After January 2021, European artists may need visas to tour the UK – what impact might this have on British festivals? Nick Awde finds out
Europe is indelibly built into the UK’s arts. The cross-cultural partnership creates jobs and opportunities, but should freedom of movement with the European Union end in January 2021, it will have a major impact on domestic festivals’ ability to plan and programme after this date.
“Companies based in Europe make up about 80% of our programme,” says Miguel Oyarzun, who is festival co-director of Birmingham’s BE Festival with Isla Aguilar. “We programme companies with an average of three to four members. If the government’s plan to limit the number of visas each organisation can apply for goes ahead, it will have a significant impact on the amount and size of companies we can programme.”
There’s also the additional cost implication, as well as finding the resources to process the red tape. “Wanting to programme the work we feel is relevant, rather than merely the work we can actually programme, will force us to rework the whole timeline of the festival,” adds Oyarzun.
“The cost of visa applications can be enormous – and then you might not get them,” says Joe Mackintosh, chief executive for SeaChange Arts and artistic director of Great Yarmouth’s Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts. “And the situation for artists from non-EU countries is already challenging.
“In the past we’ve had great difficulty gaining visas and work permits for African artists, for example – even for those who have a full European tour lined up and no such problems touring there.”
Further barriers may mean only certain companies in certain countries have easier visa access, generating a two-speed system.
It’s too early to tell, but the signs are that things won’t change too much for EU artists in ‘straightforward’ touring shows. But, as Mackintosh points out, in sectors such as circus and street arts, it’s common for companies to be made up of different nationalities.
“When booking a French company you may be booking one French national, two Moroccans, one Argentinean, one Algerian – this makes a promoter’s life complicated.”
Oyarzun says: “Our festival team is international, so visa procedures and permits will have an impact on our festival’s capacity to work with international arts professionals.”
The effect on the UK’s artistic landscape is more worrying. For a European artist, it changes whether they decide to base themselves in the UK rather than just sometimes performing here.
And then for UK-based companies regularly touring in Europe, it may be easier to employ EU artists for ease of touring rather than UK ones.
“International exchange and collaboration requires compromise and investment,” says Oyarzun. “Most of all in an industry that works on tight budgets while living and nurturing itself from that. Limiting free access will make this exchange more difficult.”
Mackintosh adds: “In street arts and circus, it has been especially hard for UK companies to break into the international markets and much of the ‘breaking in’ has been aided by people like us working through EU projects with European festivals in the exchange and co-commissioning of our artists. It will become even harder unless we develop new forms of partnership outside of EU projects.”