Art leaders across Scotland speak out for the first time on the impact of Covid-19

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Art leaders across Scotland speak out for the first time on the impact of Covid-19
Alberta Whittle How Flexible Can We Make the Mouth at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Photo by Ruth Clark.

GLASGOW.- Scotland’s world-renowned contemporary art scene is still serving communities across Scotland but fears for the future as the long-term impact of Covid-19 begins to bite. The Scottish Contemporary Art Network has revealed the findings of their Covid-19 Impact Survey.

With galleries and production facilities closed, many staff furloughed and the likelihood
that re-opening of cultural venues will be amongst the later stages of the exit strategy,
the visual arts face enormous risk to the income streams that help support its work.

In a survey conducted by Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) of those working in the visual art sector in Scotland, more than a third of individual art workers reported they had lost all their income in April when the full force of the Covid-19 epidemic hit. Over a third of art venues and production facilities surveyed had lost more than half of their income and some told of potential job cuts.

As a result of the pandemic, seven in ten organisations said that they were likely to cancel programmes or projects, and 65% of organisations surveyed said that they were likely to see a lower positive impact on the public.

SCAN Director Clare Harris said: ‘Artists, art workers and arts organisations are interconnected; with many in the visual art workforce making a living from their own practice combined with a range of work. Our survey gives us a view across the visual art infrastructure and highlights to government and funding bodies the extent of the crisis and the very real impacts on livelihoods.

‘As governments across the UK begin to roll out lockdown exit-planning, we need to work hard for a recovery that will enable the visual art community to get back on its feet and continue to produce work that has a far-reaching benefit for our society.’

From Dundee to Burra, how art continues to change lives – but for how long?
Arts organisations across Scotland are continuing to work in communities across the
country with innovative online programmes, festivals and education initiatives. But the
loss of tickets sales, the cancellation of classes and workshops and the cessation of venue hire and catering that underpin many galleries mean that Scotland’s visual art sector is fearful for its long-term future.

One example is in Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee’s much-loved creative venue which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. DCA is an example of how even prudent and well-supported venues have been hard hit. The venue includes a cinema, café/bar, open access print studio and a gallery where exhibitions are always free.

Beth Bate, director of DCA, said: ‘Institutions like ours play a key role in our society: as employers; as a place for audiences to access a broad and vibrant range of creative experiences; as a source of sustained and sustaining community engagement; as a vital platform for artists at all stages of their careers through exhibiting in the galleries, participating in our public programmes or working in our production facilities; and as a key part of the tourism economy. The risks the sector faces will affect all elements of our work and must be mitigated in the coming weeks and months.

‘DCA is in a relatively fortunate position thanks to our track record of financially
responsible management and the concerted effort we’ve put into diversifying our income. But despite those efforts, the current situation leaves us exposed to enormous risk in the medium to long term.’

Meanwhile in Burra, Shetland, artist-led community space Gaada continues to work with local artists during lockdown, running online activities as well as delivering art materials to residents across the island. One parent, whose 21-year-old son Struan had been attending regular workshops, said: ‘Gaada have been the rock in the storm of Covid. My son’s world was turned upside down. Gaada were caring and intuitive, they could anticipate the distress and the need to continue contact and how important art and his creativity is to him. Art is the core.’

Artists Daniel Clark and Amy Gear, who run Gaada, say that without financial support their vital work would have been at risk. They have been able to access a Small Business Grant, enabling them to keep running. ‘Prior to the enforced lockdown, we had already begun conversations with our community of artists living with disabilities, many of whom have immune-comprising conditions which we knew would mean they would have to selfisolate for a much longer period than the wider population. Their feedback really made clear to us how important the regular contact of Gaada’s weekly artist one-to-one workshops is.’

In Glasgow city-centre, the popular visitor attraction, Gallery of Modern Art, GoMA, has moved many of its regular activities online. Museum Manager Gareth James says that the impact of Covid-19 means the institution must rethink the sort of audiences it can reach.

‘Audiences always come first. Despite this unusual situation, the main focus of our work remains the same: to provide our audiences with engaging and interesting content based around our museum collections.

‘We will see a significant drop in income from donations, from the shop and café. The tourist market will be dramatically reduced, because people just can’t get to us. We still don’t know whether we will have visitors who’ve come into the city to do their work or shopping. As we await further guidelines, we’re thinking about how our audience will change.

‘GoMA has always been hugely popular with the visiting public and we're sure that will be that case in the future. But at the moment we just don't know when we'll be able to safely welcome visitors back in. One thing we do know is that contemporary art practice is endlessly inventive, and that gives us hope.’

SCAN Covid Impact survey – findings in detail:
During April SCAN undertook a survey to collate information on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic from the wider visual arts community, to inform advocacy with government and funders.

The survey was open to those usually working within the visual art sector in Scotland. A total of 108 people responded to the survey and it was split for responses from individuals and from those representing organisations.

76% of respondents (both individuals and organisations) had lost income in April, with an average of 53% of income being lost. 29% of individual respondents had lost 100% of their income in April. In organisations, 38% had lost 50% or more of their income.

The biggest challenge for both individuals (31%) and organisations (44%) was loss of
income. After that, individuals cited the biggest challenge was loss of engagement with
the public (17%) and organisations cited covering staff costs was the next biggest
challenge (26%)

As a result of the pandemic, 15% of organisations were fairly likely to make staff
redundant; 19% were fairly or very likely to increase debt, 70% were likely or very likely to cancel programmes and projects, and 65% were fairly or very likely to see a lower positive impact on the public.

For both organisations and individuals, the primary means of support that would benefit them most is more funding (28% individuals, 91% organisations), combined with sectorlevel collective support and policy level support.

A large proportion of individual respondents were self-employed, and included artists,
curators, technicians and educators. Those were PAYE tended to be in management or
director-level roles. This shows the relative precarity of a sector that is dependent on
workers filling a range of roles, combining self-employed and PAYE.

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