We will need radical solutions to truly value our artists, but collaboration between theatre workers at all levels is key to the industry’s recovery
At last there is an answer, and a number. A significant number: £1.57 billion. It’s the biggest one-off government investment in the arts in my lifetime, during which I have made the case – the economic case, the instrumental case, the intrinsic case, the emotional case, the educational case, the talent case, the civic case – for stories in which we all see ourselves, the case for joy.
In no other country in Europe does one spend thousands of hours convincing fellow citizens that we need the arts; here it requires more of us than the making of art itself. Yet all that labour had not, in fact, prepared us for this monster shift, this day and night of persuasion, writing, rewriting, number-crunching, listening, wrangling, refining and going again.
So now we are tired, but hopeful. We have been heard, and given the means to save ourselves – from the worst. We’ve also learned a lot. I think we have learned to listen to one another like never before, and yet as I write that sentence I know so many feel unheard, unacknowledged and fearful that this great package won’t reach them – that those deciding won’t know what they contribute, or won’t know how to ensure they can continue to do so.
I’m frightened, too, that the scale of the challenge to distribute these funds equitably and effectively, in ways that protect the most vulnerable and the most needed in the theatre, will be beyond us. We must respect the whole thrilling, infuriating ecology of it all: we will need infrastructure, however strong the desire to tear it down, but we need to make that infrastructure more porous and more accountable.
The iniquities of our sector are reflections of the society in which we live, but we must lead the way in dismantling them
We must understand the difference between the impossible and the simply uncomfortable. We will need radical solutions to truly value our artists, and I don’t know how we do that quickly. But I know the voices we most need to remake ourselves are the most likely to walk away.
We need to recognise that the iniquities of our sector are reflections of the society in which we live, but we must also lead the way in dismantling them. We must serve our communities and redouble our efforts to earn their trust.
These challenges require energy and clarity of thought, and must be met while desperately seeking clarity on how to actually open our theatres. But I have hope, and not only because of the scale of this investment. I have hope because collaboration is what we know: safely but courageously speaking truth to one another, making us all sharper and readier.
We must do that now like never before: we must learn and we must unlearn. Yes, let’s build back better but let’s also “fail again, fail better”. The devil, I think, is not in the detail: it is in us – we can do this so long as we recognise that it will not be easy nor perfect, it will just be our life’s work. Onwards.