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Covid crisis highlights need for Arts and Creative Industries reform

An open letter to the Federal Government of Australia, August 11, 2021

This letter calls for reform in the way that the Arts and Creative Industries is represented in the Federal Parliament of Australia, while also highlighting the need for “industry specific” federally funded financial assistance for the Arts and Creative Sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The value of the Arts and Creative Industries in Australia

In the report Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey, Australia Council for the Arts Dr Wendy Were the Executive Director for Advocacy and Development at the Australia Council for the Arts stated the following:

“As our families, communities and nation come to terms with the uncertainty, isolation, and social and economic disruption of the world in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the power of the arts and creativity to connect and uplift us, to reduce expenditure across health and social services and to stimulate tourism and local economies, has never been more important.” Reference: Dr Wendy Were Executive Director Advocacy and Development Australia Council for the Arts Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey Australia Council for the Arts 2020 P 2.
Additionally, in the Valuing the Arts Annual Report 2018–19, Australia Council for the Arts Mr Sam Walsh AO, Chair of the Australia Council stated:

“As a society, I believe we must afford far greater recognition to the value of the arts and creativity – which has been proven time and time again – to our wellbeing, our social cohesion, our economy, our daily lives. Australia’s arts and creativity are integral to our cultural fabric and are among our nations most powerful assets. Investing in arts and creativity is investing in our social, economic, and cultural success. We know that cultural and creative activity already provides $112 billion to Australia’s GDP, and that cultural and creative industries provide 80 per cent more value to the economy than agriculture, forestry and fishing.” Reference: Sam Walsh AO Chair, Australia Council, Valuing the Arts Annual Report 2018–19 Australia Council for the Arts 2019 P 4.

The 2019 National Arts Participation Survey results show that Australians increasingly recognise the positive impacts of the arts. Nearly every Australian – 98 per cent of us – engage with the arts in some way. The arts are not a luxury; they are embedded in the very fabric of our lives. Furthermore, 85 per cent of Australians agree that experiencing the arts makes for more engaging, enriching, and meaningful lives. In 2019, 9.3 million Australians created, produced, or collaborated in the making of art, or 45 per cent of the population aged 15 years and over – up from 32 per cent in 2016. Australians increasingly recognise the positive impact of arts and creativity on our sense of wellbeing and happiness and on helping us deal with stress, anxiety, or depression. When it comes to public and private investment in the arts, more than half of Australians think funding should ensure that arts and creative experiences are available to support people’s health and wellbeing.” Reference; Australia Council for the Arts 2020 Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey. P10, P21

When you take into consideration the above-mentioned value of the Arts and Creative Industries, coupled with the sectors ability to contribute positively to the mental health of our nation it appears prudent that the Arts and Creative Industries have their own Federal Government portfolio.

The Arts and Creative Industries has for a long time not been afforded the support from government it deserves. This is evident by the simple fact that we do not have our own government representative. Instead, being joined with Communications, Urban Infrastructure, and Cities. Our industry is viable and valuable, and, in most cases, we have spent our lives dedicated to its success.

We call upon the Federal Government of Australia to establish a stand-alone Minister for the Arts and Creative Industries. The current portfolio of Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities, and the Arts clearly does not do our industry justice. We also ask that this new portfolio be led by someone who is suitably qualified and therefore acutely aware of the uniqueness of our industry and its requirements.

The impact of Covid-19 on the Live Events and Entertainment industry in Australia

From the website I Lost My Gig Australia July 2021 survey results:

“In a national survey of almost 2,000 professionals, 23,000 gigs and events were found to have been cancelled, equating to nearly $64M of lost income since July 1st this year – or $16M per week. Of this lost revenue, survey results showed 99 per cent had no income protection or event cancellation insurance.”

“Since March 2020, just 7 per cent of professionals working in the live performance and events industries have been able to operate at pre-Covid levels. Border closures, capacity restrictions, and quarantine issues continue to devastate live performances and events across the country, wreaking havoc on touring schedules, and creating what respondents describe as a never-ending cycle of unpaid show rescheduling. This continues to decimate industry confidence, with 60 per cent of respondents saying they’ve recently looked for work in other industries.” Reference: https://ilostmygig.net.au/latest-news/f/how-long-can-we-last-64m-in-live-revenue-lost-since-july-1

One issue that continues to frustrate the Live Events and Entertainment sectors in particular is the apparent government prioritisation of sporting events in lieu of meaningful support of the creative industries. Time and time again the NRL and AFL codes have received the full support of various governments across the country. Sports teams are allowed “bubbles”, whereas only recently in Melbourne, theatre productions requested a “rehearsal bubble” to which they were denied.

Additionally, in recent times we have seen crowds allowed to attend football matches while at the exact same time indoor events and entertainment venues have had to operate under reduced capacity forcing many events to be cancelled or run with limited financial viability. These apparent double standards and financial uncertainty are crippling our industry and its people.

“The impact on the cultural and creative sectors has an immense flow on effect for the broader community and economy. This includes the many thousands more employed in related industries driven so strongly by the arts and creative industries, such as tourism, hospitality, and regional and community businesses. And importantly, the rapid disappearance of Australian creative work from our lives will have a major social and cultural impact on the Australian public in both the short and long term.” Reference: MEASURING THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON THE AUSTRALIAN ARTS SECTOR https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/8042020-summary-of-Covid-19-ar-5e8d010193a6c.pdf P2.

Ever since the pandemic began, the national conversation from government and the media has focused on Health, Sport, Tourism, Aviation, Hospitality and Retail, while the Live Events, Entertainment and Arts have been for the most part overlooked. Its no wonder the mental health of our industry workers is at an all-time low given our forgotten industry status. 

We call upon the Federal Government of Australia to publicly acknowledge the level of frustration and despair being felt across the live events and entertainment industries. At the same time, outlining a financial recovery package specific to our industry.

The need for industry specific government support

Live Events and Entertainment cannot be managed like any other industry. We are very much a standalone entity and are unique in the way that our work isn’t guaranteed because we operate in a gig-to-gig economy. If these gigs are cancelled, then that means we make no money.

The lockdowns in certain states and capital cities have a dramatic impact on the employment opportunities for people working within the Live Events and Entertainment Industry across Australia. As most of our work involves travelling between the states, a lockdown in Sydney doesn’t only affect Sydney based workers, it can involve businesses and entertainers in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Adelaide etc, all of whom would have had their work cancelled in the lockdown affected jurisdiction.

The opposite can also be the case, as was recently demonstrated by the cancelling of the Gympie Music Muster. While Gympie itself was not in lockdown at the time, the unfolding Covid crisis in NSW and Victoria meant that many of the ticket holders, artists, contractors, volunteers, and vendors from around the country would not have been able to attend, therefore forcing its cancellation and putting thousands of people out of work.

As is clear from the above examples, the current policy of disaster payments being paid to workers living in lockdown areas who are unable to work doesn’t even come close to being inclusive of the thousands of workers employed across the country in the Live Events and Entertainment Industries.

Because of the diversity of our industry’s employment structures, many entertainers and production crew fell through the gaps regarding government payments, like JobKeeper. While government recovery grants awarded to the arts sector were gratefully accepted the unfortunate reality is that rarely did any of this money filter down to a large majority of the artists that work within the sector.

We acknowledge that lockdowns are necessary, we just aim to bring to the governments attention the fact that lockdowns have a devastating impact on our industry across the country, both during the lockdown and long after the lockdown has lifted. We don’t just lose work for the weeks that we are in lockdown, we can lose work for months after. The damage that this level of uncertainty we all find ourselves having to live with has totally undermined any confidence in being able to plan events and book venues or schedule tours.

When lockdowns end and payments stop (if we qualify for them) we can’t just go back to work. We can’t simply open the door and go do a show, booking a calendar of shows takes months of planning and involves many different factors. Event organisers also need to then decide whether to take the risk to invest in putting on an event, which, without market confidence is a very hard decision, not to mention considering the money they’ve already lost on the cancelled shows.

“Government support programs are also leaving many people in our industry feeling unseen, unsupported and undervalued. Over 67 per cent claimed they were ineligible for the Federal Governments Disaster Relief Payment, and over 50 per cent said they were unclear about the funding being offered by their state/territory governments.”  Reference; https://ilostmygig.net.au/latest-news/f/how-long-can-we-last-64m-in-live-revenue-lost-since-july-1

“Across the arts community the impact of Covid-19 is catastrophic. Venues have shut their doors with little or no notice and organisations have been forced to cancel their programs and activities. Hundreds of thousands of arts workers have had significant negative impacts to their immediate and future livelihoods. The vast majority of artists work as freelance or self-employed, sole traders in their art form (81 per cent), with others relying most commonly on contracts for fixed amounts (43 per cent) followed by royalties and advances (35 per cent)” Reference MEASURING THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON THE AUSTRALIAN ARTS SECTOR https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/8042020-summary-of-Covid-19-ar-5e8d010193a6c.pdf P 1.

Income protection for the Live Events and Entertainment Industries needs to be brought in. Here we are, 18 months into the pandemic and our industry seems to be the only one that must constantly plead for assistance. This is largely due to a lack of understanding as to how our industry operates.

We call upon the Federal Government of Australia to implement a recovery package that is Arts and Creative Industry focused with special consideration of the Live Events and Entertainment Industries.

Cruise entertainment employment is just one great example of how much valuable work has completely disappeared for artists across Australia. The Cruising industry in Australia has been destroyed and yet, it has returned to most major markets around the world.

Finally, we call upon the Federal Government of Australia to commit to a timeframe for the re-establishment of cruise ship operations out of our domestic ports. We are confident that if the government works in conjunction with the cruise ship operators, who have already established the necessary Covid-safe protocols, then cruise ship operations could return.

Closing Statement

We go into the Arts and Creative Industries because it’s our love and our passion. However, in the current situation our identity is being eroded and it feels as though no-one is fighting for us or at the very least understands our current plight.

Successful Artists take decades to hone their skills to the point of being able to make a living from the Arts and Creative Industries. We are proud of the fact that we have successfully run businesses, purchased houses, raised children, and repeatedly donated our services for the greater good.

It’s who we are.

Mark McConville
Arts Advocate Comedian Keynote Speaker Suicidologist

James Bustar
Arts Advocate, Comedy Juggler, Creator of www.savethearts.com.au 

Lindsay Webb
Arts Advocate Comedian, Actor, Producer / Podcaster

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, all past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the frontline health care workers of Australia.
We also acknowledge the millions of Australians currently living under lockdown conditions.

savethearts.com.au

 

 

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