New restrictions in UK law could see a massive exodus of talent

From April those earning less than £35,000 (€44,700) will be asked to leave the UK. And for musicians, whose careers are peripatetic by nature and not so highly-paid, the problem is likely to ripple through orchestras and arts organisations across the country.

You can read the full story here on The Guardian website.

Arts jobs traditionally pay less than other industries and employ an international cohort – yet new restrictions expected in British law could see a massive exodus of talent. But what does this mean for individuals, the companies they work for and societies they engage with?
American 25-year-old flautist Alyson Frazier is just one of many non-EU workers who is facing deportation from the UK for not earning a big enough salary.
Speaking to the Guardian earlier this month, Frazier said: ‘I’ve chosen to take a lower salary because I’m trying to improve the lives of unaccompanied child refugees and do good in the world through music and education… How do you put that on paper in a visa application? How do you show the value of trying to make a child’s life better?’ Here she tells IAM how the legislation will affect her personally.

Classical musicians are economically undervalued, underpaid, and unions are largely powerless because our work is not valued by a system based on short-term financial results.

Alyson Frazier
Alyson Frazier

What brought you to the UK to study? And why did you stay?
The Royal Academy of Music in London is a premiere conservatoire whose prestige would be enough to bring anyone to the UK. But I stayed because the fast, diverse, rich, and flourishing culture of music appreciation and cross-disciplinary artistic collaboration in London is unique.

Having achieved a first class MA with honours from the Royal Academy of Music, I’m now establishing myself as a freelance flautist in the UK and focus my extra efforts on contributing to our industry’s potential by developing my own musical initiatives.

During my time in the UK, I’ve created or co-founded each of the following initiatives out of a desire to fill in three key areas of our industry that I believe are vital to its growth.

  • Ensemble Eroica: Music graduates find themselves left in a void between study and the profession, during which they are forced to balance unpaid “experience” opportunities with a constant search for financial stability. Ensemble Eroica is a young professional orchestra and talent development platform that showcases the next generation of young musicians, provides opportunities for them to develop their collaborative and orchestral skills, and also enables them to sustain their livelihood by appropriately compensating them for their work.
  • Play for Progress (PFP): is a not-for-profit organisation that works with pre-existing NGOs and child protection services in areas of recent conflict to provide therapeutic and educational music and arts programmes within safe spaces for children who are affected by violence, war, and displacement. You can see a gallery of our work in Burma and Thailand here.
  • Ensemble x.y: We are 10 musicians who recognised the need for young composers to be able to work closely with instrumentalists and vice versa in order to facilitate the creation of new work and encourage the exploration of new sounds, technology, and aesthetics that will define our generation and ensure that we contribute to the musical landscape as a cohesive voice. As such, we are dedicated to commissioning and performing new music in a flexible and ever-changing line-up.

What roles do musicians and artists play in society?
Art and music are the most direct and effective ways to experience the most human parts of us. It unites us, connects us, and encourages us to explore and celebrate our diversities. Artists create richness, illustrate and share joy and empathy, and contribute to the cultural fabric and diversity of any society. Countless reports also show the psychological, educational, emotional benefits of music and the arts.

As the global community becomes more connected through technological means and as we face the largest displacement of people in recent history, we are increasingly reliant on points of compassionate connection between our diverse communities. The arts are ideally suited to address these issues of humanity, especially where politics and bureaucracy fail.

What kind of signal do you think the £35K rule giving out?
Let’s cover the facts first. The new policy means that all persons on ­– or hoping to attain a Tier 2 Skilled Workers visa – must have an income of at least £35,000 annually to do so. This has been raised from the previous income threshold of £20,800.

The UK, by implementing this policy, is declaring that it values its residents based solely on their income. It is also claiming that a person’s value to society and their level of skill can be measured only by financial means. Let’s look at the numbers: the average registered nurse’s starting salary is £21,000, non-profit workers, who are considered ‘specialist staff’ by their industry standards, earn £23,000 annually.

If those responsible for both the mental and physical well-being of a population do not meet the arbitrary income requirements of its government, how could providers of more nuanced contributions possibly be valued?

How will the new ruling affect you and the people that benefit from the services you provide?
I may very well be forced to leave the UK come September. It would mean abandoning everything I have worked for and built, including my charity work, my burgeoning career as a flautist, my chamber and orchestral projects, and my partner. It would be a devastating blow to all that I have worked for in my adult life, and for the people positively affected by my initiatives.

What do you think are the wider implications for the classical music industry?
Already, our industry is struggling. Orchestras are starved for funding. Classical musicians are economically undervalued, underpaid, and unions are largely powerless because our work is not valued by a system based on short-term financial results. The implementation of a policy which only recognises income value or financial measures as representative of societal value will force rising stars to leave the UK and abandon their hard-earned networks. There will be less diversity in the field, which will mean less innovation and fewer opportunities for collaboration. Most upsettingly, as musicians, it will perpetuate our undervalued position in society and push us further onto the peripheries of services that are beneficial to communities.