Did we take a step back to the 1970s? The current UK economy and the arts.
It’s only the start of the year but things are feeling a little bit bleak. Things seem completely f*cked to be quite honest.
Striking workers, rising prices, cost-of-living squeezes, and the news of layoffs from the biggest companies in the world, including those in the music industry. Maybe you’ve seen the discussion around the similarities with the early 1970s strikes which lead to a conservative government being ousted. Look, I wasn’t there. But if you know much about history, you’ll know things did not drastically improve for workers. Labour took over for a while, but then came 1978. That brought the “Winter of Discontent” which saw Margaret Thatcher elected as the first female British Prime Minister, and the longest serving in the 20th century.
Why do we all feel like we’re struggling more than we can remember, even post 2008?
Wages are increasing – somewhere around 7% based on the latest ONS data, but even that’s well below the wage growth of the 1970s.
So the reason we feel poorer, is because despite wage growth, in real terms (as in, when we adjust for inflation) we are. UK RPI (the one that includes the cost of mortgages) adjusted wage growth is negative 8%, which on an albeit different but similar nominal wage growth measure is worse than it was in the 1970s.
We’ll leave the debate on whether more wage growth now would add to more inflation in the future, but think of it this way, even inflation reverting back to the government’s now stated goal of below 5%, that doesn’t mean prices will start falling, merely that they’re rising less.
Is there any good news?
Technically, there is still a lot of demand for workers relative to the number of workers available to fill those jobs – i.e. unemployment is low, just under half that of the late 70s and well below the almost 12% in the recession of the early 80s. So in other words, it could be worse, for most of us, there are employment opportunities, and that means there is at least some form of income.
Why am I telling you any of this?
Because of the drastic impact the current state of the economy has, and will continue to have on the arts. And although an economic crisis and public upset with the government can lead to art being created - hello punk rock - it means resources will be stripped and demand for those resources will be at an all time high. If you’re reading this it’s likely you’re in the music industry, and care about what the impact is on the creative industries, and what we can do to try to turn things around. We all want a job that’s fairly paid, and that we enjoy.
So how does an economic crisis impact the creative industry?
Economic downturns often result in cuts to government funding for the arts, which can lead to reduced funding for arts organisations, museums, and other cultural institutions. This can make it harder for artists to find work and for organisations to support their work.
Reduced demand to shows, merch and more
Economic downturns can also lead to a reduction in consumer demand for art and entertainment. This can make it harder for artists to sell their work and for organisations to fill their venues.
Difficulty securing funding and grants
In an economic crisis, funding for the arts can become even more competitive, which can make it harder for artists and organisations to secure funding. We see people smiling at us through gritted teeth if we announce a successful funding bid that they didn’t quite get this time round. We won’t want it to be that way, we want every worthwhile cause to be funded.
Insecurity in freelance work
Many people working in the arts are self-employed or work on a freelance basis, which means they often lack the stability of a regular paycheck. Economic downturns can make it even more difficult for them to find work, leading to financial insecurity.
Mental health impact
The uncertainty and insecurity brought on by an economic crisis can have a negative impact on the mental health of those working in the arts industries, leading to stress, anxiety, and depression. This is something that makes me especially sad. Our nominated charity is Help Musicians. If we ever go under and have any assets leftover after everything’s paid back, we would donate the remaining to Help Musicians charity who have dedicated 24/7 mental health resources. Take a look at our resources page if you're feeling like you need to speak to someone about how you're feeling and coping.
Reduced public access to cultural events
Economic downturns can also lead to a reduction in access to cultural events for people in general. This can have a negative impact on the general population's well-being as culture and art are important for personal growth and community building.
What can I do about it?
So, all of that sucks, but maybe you’re wondering what can you do to help artists for free that isn’t too labour intensive for you? Burnout is real, we want to support the babes but we are a little bit tired of fighting the patriarchy all day every day. Or, if you are an artist, what can you ask your fans to do if they can’t afford to pay for gigs, or buy your merch? You love them, you want them to be able to engage with your art as freely as possible if possible.
Share your faves' work
Share links to the artist's work on social media, tell your friends and family about them and encourage others to check out their work.
Leave a review
If you've enjoyed an artist's work, leave a review on their website, social media. Trust matters and a lot of indie artists are working in new ways, so have their own ecosystems which rely on direct sales. So your words can make a difference between someone commiting to commissioning their work.
Follow your faves on social media
Follow the artist on social media and engage with their content. This helps to increase their visibility and can lead to more opportunities for them. We want to see our besties get to the bag.
Attend or throw free or pay what you can events
Many artists offer free events such as open mic nights, poetry readings, or gallery openings that you can attend. If you’re an artist maybe see if there’s a local that wouldn’t mind you hosting an event at - you can create a “pay what you can” ticket option, so people can pay what they feel they can afford. The nightlife industry is struggling too, and a new audience is always welcome.
Join online communities
Join online communities such as Facebook groups, Reddit, or forums that support the artist's work and contribute to the conversation. If you’re an artist, and you haven’t had a look at Reddit communities, I would definitely recommend it.
If an artist's income is under threat, sign petitions in support of them. There’s loads of petitions making the rounds that directly or indirectly impact artists at the moment. We often share them on our instagram page.
Write to your local MP
Encourage your local politicians to support the arts and culture in your area. You may get a generic response back, but every annoying voice in your MP’s inbox matters. If enough of you DM me to write a template letter, I’ll probably chuck one together. We can make a ripple effect together. The first time I wrote to my MP, I felt like a proper adult for the first time ever. I was 32.
None of this is groundbreaking stuff, I appreciate that. But sometimes just seeing people enjoy your art is enough. A lot of us don’t get into music for the love of money, we’re here because we love music. If we can enjoy it in a way that doesn’t leave us brassic for the rest of the month, whilst supporting our faves, then we’re here for it.
If you can afford to support us, you can donate to us by following this link. If you can’t but you still want to support us, please keep commenting and re-posting our stuff, and if you can, get down to an event or two. We’d love to see you so we can create an in-person community.
Feel free to reach out to us via our instagram page @cactuscityuk