Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s comments were seen as a snub by artists throughout the country, who feel undervalued and under-supported. That’s not just the creative wealth they provide but the money they generate for the country. Ray Goldsmith caught up with 4 North Devon artists to hear what they thought…
The reporting of the UK’s current Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak caused a stir within the artistic community due to his comments in an ITV interview. And therein lies the rub, as Shakspeare said.
Originally hailed for his efforts to mitigate the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the controversy came in his suggesting that those within the arts and culture sectors should retrain, despite many seeing the problem was created by the Government in the first place.
The headline came from an ITV tweet which has since been deleted and changed “to reflect that the Chancellor’s comments were about employment generally and not specifically about the music or arts sectors.” Their headline now reads: “Rishi Sunak says people in ‘all walks of life’ are having to adapt for employment”. You can read what he actually said here.
On Twitter @evolvepolitics responded to @itvnews with, “There’s a literal video proving he was answering a question specifically about the music and arts sector. You’d rather disavow your own entirely accurate reporting than stand up to the Tories. Pathetic,” the tweet said.
Rethink. Reskill. Reboot
Then there was the short-lived Rethink. Reskill. Reboot ads which were pulled after a massive backlash. What with the MP’s payrise of £3,000, the £10,00 they received at the start of the pandemic and the school meals row, the damage was done and the artistic community responded vigorously.
Artists and musicians shared their anger under the ‘#Fatima’ hashtag with Fatboy Slim calling the ads ‘shameful’ and accusing the Government of ‘throwing the arts under the bus’.
£10billion a year
Yet, according to Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10billion a year to the UK economy, with £3 spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel for every £1 spent on theatre tickets.
Despite this many felt that what Sunak said shows how little the Government know or care about how the country’s artists have been affected by the pandemic.
Interestingly Sunak’s director of communications at the time was Allegra Stratton, who left her position as ITV’s News editor at the start of the pandemic and is to become the new face of Downing Street’s daily televised press briefings. She formely worked for the Guardian and the BBC. In 2011, she married James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator, the conservative magazine which Boris Johnson used to edit.
Adding further to the general public’s sense of alienation, Rishi Sunak is a former head boy at Winchester College, Oxford graduate and married to Akshata Murthy, daughter of Narayana Murthy, the sixth richest billionaire in India, who gained his fortune by co-founding IT firm Infosys, an Indian multinational business consultancy, whose revenue is listed as US $13 billion as of 2020.
Rishi also became a partner at a hedge fund whose dealings led to the government bailout of the Royal Bank of Scotland, precipitating the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The couple are understood to own “at least four properties” which include a five-bedroom mews house in Kensington valued at around £7million.
Therefore, it is not hard to see why he could have little idea how most people in the UK, and especially artists, struggle to get by. Below are responses from some of North Devon’s most talented creative artists.
Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned sculptor based in Appledore. She said, “My response to the ghastly ad is to feel sorry for the Govt. personnel who drafted and approved it. Being creative is part of our nature; a nation which is not creative ie the Soviet Union under Communism, is deficient and unstable. A person who is not creative is incomplete. By creative I mean via all sorts of media, not just the ones we think of in the arts, eg. photography, gardening, fashion, food, interior design, as well as theatre, music, visual arts, etc.
“Every healthy culture in the world from Native Indians to Aboriginal Australians to Western Europe and the USA has art forms. Only sick cultures and sick people do not.”
Sandy Brown, Internationally renowned sculptor
Tamsin Ball is a popular North Devon-based singer and said: “As a professional Classical Crossover Singer of 11 years, I found it particularly ludicrous and frustrating how politician Rishi Sunak suggested musicians and other people in the arts sector “should retrain and find other jobs”. I have put my heart and soul into my music career and live to entertain. I feel that the people in the arts industry have been dismissed and undervalued. The live music industry alone brought in £4.5 billion last year.
“After seeing my revenue plummet as a result of the pandemic it was an extra ‘kick in the teeth’ to hear these comments when what artists actually need is some support and measure so that we can find a way to get back to what we do best! I CANNOT accept giving up practicing my profession, it’s my life and my passion. What would life be without music and entertainment?”
Tamsin Ball, Professional Classical Crossover Singer
Yazzy Chamberlain is a singer songwriter well known across the region. “Last Saturday evening I played a gig at a local bar, Escape Down The Rabbit Hole… every table was booked, and every face had a smile…music not only makes the artist feel good, but the audience. Music is a medicine for the heart, soul and mind… how can that not be valued?”
Yazzy, Singer,Songwriter, musician
Owen Watson – OpenMind
OpenMind are an Ilfracombe based band. Their guitarist Owen Watson spoke out, “Most artists in smaller, local bands work part-time or full-time jobs in other fields of work to support their passion for music. Some band members might work in hospitality, travel and tourism, manufacturing, or construction for example. The point is that we are already working in other jobs whilst we follow our passions.
“Our keyboard wielding frontman, Noel, was fortunate enough to already have the skills and equipment to change his in-house piano tutoring into an online format. Not all artists are fortunate like this. Many artists and bands rely on performing live to gain anything from their skills. We believe that the Government needs to be providing more of an incentive for performing artists, with the goal of performing for an audience again. The arts cannot die out because of the pandemic and because of the decisions made by those in power.”
Owen Watson, guitarist, with Ilfracombe band OpenMind
Photos: Sandy Brown and OpenMind by Ray Goldsmith. Photos of Tamsin Ball and Yazzy courtesy of the artist.