Culture & Creative IndustriesNews

With the country now in its second national lockdown, how can the performing arts and cultural events survive the restrictions Covid has imposed, and what impact will this have on the army of now unemployed freelancers as well as young people seeking careers in the arts in the UK?

These are questions to be discussed in an important conversation, Covid and Culture: How will the Arts Survive?, that will be available to view from 7pm Wednesday 18th November until 29th November on the websites Stratford Literary Festival and Cambridge Literary Festival as part of their upcoming Winter Weekends of events.

This FREE conversation will be had between leading figures in the arts world: actress Juliet Stevenson CBE, screen and theatre director Sir Richard Eyre CBE and composer Shirley J Thompson OBE. The discussion will be chaired by journalist and writer Julia Wheeler.

‘Covid restrictions are having a seismic impact on the arts. Films, plays, operas, concerts, poetry evenings, stand-up comedy nights are on hold or in front of reduced audiences,’ says Stratford Director Annie Ashworth. ‘And Government support can’t go on indefinitely. The impact will not only ripple to the communities and the economy around arts venues, it will also impact on those with careers or thinking of careers in the culture sector.’

In July 2020 The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report entitled Covid -19 and the career prospects of young people which concluded: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has severely dented the career prospects of young people and threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on them as a result. Sharp contractions in shut-down sectors will make it harder for young people to take their first step onto the career ladder, while reduced job opportunities will make it harder for them to move into higher-paying occupations.’

Stevenson, Eyre and Thompson are perfectly placed to discuss these issues with their in-depth experience of theatre, screen and music. A literary festival platform is the ideal one for this discussion. ‘Unlike the rest of the cultural sector, literary events have been able to adapt more easily to the current circumstances by running our events online,’ says Cambridge Director, Cathy Moore. ‘And, although we miss our live events, we are keen to keep our conversations going and use this expanded platform to highlight the struggles of other sectors. We all need to work together.’

Shirley J Thompson adds: ‘The effects of Covid have hit the world of entertainment and the creative industries more than any other sector. Without evidence of an end to this situation in sight, we need to develop strategies to sustain our arts and livelihoods, and importantly, inspire the next generation of artists.’

Juliet Stevenson says: ‘I really welcome this discussion, and the chance to air some of the questions and issues that have been profoundly shaping the lives of arts practitioners and students since Covid first arrived here.’

In the conversation, Juliet Stevenson will talk about the importance of community and collaboration to create music or theatre and how much she misses it. Sir Richard Eyre will confirm that whether it be an orchestra or a theatre performance, ‘It’s all little cells that make the body of the anatomy of culture in this country and I mean culture in the widest possible sense.’ He goes on to criticise successive governments for not being interested in the arts: ‘I despair because every time this discussion comes up, and it’s like turning a prayer wheel and wishing for money to be spent on weapons of happiness, which the arts are.’

Participant Biographies:

Juliet Stevenson CBE: award-winning actor of film, TV and theatre including the RSC in Stratford.
Sir Richard Eyre CBE: Director of the National Theatre and has directed plays, opera and theatre in the UK and on Broadway, and director of films including Notes on a Scandal and The Children Act.
Shirley J Thompson OBE: Composer, conductor and violinist, and included in Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People.
Julia Wheeler: writer, journalist, former BBC correspondent and highly experienced chair and interviewer at leading literary festivals.

The event will be available to view online free of charge from 18th November until 29th November on both Festival websites at and

Highlights of the forthcoming Winter Weekends, both of which have Baillie Gifford as headline supporter, include David Mitchell, Dara McAnulty, Dame Hilary Mantel, Maggi Hambling, Andrew Marr, Hermione Lee, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason and Lemn Sissay. Full programme details on their websites.