Galleries, museums, libraries, theatres, cinemas and art centres have closed. All film production has stopped.
Theatre companies, dance companies, opera companies, orchestras, bands, festivals, pub gigs – every kind of cultural activity you can think of has stopped or been cancelled.
We know we are living in an extraordinary time, but the pace of the change has been shocking. Less than a fortnight ago, performers were looking forward to participating in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Now that has been cancelled, too.
At least 255,000 events have been cancelled across the country with an estimated income loss of $280 million at the time of publishing.
Side jobs many artists depend on to subsidise their artwork have also disappeared overnight, particularly in hospitality and events.
Last week, even Opera Australia’s orchestra was stood down. Opera Australia is the best-funded performing arts company in the country, receiving more than $26 million a year in government funding. (Following action by the orchestra’s union, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Opera Australia released a statement saying it’s working to ensure ongoing employment.)
Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has convened two meetings to address the issue. One is with representatives of the arts sector and one with state and territory cultural ministers.
Four state governments (Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria) have acknowledged the crisis in their sector on arts funding body or arts minister websites and asked grantees to contact them for advice if the activity they were planning cannot go ahead.
Some are offering stimulus packages in addition to those being offered by the Federal Government.
Arts Queensland has offered an $8 million package, including:
- organisational funding from 2017-2020 expanded until December 2021
- rent waived for tenants of government-owned arts venues.
The Victorian Government mentions arts and entertainment as one of the “hardest hit sectors” targeted by its A$500 million business support package.
Artists and arts workers will also be eligible for the $500 million Working for Victoria Fund.
The SA Government has announced additional immediate funding for the arts sector of $1.5 million, with a COVID-19 Arts Grants Support Package.
Organisations receiving funding from the Australia Council or the Office for the Arts will:
- no longer have to deliver on audience KPI requirements
- have payments brought forward
- have reporting requirements delayed or removed
- be able to extend project timelines
- be able to use money provided for specific outcomes (such as performances or mentoring programs) to pay wages, rent and utilities.
Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette says: “We are also rapidly reframing how the Australia Council’s programs can support the cultural and creative sectors in these unprecedented times. We will share the outcomes of this work as soon as this work is finalised.”
While not specifically mentioned in the Federal Government’s latest stimulus package, arts organisations are eligible for:
- cash payments of between $20,000 and $100,000 to keep staff employed, with the Australian Tax Office to deliver these payments as a credit on activity statements from late April
- the Coronavirus SME (small and medium enterprise) Guarantee Scheme, supporting small and medium businesses to access working capital to get them through the impact of the coronavirus.
The JobSeeker allowance will now be available) for sole traders, the self-employed and casuals – two-thirds of the cultural workforce – so artists and arts workers will be able to access $1100 a fortnight through Centrelink for six months.
Individuals in financial stress will be able access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further A$10,000 in 2020-21.
Where to from here?
Arts workers, by their nature, are creative and many are trying to adapt to the new reality by producing online music, offering classes online, and finding ways to connect with a society now confined to their homes.
The irony is, to mentally and emotionally get through the next few weeks or months, many people in the general community will rely on the arts.
We will be listening to music, reading books, watching movies, visiting online exhibitions at galleries.
But the producers of the work – the artists, musicians and writers, plus all the technical people who support their work – are now without any income.
The mental and emotional health of our arts and cultural community is under tremendous pressure and their economic needs are urgent.
We all want to rediscover a healthy, creative and culturally exciting society at the end of this dark time. But we need our artists and arts workers to be around to make this possible.
Jo Caust is Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.
NOTE: This article has been amended since publication to include the SA Government’s announcement of $1.5 million in funding to support the state’s arts sector.
The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline – 1800 959 500 – is a free confidential helpline available 24/7 for anyone who works in the performing arts.