Our World Without Culture is No Place to be

the UK’s world-leading creative organisations are in deep trouble

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From rainbows on windows, to singing on Italian balconies, we have turned to art, music and storytelling to get us through this challenging time. But whilst many of us are staying home watching Netflix, listening to Spotify and exploring innovative ways of communicating through creative tech platforms such as Zoom and TikTok, the reality is that many of the UK’s world-leading creative organisations are in deep trouble.

Before Covid-19 hit, the UK’s creative industries were one of the fastest growing economic sectors, generating £111bn in GVA (greater than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined) and growing at five times the rate of the economy as a whole. However, with venues, museums and cinemas closed, film shoots postponed and festivals cancelled, we are starting to see a very different picture.

A recent survey of the sector by the Creative Industries Federation found that 1 in 7 creative organisations only had reserves to last until the end of April, whilst 62% of self-employed creative workers had seen 100% of their income disappear overnight. Coupled with the loss of income from ticketed venues (74% of music venues, according to the Music Venues Trust, say that they are on the brink of collapse), it is no exaggeration to say that, without urgent government intervention, the UK’s world-leading creative sector is on course for a catastrophe.

That’s why, at the Creative Industries Federation, we’ve launched a campaign to raise awareness of Our World Without Culture to ‘paint a picture’ of a world where such a phrase wouldn’t be recognised; where performers would be confined to the acoustics of their bathroom; where shared experiences of art, theatre, music, all sectors that create the unique culture of the UK, wouldn’t exist. Together, we can urge government to provide emergency funding for our creative organisations. With over 500 signatories on our open letter to government, including Nick Cave, Paloma Faith, Stephen Fry, Meera Syal and Simon Calloway, we believe in the future of our sector and together, we are stronger.

The creative industries are a delicate and atomised ecology – predominately comprised of very small businesses and the self-employed – and their fragility means that time is of the essence. The uncomfortable truth is that banks are never going to be a solution for most of these creative organisations, many of whom employ under five staff and turnover less than £500k. Perceived to be high risk by mainstream lenders, creative businesses typically don’t have much success securing bank loans: it is three times more likely for a creative business to finance their business using their own money, or investment from family and friends, compared to SMEs in general. The advice that businesses should access the government-backed support loans from their ‘usual lender’ is made infinitely trickier if your ‘usual lender’ is either yourself or your parents.

On top of finding the loans almost impossible to secure, many creative organisations are also not eligible for the government’s Retail, Hospitality and Leisure grants, either because they do not have commercial premises (working from home or serviced offices) or because they fall outside the scheme’s scope – for example printers, fashion houses, recording studios and theatre warehousing. What this crisis has exposed is that the support mechanisms that government uses just don’t work for the creative and cultural sector, and we need to think quickly – and creatively – about new solutions.

The UK government has always adopted a ‘sector agnostic’ approach towards its interventions, but the current crisis facing our creative sector is untenable. In Germany, the government has set aside €50bn to support microbusinesses and freelancers, with explicit help going to those in the creative sector. In Austria, a government fund has been set up for microbusinesses, nonprofits and cultural organisations with grants of up to €800,000 per business; in Sweden, there is a €46 million fund for cancelled cultural events; and in France, €22m of new money has been made available to support cultural institutions.

The UK has been a hub of extraordinary creative leadership and inventiveness for generations. Our culture has not only been one of our major exports and built our international reputation, it has also held our communities together and comforted us in times of darkness. We need our political leaders to acknowledge the crucial role culture and creativity plays, both economically and socially, and stand up for our cultural institutions and our creative businesses, both small and large. Our imagination and creativity will be the fuel that generates new ideas, products, services and solutions. And it is through harnessing this imagination that the UK will begin to build a new future. We will need that creative ecology to rebuild our country. Now, we need our politicians to step forward and take some bold action to help us do so.

Find out more about the Creative Industries Federation free six month membership offer here.