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The Accessibility of the Arts: The Creative Sector vs COVID-19

Abi Ramsay analyses the effect that COVID- 19 has had on access to the arts.

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Image Credit: Charlotte Graham

On the 16th March 2020, Boris Johnson made his announcement that we were to “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues,” ending life, and the arts, as we knew it. Three lockdowns, an abundance of social distancing, and many tiers later, the vaccination is being distributed, but it is still a long time until large venues will be able to return to their usual capacity.

These restrictions have hit those working in the creative sphere particularly hard, with economic balance and livelihood depending on the ticket sales and revenue from live concerts, theatre, musicals, festivals and art exhibitions around the globe. By the 22nd April 2020, more than 83 million people had been affected globally by the cancellation of artistic events, leading to a revaluation of how to distribute creative materials to a large audience in a pandemic.

As lockdowns became inevitable, and theatres could only open with a reduced capacity, many companies, such as The National Theatre, the Visual Artists Association and Billboard started increasing the number of online streams and shows. This rise in online artistic experiences allowed society once more to indulge in their favourite creative genre, whilst also exposing those more unfamiliar with a trip to the theatre with the ability to get a taste for new genres.

Nowadays, the average theatre ticket will cost £27.10 (2018), with West End tickets ranging anywhere between £19.31 and £117.52. Many of the more affordable tickets will be paired with a ‘visual warning’ such as a pillar blocking some of your peripheral view of the stage. With an increase in viewing pleasure equating to an increase in price, it is clear as to why theatre going is often viewed as a more middle class venture; the economics of the theatre mean an expanding need for a larger disposable income. This is the same with ballets, costing around $60 for an average ticket, and live concerts costing £47.14 (2018).

However, the pandemic has granted bargaining access to some of these experiences that would, this time last year, have been unaffordable for a student budget. The National Theatre is offering subscriptions for £8.32 a month or £6.66 to rent an individual show, with productions like Othello, War Horse and Julie all being available to screen. Billboard is also offering live stream concerts, with Justin Bieber producing a New Years Gig in line with T-Mobile, which was free to T-Mobile customers and $25 for everyone else.

Disney+’s partnership with Lin Manuel Miranda last year allowed the famed production of ‘Hamilton’ to be available for Disney+ subscribers, with 2.7 million households streaming the show in the 10 days after it was released; more viewers than the first 10 days of live shows for its premier in 2015.

This rise in the accessibility of the arts has also been shown in the TikTok phenomenon of Ratatouille: The Musical. In August of 2020, Emily Jacobson, a teacher from New York, posted a video on TikTok that soon went viral. Her original video showed her making up an imagined song for the character of ‘Remy’ from Disney’s 2007 film Ratatouille- ‘the rat of all my dreams’. Her concept completely took off, with millions of people showing interest in the idea. Other TikTok users jumped at the opportunity for a laugh, by making up dances, other songs and orchestral arrangements, before Lucy Moss, co-creator of the hit musical Six, turned it into a real production.

On 1st January 2021, Ratatouille: The Musical was streamed for charity ‘The Actors Fund’ and raised over $1 million, with tickets ranging from $5-$100. This phenomenon saw Queen’s Adam Lambert, comedian Wayne Brady and many other musical theatre stars get involved, as well as a 20 piece Broadway Sinfonietta orchestra. This allowed the arts to become primarily accessible for the Gen-Z audience, with 13-24 year olds being responsible for 69% of TikTok’s demographic.

Although the inclusive nature of online artistic ventures has allowed concepts and mediums to thrive in a creative capacity as never before, the decrease in pricing for many of these beloved shows and events has had a detrimental effect on those employed in the creative sector.

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre believes that “[the] cultural and creative sectors are likely to have lost 80 per cent of their turnover in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the containment measures”, with the continuation of a lockdown in 2021 being responsible for perhaps many more final closures of creative industries.

Now, more than ever, it is important to find continued support for the arts, by joining subscription services for theatre, concerts and art exhibitions online, or donating to charities helping those in need in these sectors, until, once again, we can venture through the doors of these large venues and watch these artistic feats in person.

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