Published on Friday 11 June 2021

The word unprecedented has almost become a cliché! I have been asked to write a few words about my reflections vs my role. The thing is, like many in our sector, there is very little ‘VS’ between the two.  One grows to trust one’s Art as much as oneself, and grows into one’s Art, to the extent that it becomes oneself, or you become the Art.

I think the most devastating thing for us artists, apart from the obvious hugely significant financial ramifications, is the sense of loss. We feel bereft of the part within us that is probably the strongest part inside us. In the more introspective of our beings, this period has perhaps allowed us more time to conceptualise, compose, curate in the extraordinary spaces of our mind… that wonderfully psychedelic, kaleidoscopic, unpredictable labyrinth, that sheer open space... a real dichotomy of ‘safe haven’ and extraordinary freedom.  We are a thousandfold richer for allowing it to ‘be’, assimilating the beauty and wonder of the world around us.

We have been asked so many times: Can the Arts bounce back? Music has managed to bring people together throughout history - and still does. One need only mention the Christmas Truce which brought ceasefire and peace, if only for Christmas Eve, in the First World War with the singing of Christmas Carols by British and German troops together in no man’s land, where officers and men got out of the trenches, shook hand and exchanged greetings and gifts; the incredible Baltic Chain (Chain of Freedom) when two million people in the Baltic created a human 675km chain of people holding hands and singing across the borders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania; or, closer still, the West-Eastern Divan orchestra which, to date, still brings Palestine and Israel together, defying fierce political divides in the Middle East, creating a space where all differences are forgotten and something new and beautiful is created by making music together.

What are the Arts if not a way of speaking, of reacting, of setting trends, and of communicating?  Few things are more beautiful and intense than making music or sharing musical experiences together, than the exhilaration and emotion on stage and in the public just after the curtains close, the wonderful camaraderie of a community project, the awe at the world of art and sculpture, the indescribable sense of immense fulfilment after one creates something, and the adrenalin kick throughout the process, the recognition of what this does to all of us individually inside, as artists, as participants, as audiences, as visitors, and collectively as a society… the basic sense of well-being and of being together, and, to put it simply, just having fun! 

Never before have the Arts been more important in my lifetime.  Luckily (perhaps), unlike in our previous generations, we live in a digital world that makes separation a bit less painful, and allows the Arts to speak in different ways.  Like many other industries, the arts sector has taken a massive hit over the last twelve months. As an international artistic director, I cannot feel more strongly for the over 3 million people in the UK so far excluded from any packages and support – many of whom are freelancers, the real backbone of the creative economy.  This is tragic for so many on a personal level, but it is also tragic for our industry – an industry that, as reported by the Creative Industries Federation, was growing four times the rate of the economy as a whole, contributing £116bn in GVA in 2019, and creating new jobs at three times the UK average, prior to the pandemic. 

Within the European Union, there is an acknowledgement of the importance of the Arts, as can be seen through the trilogue negotiations recently concluded, pending final approval of the legal texts by the European parliament and the Council – with a dedicated budget of more the €2.4 billion for the Arts for Creative Europe Programme 2021-2027, with the 2021 budget coming in at more than £300M Euros, and with an appreciation and recognition of the smaller organisations, with co-financing rates of up to 80%.

The sector is a resilient one, and a creative one, constantly adapting itself; not to mention the internal enrichment and health benefits it brings with it.  It is also the sector that has been with everybody throughout this devastating year, bringing moments of joy and beauty into people’s homes.  With proper support, the creative industries will flourish once again, coming back even stronger. 

Art has endured with us throughout history. She always has our back and we shall remain loyal to Her. May we all look back on these days very soon,  proud to have acted in the ways we have done, and of our little part in helping society when it was at its most vulnerable – in whichever way we could best do so - even, crucially, if that was by staying at home to help save lives. Finally, a thank you to all – friends, colleagues, supporters, partners and collaborators, and our marvellous audiences.  Please stay with us throughout this.  We shall certainly remain here for you.  We have ploughed on… Keep safe and take care of each other. Extraordinary, sad and uncertain times. May we all get through this safely and well; and may the world be kinder to us all soon.

"As I always say, we must find ways to dance in the rain, and to build turbines for gales…". Here is The Three Palaces Festival responding to the pandemic with its 2020 edition curated specifically for the digital medium itself. 

Words by Dr Michelle Castelletti.