By Kitty Cooper
It’s been over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic began and the handling and effects of the pandemic will likely be studied and debated indefinitely. As the tides appear to be turning, I sat down with Liz Barker, co-founder of the March for the Arts collective, to discuss what the pandemic has meant for them.
The March for the Arts was set up in June in response to the effects of lockdown measures on the arts industry. Liz, Becky Webb and Gemma Dunne sat in a zoom meeting for a protest against the lack of funding for the arts throughout Covid-19. All three volunteered as organisers and thus began the March for the Arts collective.
However, just as they began to organise the march, the government announced their Cultural Recovery Fund which put the physical protest on hold whilst they worked out what this meant for the industry.
This didn’t, on the other hand, stop them from marching forward with their online campaign; emphasising the importance of the arts. A key, underpinning statistic for their demand for ‘fair funding for all’ was highlighted in the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) report, published in February 2020. It stated that the arts industry brings £111 billion into the UK economy; the equivalent of £306 million every single day.
“And people just don’t know that” Liz said.
Furthermore, the collective quickly realised that, in fact, the government’s scheme wasn’t going to be enough to keep the industry afloat.
“There’s 3 million people in the country excluded from any kind of financial support and the way that the government has not supported certain freelancers and sole traders, I think is appalling.”
Liz was furloughed from her work as a contracted technician at the Everyman and Playhouse theatres and remembers building a set as news of the first National lockdown began to trickle in, along with the gradual realisation that there wasn’t going to be a show. Despite Liz being in a position where government support was available, many freelancers working on similar projects were not so lucky.
The key issue, Liz describes, is around the “ecology of the arts”. Despite government officials seemingly supporting the arts by ‘saving’ the Globe and the National Theatre, without proper support for the freelance workers who produce, write and act in the shows, the whole concept begins to crumble.
“In the arts you’re looking at a massive proportion of workers being freelance – it’s 50% across the whole creative industries and in theatre it’s 80%.”
Potential plans for tours and summer performances are also under threat, despite hopes being raised for much needed live performances after Boris’ announcement of his 4-step roadmap out of lockdown.
“I think there is real potential for a lot of outdoor work this summer, but Rishi Sunak is still delaying on insurance for outdoor events. They will only offer indemnity if it could be evidenced that there is a significant or catastrophic loss of market. I don’t know of any more catastrophic loss of market then there is existing right now.”
After six months of voluntary work, the March for the Arts collective took on a fourth member, Caitlin Clough and secured funding for a project they hope will continue to have a positive impact on the creative arts and solidify their necessity in Liverpool after the pandemic.
“This pandemic is offering us a pause and we can use it as a chance to change.”
Their current project is to create a ‘freelance working agreement’ and a ‘freelance directory’, by May 2021.
The working agreement will be designed and signed up to by freelancers and creative organisations, creating a best practice document for Liverpool’s creative industry and will be written by a committee of freelancers, organisational representatives and a member of the council.
“Everyone from the CEO of the biggest organisations in the city region, to the individual, working-three-jobs-a-week-freelancers want this project to happen and that’s what is really key for us.”
Meanwhile, the freelance directory will be a local document, filled with freelancers, not dissimilar to Spotlight in all but exclusivity and the existence of a paywall.
“A lot of organisations don’t advertise when they have jobs and a lot of organisations tend to fill jobs through nepotism and we want to challenge that.”
I’m gripped by Liz’s excitement about the upcoming project. In a city as culturally diverse and artistically driven as Liverpool, it seems the perfect setting for such a project. After a year of consistently negative news, the collective appears to give a ray of light to an industry so badly bruised.
“I’m not suggesting it’s a magical ‘one thing will fix everything’, but I really do feel going through a pandemic together gives you a sort of desire for more unity, more togetherness and a better push for a better environment.”
Though optimistic, the hope for a brighter future seems fitting as we embark on the next stages of the pandemic, with outdoor event pilots set to begin as early as April 12th.