Soft power self-sabotage as performing artists denied freedom of movement
Touring, shows, festivals and live performances have always been essential to enhance the prestige and reach of artists, and companies in the performing arts, writes Allègre Hadida, a University Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Fellow of Magdalene College. They also represent a substantial source of revenue, notably in music.
With a decrease in income from traditional recorded music sales that largely surpasses new streaming revenue, touring, shows, festival and live performance fees have now become the main source of income of working musicians.
The lockdowns brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have led to a grave crisis in the performing arts in the UK and around the world. The abrupt halt to touring and in-person performances left many artists unemployed or furloughed, and so far the varied and often truly remarkable creativity they have displayed to still perform and showcase their talent online in recent months has not led to comparable income levels.
Thanks to vaccination, an end to the pandemic may now be in sight. Still, the glimmer of hope that European touring and festivals could resume by the second half of 2021 has been severely tempered by the announcement earlier this month that a proposal of visa-free EU travel for UK touring artists and professional crews had been rejected.
The resulting added bureaucracy, travel delays and insurance costs that this new state of affairs and, potentially, 27 separate country-by-country negotiations entail are likely to deter EU venues, promoters and festival organisers from dealing with British performers and technicians.
The massive uncertainty that comes with them could lead to a dramatic curtailing of British artists touring, performing and finding employment in the EU as well as European artists touring, performing and finding employment in the UK.
The UK government announced back in July 2020 a £1.57billion recovery package for cultural, arts, and heritage institutions, to which an additional £400million in grants and loans were added in December 2020. These punctual interventions, however, have not been fully allocated yet, and will likely not compensate for the multi-million losses incurred during three national lockdowns and save a sector caught between a Covid-19 rock and Brexit hard-place.
Combined with the end of the UK’s membership in Creative Europe, which brought in £40million in arts funding to the country every year, the end of freedom of movement for touring artists and professional crews may be the last nail in the coffin of a UK performing arts sector already devastated by Covid-19. If anything, it may severely damage the prestige of the UK on the international arts scene, and greatly impoverish the cultural offer in the UK and the EU.
Restricting freedom of movement is never a good idea – particularly when it comes to art and artists. Back in 2017, an executive order to ban foreign nationals from seven (predominantly Muslim) countries from entering the United States led several foreign artists based in these countries to cancel their touring engagements in the US, and foreign nationals from said countries living in the US to cancel their travels abroad for fear they would not be authorised to return to their US home after the tour, festival, or play they had been invited to join.
Border closures are detrimental to art forms, art institutions, and artists. They prevent the cross-fertilisation of talents and ideas. Would British writer Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) have been willing and able to move to southern France and chronicle his experience in 1989 without freedom of movement? Would Danish stage director Kasper Holten have stayed on as director of opera at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden from 2011 to 2017 without freedom of movement?
And without freedom of movement, would French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch have found inspiration from his Erasmus exchange programme year – another casualty of Brexit – to write and direct the ‘Spanish Apartment’ trilogy, whose first instalment, Pot Luck, contributed in 2002 to launching the careers of British actors Kelly Reilly, Kevin Bishop and Iddo Goldberg?
When interviewed by University of the West of England professors Gareth Edwards and Nicholas O’Regan in 2019 for an article in Journal of Management Inquiry, former chair of the Royal Society of Arts, Vicky Heywood CBE, mentioned that artists have a role to play as ambassadors, “to ensure that our interests, our dialogues, our content, and our creative impact reflect our European and our rich, diverse British cultural heritage”.
Limiting the freedom of movement of artists in Brexit Britain will severely hinder the country’s soft power influence, and its place in the post-pandemic concert of nations.