [dot] uk and make sure you cc to enquiries [at] culture [dot] gov [dot] uk so that it goes into the government machine.

My thanks to Louise Penn for sharing their letter and inspiring me to do one too.

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