While the details of Brexit remain a mystery, its effects on our lives are palpable. Statistics being gathered by the ISM appear to show that around one fifth of people across the arts have already experienced a loss of some work to their European counterparts. While Europe looks on aghast, we are tearing ourselves apart with an act that threatens both our livelihoods and our leading position in quality conservatoire education in the world.
What happens next? Do we accept the new status quo or do we fight back?
Leaders from the music industry met at the ISM headquarters this week to discuss the problems and to formulate adequate responses. Marshall Marcus, CEO of the European Union Youth Orchestra and President of El Sistema Europe, opened the meeting. He views himself as a European, he said. ‘From outside, people can’t understand what’s happened to the UK.’ In a period of uncertainty, we should plan for all eventualities, Marshall continued. ‘Be prepared but be bold.’
The problem was neatly defined: there are a myriad of issues facing politicians and bureaucrats. Compared to these, musicians feel that their problems are seen as insignificant and feel they have no political leverage.
Charlotte Jones, Chief Executive of the Independent Theatre Council also sees bemusement in the EU. The council works with around 500 small companies, most of whom tour. With funding slashed at home, they make their money touring in Europe. Since Brexit, however, many have been cut out of projects resulting in chaos, uncertainty and loss of morale, she said. ‘It’s rough out there and it’s very difficult to even talk to Government.’
Marshall Marcus propounded strength through partnerships. ‘What might it look like,’ argued Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, ‘if we took part of our businesses into the EU’. In fact Gavin Henderson, Principal of the Royal School of Speech and Drama, told the gathering that his organisation had already been invited to set up a school in Croatia teaching in English. More such partnerships could only expand the UK’s interests in Europe.
Jonathan Vaughan, Vice Principal & Director of Music at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, was concerned about the problems facing foreign students coming into the country and the problems conservatoires face policing these students. The music Hochschules in Germany charge very low fees and most of the North America conservatoires have sufficient wealth to sponsor any student they want, he said. Why then would any student want to study in London, Vaughan asked. They would do so to build a career in a vibrant city. But if they’re told that’s no longer an option, why would they come?
The loss of foreign students represents a significant loss of income to conservatoires. Then there is the brain-drain effect, not just from the loss of excellent students – the first professor to resign from the Guildhall as a result of Brexit did so the day after the referendum result.
While we continue to experience loss of opportunities and uncertainty as a result of Brexit, we are also being told that much of this – including proposed restrictions on flexible travel – is unchallengeable. Isn’t it interesting, argued Deborah Annetts, that we are told we just have to accept the direction of travel. We should feel confident in challenging aspects of policy that are not working for the sector and should lobby anyone with power to ensure that the music sector, creative industries and the country as a whole can continue to thrive and continue to benefit as far as possible from flexible travel and other aspects of cultural and creative exchange post-Brexit.