The arts face an uphill battle for survival post-Covid and post-Brexit, especially with new restrictions on touring. Even loops in the new rules may not help much, reports Olivia Bridge, political correspondent for the legal consultancy the Immigration Advice Service.

The UK arts and culture sector, encompassing museums to music venues, dancers to singers and curators to art dealers, have long witnessed austerity’s merciless assault on their staff, resources and artefacts. Budget cuts across the board in recent years have seen museums’ cherished collections at risk with local councils, especially in the North, having little choice but to flog items in a bid to ameliorate the hardship.

However, those that clung on by their fingernails in the first blip may finally fall from the cliff edge: the 2021 forecast predicts a high tide of severe recession, spurred by a double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.

As the UK begins to inch nearer to some degree of normality with pubs, shops and cinemas beginning to open, culture and heritage sites remain anxious. Museum directors fear the social distancing measures, loss of audio tours, school trips and both domestic and overseas tourism will spiral financial losses to lower than if they had remained closed. While one report by the Creative Industries Federation estimated that UK museums would only lose 9% of their  normal revenue, but the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) finds the figure to be “at odds with reality” as evidence continues to point to an average 50% decrease in income.

Rebuilding visitor numbers remains a prevailing problem. As a result, experts in the field are lobbying the government to extend its furlough scheme to soften the blow they predict awaits around the corner, especially if a second spike comes. However, even with furlough in place, the government has been notably conservative in its handouts and aid packages to help UK arts sectors. In fact, most support packages that came to rescue charities largely excluded most museums in England, presenting the threat of some facing permanent closure or being forced to sell objects.

Sadly, the tale is all too familiar for the performing arts industry: 70% of UK theatres expect to face financial hardship by 2021 and a grave loss of jobs, sparked by an 80% plummet in ticket sales. Several theatres have already cancelled their Christmas pantomimes, nominally an annual budget booster.

As for the music industry, musicians, artists and bands have warned that Covid-19 could be an “extinction level event” for some venues, impacting an “entire generation of artists”. KT Tunstall, ambassador of the Music Venue Trust, estimates as many as 97% of grassroots venues are unable to function with social distancing measures in place. And those that do open leave musicians to face the bleak prospect of a dwindled, spread-out crowd.

However, arriving at a wholly inconvenient time when the arts and culture sector may begin to bounce back is the post-Brexit immigration rules that are set in stone for January 2021.

In as little as four months’ time art dealers and commercial galleries transporting artworks will face costly tariff barriers. Gone are the days of zero tariff on imports, ramping up the costs of borrowing, lending and shipping key artefacts into the country. The fall out could see London knocked from its top position as Europe’s largest art market. 

The new visa rules that are designed on a points-based system are likely to impact dancing troupes and theatre performers, the former of which currently secures almost half of its talent from across the continent. However, at least dancers have been placed on the UK Shortage Occupation List, granting choreographers, ballet dancers and skilled contemporary dancers lower thresholds to secure a visa - and at a discounted cost. 

As for theatre performers and productions, industry experts fear Brexit may result in fewer international productions making their way to UK stages. Drama schools will further need to prepare to issue student visas for young foreign talent who aren’t deterred by the hiked international tuition fees they will need to pay in 2021. 

The UK music sector has been vociferously opposed to the post-Brexit immigration rules since the get-go, perhaps unsurprising since the UK has long benefitted from free movement and the single market. British artists who have attempted to tour further afield, such as in the US, are all too familiar with the logistical challenges, costs and regulations in doing so, and fear that such bureaucracy will apply in a similar fashion to each EU country. Similarly, non-EEA performers planning to tour in the UK have already complained about visa refusals and significant delays, presenting little hope when the backlogged queue extends to include Europeans.

There are a few ways EU entertainers will be able to enter the country. The first is as a visitor via the Visit Visa route, but the key stipulation of this visa dictates holders are unable to engage in “paid or unpaid employment” unless they are participating in a Permit Free Festival. By contrast, the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa will allow artists to perform (and receive payment) for up to one month in the UK – but this route is only applicable to those who are invited to carry out one job, and still they must have a ‘formal invitation from a UK-based arts organisation, broadcaster or agent.’

The most favourable route is therefore the temporary Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Visa which allows successful applicants the chance to work in the UK for up to 12 months. However, applicants will need a UK sponsor and at least £1,000 in savings.

Still, with the paperwork, heightened taxation and the new levies on transporting equipment and merchandise, EU artists and their crew may as well choose to knock the UK off their touring list and enjoy free performing across the rest of the Continent instead. 

As for British musicians attempting to make a name for themselves, the carnet cost to transport merchandise (£325) coupled with needing to apply and pay for a visa per each EU state may price them out of the opportunity.

Smaller organisations and individuals who lack the resources, administrative capacity and financial support will be hit with these rules the hardest. As most creatives in the arts sector are self-employed and take up gigs as, when and where they can, Brexit laces red tape across the runway: artists and performers will no longer be able to board a plane or a train to perform overseas with little notice. 

Campaigners are now arguing for a reciprocal Musicians’ Passport with the EU which would ameliorate the paperwork – and the headache. But it is highly unlike the government – which prefers to swing the gates open to high earners, investors and STEM researchers – will consider such a route. 

Without reform to the immigration rules, it appears the odds are stacked against the arts at every turn. At a time when the industry needs as much support as it can gather to resuscitate the sector once coronavirus has ravaged through it, Brexit may just cull all of its efforts.


Print Email

Patreon message

If you enjoy what we do at Arts Industry and want to show your support, why not become a Patron? A small amount each month will help us keep doing what we do and improve our website.