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Greater support urged for SA’s embattled creative sector

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South Australia’s peak arts industry body is calling for greater government support for creatives affected by the latest pandemic outbreak, saying many won’t qualify for help under the packages already announced.

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As reported earlier this week, the state’s lockdown came just as Adelaide was preparing to celebrate one of its biggest winter arts and culture activations. It has affected festivals such as the inaugural Illuminate Adelaide and the state-wide Umbrella music festival, as well as forcing the cancellation or postponement of numerous other gigs, live performances, tours and exhibitions.

In a statement today, the Arts Industry Council of SA (AICSA) said the outbreak would have a substantial impact on the next three months of business for the arts sector, “which is operating in an environment of excessive risk”.

Chair Jessica Alice said that while it was “heartening” to see the State Government come out with its $100 million support package for South Australian businesses and collaborate quickly on solutions with the Commonwealth, “far more targeted support is needed for our industry sector”.

AICSA, which represents more than 100 arts and culture organisations and individual artists, fears many in the sector will be locked out of the support packages due to eligibility thresholds.

“The $75,000 minimum threshold for sole traders [to access State Government cash grants of $1000] will exclude the majority of artists in South Australia, who are already on some of the lowest incomes,” Alice said.

“The unrecoverable costs associated with cancelled or postponed festivals and live events far exceeds the $3000 available to businesses.”

The organisation is also concerned about the lack of certainty around whether “microbusinesses” not registered for GST will qualify for the Federal Government’s COVID-19 disaster payment of $600/$375 per seven-day period.

In announcing the State Government’s support package on Wednesday, Treasurer Rob Lucas said it would consider giving targeted support to industries that are significantly impacted by the lockdown.

AICSA urged it to lower the earnings threshold for sole traders and to consider additional support for the arts sector, including safety nets for festivals, live performance, music and cultural events.

“Safety nets for South Australian presenters, festivals and arts events, such as insurance or guarantee-against-loss schemes, would significantly bolster the whole sector’s confidence,” said the council’s deputy chair, Justyna Jochym.

“The cancellation or postponement of even one festival impacts hundreds, if not thousands of jobs, including among industry suppliers and venues across the state.”

AICSA has also joined calls for the reinstatement of a revamped JobKeeper and a new federal arts package.

Last September, the State Government announced a $10.2 million funding package to “create jobs and fast-track recovery” in SA’s arts and culture sector, while the Federal Government has been distributing grants through its $200 million Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund.

Sydney and Melbourne being shut down cuts off a lot of work for our artists as well

However, a report released this week by researchers at UniSA’s Creative People, Products and Places Research Centre argues that the arts and culture sector has been “consistently neglected” during the pandemic. Titled Keeping Creative and focused mainly on 2020, it was especially critical of the Federal Government, whose support it said fell far short of that offered by other nations such as Germany, France and Canada.

The Performers Support Fund of SA, a benevolent fund revamped in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown last year, has received a large upswing in requests for assistance in the midst of the latest outbreak.

“Our website did crash for a little bit,” PSFSA chair Blake Taylor told InDaily this morning.

“There’s been quite a bit of demand in this lockdown. A lot of people very unexpectedly lost their work quite quickly.”

The fund, which is supported by donations and fundraising drives, offers quick-response grants in the form of food and fuel vouchers of up to $200, “triaging” requests in order of urgency. It has had requests for help from creatives across the performing arts spectrum, including actors, dancers, choreographers, designers and directors.

Taylor agrees many in the sector have difficulty accessing government support because they work as are sole traders or casual workers in the gig economy.

In addition to the current South Australian lockdown, he says interstate border closures have also had a large impact on local performers who have lost touring work or roles in films and shows being produced in other capital cities.

“The national situation is quite bleak at the moment for performers… Sydney and Melbourne being shut down cuts off a lot of work for our artists as well.”

For musicians, crisis support is available through national organisation Support Act, which offers cash grants to music industry professionals affected by COVID-19 and also operates a wellbeing hotline (1800 959 500).

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