As a freelance, self-employed Tour Manager, Stage Manager, Sound Tech, tutor and mentor (amongst the many others hats we all now have to wear on any normal day in the arts industry), I found myself during the pandemic lockdown speaking up on behalf of that highly skilled community on BBC Radio Norfolk. It was in light of the public campaign at the time ‘#WeMakeEvents’.
I’d like to point out that the Arts and Culture industry contributed £2.8 billion in taxation to the treasury in 2019 alone. Dig a little deeper at those numbers and we will see an industry that in a single year contributes £10.8 billion pounds to the UK economy and has grown by £390 million in a year. Productivity in the arts and culture industry between 2009 and 2016 was greater than that of the economy as a whole.
It is an industry that employs one third of a million people. An industry that behind the scenes supports even more industry and workers from other sectors such as hospitality and so on.
The list is long. Trucking, Caterers, Riggers, Lighting Techs, Sound Techs, Box Office staff, Ushers, Promotional staff, Venue management, Caretakers, Rehearsal spaces, Recording Studios, Equipment repair, Equipment providers and Hire firms, Van hire, Drivers, Runners, Photographers, Filmographers, Editors, Science Communicators, Educational shows for schools.... the list goes on and on, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
These people allow culture, arts, museums and much more to exist. Culture and arts are like a mirror on society at any given time. The creators and audiences share a unique view into the light and dark of communities. Dickens reflected back a dark and harsh life in Victorian Britain for example. Bob Dylan and the protest singers of the 50s and 60s again told stories of hard times, politics, and the lives of everyday people. Every era of art, literature and culture bared the ugly and beautiful truth to us.
Of course sometimes culture is where we seek to escape the harsher realities of life. From Westerns to Science Fiction we seek escapism and adventure. The same with music. We dance and sing, join together and celebrate. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom!
Now some may argue "It's only the arts" Well, think for one moment about spending a day without art around you in some form or another during your daily life. Radio, literature, interior design, artwork, music, film, television and so on.
Who makes the sound work on the radio? Who films those shows on TV? Who writes the scripts, the poetry, the books, the plays? Who animates computer games? And who subsequently has the skill set to create these beautiful and enriching things which entertain us?
Norwich is incredibly rich in venues for the arts from Norwich Arts Centre through to The Playhouse, The Madder Market, The Brickmakers, EPIC, The Waterfront. The many galleries and museums. And don’t forget the wonderful local hospitality industry that will rely in part on theatre and gig goers. Many of whom are local, independent businesses.
Wymondham is a growing town. It has many great spaces where arts and culture could be rich and engaging for everyone. We have Kett’s Books, Becket's Chapel and the Ex-Service’s Club and many pubs and spaces that cater to some really special events and activities.
But what are we doing for young people to have space, venues and programmes for cultivating their path to a hobby or career in arts and culture? Our young people in particular can really benefit from getting involved in artistic and creative pursuits from theatre to music and visual arts.
Social media platforms provide a voice, using creativity for video for example. Online skills for podcasting, YouTube vlogging and so on can be a good start for many careers. The benefits of the arts are plentiful and wide-ranging: Self confidence, working as a team, self esteem, organisational skills, social skills. And particularly for young people, a way to express themselves.
The arts include science communication so often now also. We are in the tech corridor between Norwich and Cambridge. Another rich seam we can mine for the benefit of the town.
The list of positive outcomes which can come from supporting arts and culture is longer than I have space for in this article. But I think you get the idea.
It is my hope that in the coming months and years our local Town Council will see the benefits of fostering a wide and inclusive arts and culture programme.
Matt Watson is a local singer songwriter and musician, Tour and production manager, mentor and tutor. Matt grew up in Wymondham.