The UK arts sector has been one of the hardest-hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Anita Choudhrie, Founder of Stellar International Art Foundation. In fact, a new report has projected that the creative sector will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy and is expected to lose £1.4 billion per week in 2020. This economic impact is undeniably devastating and equates to one of the greatest cultural catastrophes this country has witnessed.
Prior to COVID-19, the UK’s creative sector was growing at five times the rate of the wider economy, employing over two million people and contributing over £111 billion to the national economy. Now, the art world is facing exceptional hardships, with the entire art ecosystem scrambling to respond to unprecedented circumstances and onerous financial pressures.
Unfortunately, for many galleries and museums, the pandemic hit just as they were preparing for the busy summer season after the quieter winter months. However, with movement restricted and interaction kept to the bare minimum, the arts sector quickly ground to a halt with exhibitions, shows and events all being cancelled or indefinitely postponed.
It is no exaggeration to say that the effects of the past four months have been particularly disastrous for artists, especially amid a backdrop of sustained cuts to state subsidies for art organisations, galleries and museums. As a result, many institutions were already chronically underfunded and relying on charitable donations to survive.
Amid this harsh reality, it is brilliant that after closing their doors indefinitely over three months ago, major galleries and museums are starting to make plans to re-open and adapt to the ‘new normal’ in a post-COVID landscape. However, whilst funding from commercial companies and philanthropic donations will be crucial in reviving the sector, unfortunately, with devastation spread so far and wide, charitable handouts or one-off boosts in funding simply will not go far enough this time.
Instead, now the priority needs to be creating new opportunities for artists to support them during this unprecedented period. Only by restoring the demand for artists and publicly acknowledging the importance of their work, can we truly reinvigorate art creation across the country and ensure the survival of the vibrant sector.
Naturally, recent events will have a huge impact on the entire art ecosystem, yet it is during moments of such upheaval that art and design can innovate and offer their greatest contribution to society.
Resourceful and resilient
Artists are nothing if not resourceful and resilient, and their work has the power to evoke a sense of togetherness and stimulate the human spirit through shared appreciation. If anything, uniting through a shared experience has become even more powerful during this crisis and artists have the potential to help us make sense of what is going on in the world.
Art reflects how we feel, encourages us to broaden our perceptions and enables us to contemplate the reality we live in. Therefore, whilst it is great to see renowned institutions bouncing back, attention needs to turn to supporting the upcoming artists who are shaping the future of the UK’s vibrant art scene.
Since 2018, Stellar International Art Foundation has put additional resource into supporting female artists with a strong social relevance, by providing a platform to showcase their work and build their profile. Despite the pandemic, our work in this area has continued and in March we held our third annual event in support of International Women’s Day. This year we celebrated the work of emerging artist Adia Wahid, whose focus on algorithms and technology has become even more relevant during the pandemic. We believe that this active engagement is crucial to help propel artists careers and also to help change how individuals engage with the arts and make the sector more accessible to the wider public.
This line of thought has been echoed throughout the art industry with a number of initiatives that aim to provide opportunities for established and emerging artists. For example, back in April, UNESCO launched ResiliArt, a global movement to raise awareness about the creative industries plight and document experiences of resilience from artists. This project has brought attention to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the sector and has highlighted the importance of supporting artists both during and after the crisis.
Moreover, whilst Germany announced a federal aid package of €50 billion to support the arts, instead of allocating huge grants to renowned institutions, they have distributed the funds by giving freelancers €5,000 each to help support the continued creation of art across the country.
A thriving art scene
Ultimately, having a thriving art scene is not about discovering the next artists to grace the walls of a national gallery, it is about creating an environment which facilitates artistic collaboration and encourages individuals to engage with the arts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the arts industry and its legacy will continue to have a long-lasting impact unless drastic action is taken now. Unfortunately, people may not see the importance of supporting the arts following a global pandemic, however, unless this narrative is overhauled and artists are given the opportunity to develop meaningful connections with society, we risk losing one of this country’s most vibrant industries.
We simply cannot allow this to happen and so now, more than ever, it is vital that artists have opportunities to pursue their visions and realise their potential.
The Stellar International Art Foundation:
Established in 2008, The Collection has become internationally renowned for its content, coverage and activities around the globe and is a particular champion of female artists and feminist art. Currently the foundation comprises over 600 works dating from the late 19th Century to the present day, including international artists and ranging from sculptures to paintings. It distinguishes on individual talent rather than regions and gives an insight into the cultural viewpoint of individuals with diverse understandings of the world.
For more information, please visit: https://sia.foundation/
Top image: Anita Choudhrie, courtesdy of Charles Shearn