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Backlash over arts advert

So, Fatima the ballet dancer should retrain…

Diane Hall


Picture of the Cyber Advert from the UK goverment

There’s been a bit of a hullabaloo about a recent government campaign that centred on retraining for another career. 

Though it featured a few different job roles, the image that riled a lot of people was the one featuring Fatima, the ballet dancer, and the advert’s suggestion that she retrains to work in cybersecurity.

The overall aim of the campaign was to promote the various upskilling and career-changing initiatives the government has developed after seeing unemployment statistics balloon due to the impact of coronavirus. I’m presuming the thought process was that retraining to do a role that was actively growing/employing people would be better than years spent on the dole as the industry you used to work in eventually picks itself back up and dusts itself off. I (sort of) get it on that level.

As I said, this same ‘retraining’ message was given across the campaign and the different adverts featuring a range of roles. However, the ballet dancer advert was singled out—it was even called ‘crass’ by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. Most people felt it perfectly demonstrated how the government sees the arts. This sector has seen a complete lockdown, with little financial support. Suggesting to someone who has seen their future dreams shatter into smithereens, that they should retrain to be a cybersecurity officer, shows no appreciation of the struggles they’re facing. It suggests that their choice of career is now of little value in a world learning to live alongside Covid-19.

A bricklayer changing career may be walking away from a couple of years spent gathering skills and perhaps a few more gaining experience. In comparison, a professional ballet dancer will have been training for their job since they could walk. To get to a level of proficiency where ballet earns them a wage (as opposed to a hobby), they will have trained for hours every single week. They will have likely missed the things other children and teenagers will have experienced, in order to train some more. They will have trained into the ground to be accepted into the top ballet schools. Their whole life will likely revolve around ballet. It’s not simply a job to someone like Fatima, it’s their calling. It’s what they are. How can they switch that off to sit behind a desk all day?

Of course, that’s not to say they won’t turn their hand to other roles in order to earn an income until the arts and entertainment sectors return—after all, bills still need to be paid. But suggesting that they should reassess their dreams and never again be a part of the world that makes them happy, that’s completely different. There’s no wonder the advert received the backlash it did. How would MPs feel if we suggested they change careers and train to be police officers, bus drivers or sewage workers instead (I feel they’d be rather good at the latter)?

meme of Cyber advert from the British goverment

The advert has already been made into a joke

meme of Cyber advert from the British goverment

The government is apportioning funds to save theatres and other arts venues across the UK from falling into bankruptcy or disrepair, but what’s the point of giving them a financial lifeline if there are no actors, dancers, comedians or singers to perform in them when coronavirus has been tamed—because Fatima and all her friends now work in cybersecurity? Protect the buildings by all means, but protect the people who perform in them, too.

I think what has annoyed people more about the advert in question is not the overall message as such, but the lack of understanding it shows. People in the arts already feel like they’re easily dismissed or forgotten, that what they do for a living isn’t ‘a proper job’ in some people’s eyes. 

Yet, without the arts or entertainment, lockdown would have been unbearable. With no access to our friends and wider family, the only escapism we could enjoy was by reading a book or watching a programme, film or production on TV. 

It takes a whole team to produce the end result we enjoy; for instance, books don’t just require an author—they need editors, graphic designers, illustrators, printers. Television doesn’t just require actors—it needs scriptwriters, camera operators, lighting specialists, researchers, runners, producers and directors…the list goes on. The amount of people lamenting the impact the virus has had on the arts isn’t a handful, it’s thousands if not millions of people across the country. For these people, to see Fatima being told (and themselves, by extension) to retrain must be heart-breaking. If they wanted to work in cybersecurity, they would already be doing so. 

They don’t want another job, they just want support and understanding from the people who have it in their power to make a difference. They just want help to get their industry up and running as quickly and as safely as possible.

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