“I agree it was crass,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted on Monday, adding that his staff were not involved in the advertisement, which was part of a “partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security.”
Reactions to the advertisement dovetailed with broader criticism that officials have not found ways to communicate effectively with workers facing tenuous employment during the pandemic. Fatboy Slim, a popular British DJ and music producer, said that the government was “throwing the arts under a bus.”
The anger came after beta version of a quiz developed by the British government to help people prepare for career changes became the subject of gallows humor among arts workers last week. The Department of Education quiz asked 50 questions to help respondents decide what careers might best suit them.
But those who took the quiz were often perturbed by the suggestions. This reporter took the test last week and was advised to consider a new career in boxing or as a soccer referee. On Twitter, other users shared images of recommendations that they become lock keepers or airline pilots.
The ballet advertisement, published on the website of training firm QA, appeared to suggest that a ballet dancer named Fatima could soon have a job in cybersecurity, although she did not yet know it.
It was part of a campaign dubbed “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” — part of CyberFirst, a program launched in 2019 by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre that encourages young people to get training for careers related to technology.
But for many in the British creative and arts industries, it was interpreted as a further sign that the government did not support them amid venue closures and dwindling opportunities.
Others retweeted the image with a hashtag for “Save the Arts,” a campaign to help support the industry during the pandemic.
The advertisement went viral as Britain’s Royal Ballet returned after seven months without a major production, for a three-hour live-streamed performance from the Royal Opera House featuring 70 dancers on Friday.
Live music and theater, some of Britain’s best known cultural exports, have suffered during the pandemic. In July, the government announced a $2 billion stimulus package to provide emergency grants and loans to venues forced to close or scale back operations.
The British government announced this week that more than $326 million of grants given to more than 1,300 arts organizations, including famous venues like the Young Vic in London. But many performers say that the government has not done enough.
Asked last week about the hard choices facing musicians, artists and actors, British Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak, the face of Britain’s economic response to covid-19, said many workers would have to “adapt and adjust to the new reality.”
“I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis,” Sunak said during an interview with ITV News.
The “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” campaign on the QA website had tried to put a positive spin on retraining. “If your career plan’s been altered this year, you’re not alone,” the web page read.
Hours after the image of Fatima went viral, the web page was taken down, though it lives on in Internet archives.