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Rishi Sunak is neglecting the arts and his careers quiz won’t save us

Misquoted or not, the chancellor must stop pretending all we need is a questionnaire to swap out our jobs in the culture sector

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 09 October 2020 17:30 BST
Retrain wreck: chancellor Rishi Sunak isn't very popular among the arts community
Retrain wreck: chancellor Rishi Sunak isn't very popular among the arts community (George Cracknell Wright/LNP/REX )

This week ITV news wrongly reported that Rishi Sunak had said in his interview that people in the arts should “retrain”. ITV was forced to take the headline of the story down. Sunak tweeted that he was misquoted and that he cared “deeply about the arts. In fact, I paint myself silver and play Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake theme on the recorder to soothe myself every time people in the entertainment business tweet that they are not feeling the benefit my 1.5bn culture package”. I have, of course, misquoted the chancellor of the exchequer above myself to make a point.

I am not ITV, I will not apologise. I used my artistic license while I still can, before they force me to hand it in and retrain as a lumberjack.

Rishi’s point was that those in all sorts of careers, not just in the arts, would have to retrain and reimagine their livelihoods.

The government has provided a helpful “careers quiz” to help people who have dedicated their lives to their careers wander seamlessly into another by answering dozens of multiple-choice questions set out in 10 different categories.  I know a comedian over 50 who was offered “boxer" as an alternative career after completing the quiz. 

“Soldier” was suggested to a theatre practitioner of my acquaintance who in her mid-thirties and is a single mum to a small child. The quiz is as useful as the jaded grey careers adviser who was dispatched to my comprehensive school to advise chatting children that they should go into hospitality,  quieter children to go into IT and sports sciences for the strong-looking kids.

I myself only got as far as completing two of the sections of the 10-part multiple-choice time-eater. “I always finish what I start” kept coming up to torment my attention deficit disordered mind (now that I have a certificate for). Answer options like “I do not stop until I reach my goal” makes the quiz seem less like a lifeline for those whose careers and income have disappeared and more like an application to be a contestant on The Apprentice.  

We in the arts are not unreasonable people. Our frustration isn’t because we believe we are exceptional, it’s just that our industry makes heap big money and the government seems to be ignoring that. Also, to make it in the arts, you need to have focused on it entirely, and that usually means you didn’t learn to be a plumber on the side to cushion yourself with a plan B. There is no “plan B” in the creative industry. You might get temp jobs to make ends meet, as I did, but they are not jobs, 20 years down the line, that will pay for your mortgage and feed your family.

Can the government stop pretending all we need is a questionnaire to fill then we can walk onto a cardiology ward and have a go at a heart bypass because we did piano at school and have nimble fingers?

Sunak posted a transcript of what he actually said in the interview with ITV. It’s his pinned tweet no less.  “I’m getting emails and seeing how theatre companies are adapting and putting on different types of performances” trilled Rishi. I’m imagining performances where the furloughed staff are depicted looking up accountancy courses or actors crying into lattes they can ill-afford.

He tells us to “adapt and adjust” and we are, Rishi; we are, after all, creatives. This doesn’t solve the problem of not making a living. The odd innovative Covid-19 safe performance doesn’t pay enough to put food on the table.

Even filling out two of the sections on the quiz I was able to stay focused for, I was provided with the assessment that my top strength is “convincing and communicating”. I already knew I was a hustler.

I have, in all seriousness, been thinking what I might do to keep afloat as my savings run out.

I considered buying the lease of a local coffee shop during lockdown. Having a coffee shop has always been my dream. Well, having a pretty place to sit and eat cake and drink tea all day, while chatting to people has been my dream. It turned out that actually running the place was less chat and more heaving deliveries in and using an impossibly complicated coffee machine. Happily, I was outbid by people who had thought through their business model a little better than my “we’ll have a dog section, cat section and llama enclosure!”

I’m not the most practical person and though I can hyper-focus on some things, on others, the curtain comes down on my focus and I bimble off, as the government's new “career quiz” can attest. Trying to fill it all out was like when I went to a meditation and mindfulness class and got agitated. “Hurry this up! I’ve stuff to do!” I hissed before I gathered my things and left early.

The test is just another way of making it look like the government is doing something when really it’s as lost as the rest of us.

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