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‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’ – Are the Arts under attack?

Written by Arts, Culture

Innovate. Create. Originate. That is what we needed to hear from the UK Government during these challenging times. Instead, at a time when the arts have been severely hit by the current pandemic, we are given ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’, a government-backed advert that has sparked outrage and intense social media backlash.

The advert campaign – previously known as ‘Cyber First’ in 2019, has come under an intense amount of scrutiny for encouraging those in the arts and culture sector to abandon their goals and consider an alternative career route.

It is now more evident than ever that creative industries need the help of the government. Yet we are being told that working in the arts is no longer viable a viable option. We are being told to give up on our goals and our hard work.

To those who have dedicated their time and efforts to the arts and culture sector, the recent government adverts have come across as deeply offensive and incredibly insensitive to their livelihoods. This strike towards arts and culture comes as a great frustration for those within the sector, as many of whom feel they have been let down by the government during this pandemic.

The advert in question that has incited mass reaction:

Credit: HM Government

The government advert included an image of a young dancer tying her ballet shoes and was accompanied by the text ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)’. This image of ‘Fatima’ has sent social media into a spiral, with various reactions and political memes (in true creative manner) being generated as a result.

What’s more, is that ‘Fatima’ is not even the real name of the ballet dancer pictured in the advert. The dancers real name is Desire’e Kelly, who is a hard-working ballet dancer in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA. The original photo had also included another dancer, by the name of Tasha Williams who was insensitively cropped out of the advert. Williams had described this an ‘unforgivable act’ on Instagram.   

The image used in the advert was taken by US photographer, Krys Alex who was unaware that her photo would be used by the UK government to ‘retrain’ the arts. Alex had taken to social media, saying that upon hearing the news that week, she ‘felt devastated’ as the image she had taken had been used in such a way and the hurt she felt for Desire’e Kelly whose ‘face was just plastered all over social media and the internet, different news articles, and memes were created, and she had no clue’.

It is abundantly clear that the creative individuals who had taken and created this image had been deceived.

This advert, as well as many others produced by the government, has incited resentment and rightly so; the bracketed phrase, ‘She just doesn’t know it yet’, is all together terrifying. The phrase is almost menacing in the way it implies that no informed choice is given to ‘Fatima’. The advert simply suggests that she has no freedom of choice. It suggests that she give up on her years of training as a ballet dancer. Do aspiring artists no longer get to make choices regarding their futures?

Following this mass outrage, the adverts have been met with intervention by the Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden who responded on Twitter, calling the adverts, ‘crass’. Mr Dowden had gone on to reiterate that he wanted to ‘save jobs in the arts’, detailing that a further £1.75bn would be invested into the arts. The government have since pulled back on the adverts following the intense public response. But is it too little too late? Do the government truly care for the arts?

A revised and annotated version of the advert created by Sean Coleman (@colemandesign on Instagram) has also garnered much attention as it clearly showcases that without creatives, the government wouldn’t even have had the means to produce such adverts. The annotated version supports the work of incredible, creative individuals that make it possible for adverts to even exist, from the photographers and architects to the typographers and graphic designers.

During these testing times, we need the arts and culture industries to flourish more than ever before, not just survive; without creativity and expression, where would we be?

In future on behalf of the arts and culture industry, we ask the government kindly to rethink such adverts, reskill in their policymaking, and reboot their mindsets.

Featured image: HM Government

Last modified: 18th October 2020

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