Caroline Norbury on the creative crisis caused by Covid-19

The CEO of Creative England and the Creative Industries Federation talks to us about the disciplines worst hit by the Covid-19 crisis, why the system has never fit the creative sector, and why we need to address the present before heading into the future

The last few months have presented the world with a health crisis like no other, and has left a tragic path of destruction in its wake that many countries are still battling. Beyond the obvious tragedy that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, the Covid-19 pandemic has also upturned lives and, for many, livelihoods – particularly in the creative industries, which are prone to slipping through the cracks of support at the best of times.

The Creative Industries Federation (CIF) recently sent an open letter to ­­the government on behalf of creatives around the UK, urging action to help support the industries with emergency funding. Despite furloughing schemes and a wealth of creative organisations offering their own sources of funding, creatives are still falling through the gaps.

A regular publisher of research on the creative industries, CIF recently released figures from surveys indicating that 60% of creative freelancers in the UK expect to lose half of their revenue in 2020. Already, half of them – who in turn make up a third of the creative industries – have lost all of their work due to Covid-19.

The creative industries cover a broad array of disciplines, and some are more vulnerable than others. “The most impacted at the moment are obviously those who are reliant on ticketing and footfall and venues,” says Caroline Norbury, CEO of both CIF and Creative England. “When your business model relies on having lots and lots of people packed in very closely together, there’s going to need to be a different sort of approach to coming out of lockdown for theatre compared to an art gallery or a museum. We’re seeing a real spectrum of winners and losers here. Mainly everyone’s a loser.”

The corners of the industry in a stronger position involve “people whose businesses are inherently digital”, Norbury highlights, pointing to the gaming industry in particular where revenues are rising in some cases.

Yet damage is still being done across the industries, irrespective of the discipline. Advertising spending has dropped off significantly, a vital source of income for many creative businesses – particularly those who don’t have a model reliant on ticket sales. Meanwhile surveys have shown that young people and those new to the industry are “disproportionately affected” across the board. On top of that, Nobury signals the impending impact of that seemingly long-forgotten topic – Brexit – and “the big change that’s going to come to the UK system, because all of these businesses and industries rely on great new fresh talent coming into the industry and an international workforce.”