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The Guardian view on reopening the arts: behind the scenes, all is not well | Editorial

Festivals are being cancelled and jobs are disappearing. That’s the truth behind the joyful return of culture

On 17 May, arts and cultural venues may reopen; indeed commercial galleries, by virtue of their status as shops, were able to open on 12 April. The public will be able to visit museums and art galleries, and book tickets for concerts and theatres. And they may do so with confidence: venues have become adept at putting safety measures in place and managing numbers to limit the risk posed by Covid-19. It will be a wonderful moment: audiences are hungry for art that is not flattened into a screen; for transporting live experiences in the company with others; for the miracle of real works of art, seen in person.

But these undoubted pleasures will mask the fact that the cultural sector of the UK economy – a growth area before the pandemic – is in trouble. This can easily be glimpsed in the latest figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics. These show that job vacancies in arts and entertainment, in the period January to March 2021, were down 79% on the equivalent period in 2020. It is by far the worst hit part of the economy, well ahead of even hospitality at 70%, and soaring above the average across all industries of 23%.

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