Covid-19 pandemic will put off disadvantaged young people from careers in the arts, Leeds arts sector workers tell MPs

The future of the arts in Yorkshire could be seriously impacted by the wealth gap exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, MPs have been told.

An assistant in PPE helps a ballerina get ready for a Northern Ballet performance at the Leeds Playhouse in November

A Zoom meeting held by Leeds MPs on Friday heard from several local people working in the sector, with concerns raised that the economic fall out from the pandemic would prevent many working class and disadvantaged communities from entering the sector, while those with "the passport of wealth and privilege" may continue to get a leg up.

Patsy Gilbert, Vice Principal of the Leeds Conservatoire, told the meeting - which was chaired by West Yorkshire Mayor candidate Tracy Brabin - that all the signals being sent to young people right now were that working in the arts sector was "too difficult" and "not worth it".

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"The people who will be worst-affected will be the young people who we particularly try to reach out to," she told the meeting.

A rare Northern Ballet performance at the Leeds Playhouse in November as the arts sector faces serious struggles due to the coronavirus pandemic

"I think we will see the long-term effect of that across the whole of the region."

Ms Gilbert added: "We will start to lose fantastic, valuable and valid artists because they simply can't afford to survive."

Representatives from Leeds Playhouse, Opera North and the city's Brudenell Social Club live music venue were among others heard from in the meeting.

Several institutions across the region have been granted emergency Arts Council funding by the Government to protect jobs during the lockdown, although it is unconfirmed whether this will be extended beyond the summer.

Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, said the struggles faced by the arts sector were "absolutely awful"

Kully Thiarai, Creative Director for Leeds 2023 international cultural festival, described privilege and money as being "a passport" to a career in the arts sector, which she described as "absolutely unforgiveable".

Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, said the struggles faced by the arts sector were "absolutely awful" and expressed sympathy for arts students forced to move their studies online.

"It is much harder to do the creative stuff," she said.

"The drama and creative stuff is much harder to do without that social interaction. If you're doing drama for GCSE or A level, it's not going to be much of a course if everybody is stuck at home."

Ms Brabin, who is a vocal campaigner for the arts sector and has a background working as an actress before she took up politics as the MP for Batley & Spen in 2016, said: "This landscape is going to be devastated if we don't have a creative recovery plan.

"Because of Covid, we will lose that low hanging fruit of access to the arts sector. We need to absolutely make sure the working class and BAME kids do not get left by the wayside."

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