The End of Free Movement and the Art Brexit

The End of Free Movement and the Arts

As more reports of arts festivals being hindered by Brexit, Hal Fish explores the most likely impact that the end of Free Movement will have on the arts in the UK.

A combination of culture and creativity has helped the artistic world reach greater heights. Indeed, the importance of diversity in theatre, music, and dance, has never needed much reasoning. However, for a long time, the British Arts scene has been dominated by a single social group: the white, British, middle-class. Just last February, Arts Council England issued a report on diversity within the UK arts sector which proved this still to be the case.

In attempts to change the cultural makeup of the sector, several schemes have been set up over the past decade as to promote more diversity inside the creative milieu of Britain. Despite this, the UK’s artistic scene doesn’t seem to be able to shake off that reputation for inequality within its ranks. And although Arts Council England’s 2017-18 diversity report did report that black, and minority ethnic (BME) representation in the creative sector’s workforce had grown by 21 percent in the last two-three years, when you realise that BME individuals still only make up 12 percent of the whole workforce, it’s clear there is much work to be done.

Sadly, this progression may soon be hampered as Brexit looks set to significantly change many socio-political factors within the UK. One of the biggest changes likely to affect the Arts is the end of free movement. In years past, the ability for artists to bounce between the creative hubs of Europe has allowed ideas to be shared, and inspiration to be found, in the many different corners of the continent. This kind of cultural collaboration has gifted so much – think David Bowie in Berlin, or even J.K. Rowling in Porto as she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

Frustratingly, as travel becomes restricted by costly visa fees and tighter regulations, many artistic minds will soon be unable to share and grow their ideas with the continent. And Britain won’t just lose access to European talent coming into the country, British citizens will also struggle to enjoy creative foreign events like workshops, auditions and rehearsals. Both culturally and creatively the UK will suffer and may even stagnate in years to come.

A further concern is that there are significant skills shortages across several sub-sectors in the Arts already. In the dance industry, which relies heavily upon European talent, this issue is particular prevalent: highly skilled contemporary and ballet dancers, for example, are currently listed on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). This is a Government list which outlines all the jobs that cannot be filled by domestic talent alone; so the UK officially require migrants to fill the roles. When a role is included on the SOL, it gives UK employers a greater pool of workers to hire from, and also gives migrants applying for jobs on the list easier access to work visas, with reduced fees.

Last May, the Migration Observatory Committee (MAC) released a report which found skills shortages across many of Britain’s industries, including the Arts sector. In the report, performing arts roles were listed in categories: ‘actors, entertainers and presenters’, ‘dancers and choreographers’, ‘musicians’, and ‘arts officers, producers, and directors’. After assessment, using recommendations based on information they had received from stakeholders, industry professionals and think-tanks, the MAC felt that every performing arts category, apart from ‘actors, entertainers and presenters’, should be included on the updated SOL.

Whilst it would clearly be good news for diversity if these roles were to be added on the SOL, the MAC report fails to consider just how significantly the end of free movement will impact upon the Arts sector. In the event of either a no-deal or hard-deal Brexit, EU migrants will have to experience greater logistical obstacles when trying to find work in Britain. Naturally, this will make the nation a much less appealing proposition from European performers than it has been. If they want to work full time, or even just temporarily (which is often the case with Arts jobs), they will require a Work Visa. And if they want to move to Britain with a partner or children, or make a British citizenship application, thousand pounds worth of fees and many over legislative complications will obstruct their path.

Considering this, it’s not hard to imagine a post-Brexit future where creatives simply ignore Britain as an option; especially not when they can find roles in other major European cities, bring their families and settle without any weighty restrictions. Worryingly, as the British Arts sector looks to shake of its reputation as a place for the white, middle-class, the effects of Brexit will soon suppress the potential for any real change. The UK governments must consider the true repercussions of the end of free movement and find ways to combat the negative implications. Without planning to adapt against these impending issues, Britain risks damaging one of its most treasured cultural sectors. With this in mind, it’s clear that Britain must work to keep the Arts open for all.


Hal Fish writes for the Immigration Advice Service.

Wales Arts Review‘s News Service is supported by:

end of free movement