Why won’t the arts and entertainment industry talk about the threat of terrorism?

It’s been an upsetting week here for the IAM team in Manchester following the bombing at Manchester Arena on Monday, 22 May, which left 22 dead, more than 120 injured, and 20,000 concertgoers traumatised. This city is our home, and as the news unfolded during the week, the pain we all felt for the affected families deepened.

Once the throbbing heart of industrialisation, Manchester is now buzzing with action. We’ve been fortunate to benefit from multi-million pound redevelopments of our arts and humanities buildings, we’re also fortunate to have lots of cheap space in “mills” available to artists to explore their ideas: teenagers can form bands and record tracks relatively easily, artists can paint and exhibit, designers can spend months developing products then see them through to distribution, before finally opening their own boutiques.

Unlike other expensive cities, being an artist here in Manchester can be a way of life, should you choose it. It’s a wonderful atmosphere. We have a flagship festival too: Manchester International Festival (MIF), taking place 29 June to 16 July 2017.

But when the terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday 22 May was reported globally, I was reminded of conversations I have had with arts managers the world over during our interviews.

Conversations in which I was told that they didn’t want to talk about the threat of terrorism. That they didn’t feel comfortable talking about terrorism and their own security measures – or perhaps the lack thereof.

For years now, I have ‘thrown in’ questions about security and potential terror attacks at the end of my interviews. And for years now, the conversation has been brushed aside. Venue managers, and festival managers, from some of the most prestigious organisations across the world, have told me they do not want to speak about the threat of terrorism at their venues. The subject has never been up for discussion. Yet we have seen attacks at a holiday resort in Turkey, at a nightclub in Paris, in Madrid, in New York, on public transport in London plastered across the media.

Manchester is part of the larger death toll of terrorism the world over, home yes, Europe yes, in non-European countries, and in war torn counties. We are a number, and a city, of many. We shouldn’t forget that.

In our industry, we talk loudly about women’s issues like they are zeitgeist. For example, when I put an industry-wide call-out for contributions for our “women in the arts” feature, we were flooded with suggestions and engaged thousands of people on Facebook. By contrast, our recent call-out to talk about security fell to the ground with a silent thud: two people responded – and then one backed down.

Terrorism is a dirty word, it is a dirty tactic, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. I don’t buy the idea that you can’t talk about terrorism because it exposes a risk – it’s akin to saying we shouldn’t talk about child protection issues. And if you think it makes the risk real, then I’d counter that you already know you need to do something about it. Airlines have to take responsibility for security, schools upped their security measures after massacres, safety at sporting industries is persistently under scrutiny – why not the arts and entertainment sector?

We talk about ticket systems, we talk about social media, we talk about marketing strategies, we talk about freedom of expression, creativity and cultural identity, we talk about politics, about the refugee crisis, about conflict, so why is the threat of terrorism off the table? Why aren’t we talking about keeping people safe? Let’s be brave enough to put it on the table.

Peter Vlachos is principal lecturer at the department of marketing, events, and tourism at the Faculty of Business at University of Greenwich in London. He agrees with me that conversations about security vanish into thin air.

He says: “Several of my students have tried to cover this very important topic as part of their final year dissertations and run into a similar brick wall. Very few people want to talk, not the venues, not the police, not the local authority. One can understand the sensitivity around the issue, but personally I’d agree with the argument that on balance, as an industry, we need to talk and share more, not less about the threat of terrorism in the sector.

“At the UK Security Expo at Olympia, London (29 – 30 November), many companies are there to sell products, but there is little talk about strategy. How long can our industry, live arts and entertainment, continue to learn the hard way?”

Vlachos adds: “Football didn’t have a choice after the events at Hillsborough, which affected so many Liverpool fans. Hopefully, it won’t take another tragedy in the arts and entertainment world to move things forward.”

I couldn’t agree more. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

@IntArtsManager

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