Commentary on Call for $750m rescue package for coronavirus-hit Australian arts – The Guardian Article

As a performing artist active and based in Australia, contributing positively to the growth of Australia Economy, Arts and Culture for over 10 years, like thousands of Artists in this country, I was one of the first affected by the necessary restrictions made to prevent the spread of Covid-19 virus, which closed all live music venues since 16th March 2020. This has not only cancelled and postponed all live performances since then, but most venues have not been able to pay for the performances and concerts already done since February yet. We understand how serious the situation is and we support the venues, as we value them and we want them to survive.

The Arts sector is never mentioned as per say we don’t exist, we don’t count, we are useless, art is not essential in any society… however, we are always expected to survive somehow and to keep providing “free entertainment” to the population, making online live stream performances, new songs, new stories, new collaborations, begging for “donations” to keep producing art.

In this period of isolation at home or in every day “normal” life really, we humans rely on the arts sector to keep us happy, motivated, inspired, thinking, questioning… Every time we hear a song, watch a movie, enjoy a dance, read a book, admire a painting, a sculpture, a photo, a drawing, a video, a game… all this “content” is made by artists, these people who don’t exist…

Thank you for the mention. Thank for the action. I hope we can be treated with dignity.

We do exist, we count, we are worthy, we are essential in any society and even more during this time of crisis.

Juliana Areias

Read The Guardian Article: Call for $750m rescue package for coronavirus-hit Australian arts

Survey finds 58% of respondents support government help for the industry and just 24% oppose it

The arts industry is worth $15bn annually to the economy but most of its 193,600 workers have been excluded from the jobkeeper program. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

The Australia Institute is calling for a $750m rescue package for the arts industry after the closure of pubs, clubs, theatres and recital halls left almost 200,000 creative arts workers out of a job.

The arts industry is worth $15bn annually to the national economy but most of its 193,600 workers have been excluded from the federal government’s $130bn jobkeeper wage replacement program, despite defining themselves as “sole traders” like a tradesperson.

And their plight is certain to continue for several months, longer than for many employment sectors because service industries will be among the last to re-open.

The progressive Australia Institute thinktank believes the federal government should deliver a $750m rescue package for those in the creative arts, and reports an opinion poll found strong voter support for the idea.

The institute calculates the closure of performance venues including art galleries has cost national gross domestic product the equivalent of $14.7bn a year.

“Creative and performing arts employ four times as many people as coalmining and as many as in finance, yet the economic contribution of this sector is rarely discussed,” research director at the Australia Institute, Rod Campbell, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Campbell said an institute opinion survey had found 58% of respondents supported government help for the industry, and just 24% opposed it.

“The Covid-19 crisis has hit the arts hard, with reports of over $330m in contracts lost,” he said.

An organisation to track the numbers of lost jobs in the industry has been set up by the Australian Festival Association and the Australian Music Industry Network.

Called I Lost My Gig, it has calculated that as of 7 April some $330m in paid performances had been dumped.

On Wednesday Labor accused the federal government of adding to the “pain and uncertainty” of the performing arts by suspending local content quotas for new Australian dramas, documentaries and children’s programs for domestic broadcasters.

The opposition’s arts spokesman, Tony Burke, called it a “blow for a screen sector that’s already hurting”.

“Screen production has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with many thousands of people losing work,” Burke said in a statement on Wednesday.

Screen Producers Australia also criticised the government’s hard suspension of local content quotas.

“These hard cuts have the potential to at worst cripple Australia’s production industry and at best snuff the opportunities for a rebound for much of our sector at a time when it is facing a very real battle for survival,” said Matthew Deaner, the CEO of Screen Producers Australia.

The majority of arts companies and casuals will get little benefit from the jobkeeper package
‘The majority of arts companies and casuals won’t be able to access any stimulus or income support announced to date.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Data released this week proves what the arts and recreation industry already knows: we are by far the industry hardest hit by Covid-19’s economic destruction.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 47% of arts and recreation businesses remain trading. And that number is falling.

By contrast, across the majority of Australia’s industries, over 90% of businesses are still trading – testament to their extraordinary capacity for adaptability. It’s hardly surprising, however, that the industries wholly dependent on public engagement are the most endangered.

The creative industry was the first hit by Covid-19. Our event cancellations and gallery closures were making front-page news back in early March – which already seems like a lifetime ago.

Across Australia, there are 50,000 professional artists and 600,000 workers in the creative industry. The overwhelming majority are not employed fulltime. The industry’s self-generated income has disappeared. And yet the majority of companies and casuals won’t be able to access any stimulus or income support announced to date.

Bookshops, galleries, museums, theatres and cinemas all over Australia have been closed by government order. Festivals, residencies, regional and international tours have been cancelled. And rightly so: we all need to take very good care right now. Yet while the aviation industry – which is just a sixth our size – was given a $750m package a couple of weeks ago, nothing has been offered to the industry that inspires the nation and the world.

So why that perilous gap? What makes the industry so unique?

The creative and cultural industries contribute $111.7bn to GDP, compared with aviation’s $18bn. Unlike aviation, our cash flows don’t follow steady daily and monthly patterns, and so it’s hard to demonstrate our downturn. Festivals, art fairs and biennials, for example, transact 80% of their year’s turnover within just a few months.

That means that the past few months don’t yet show the downturn; it hasn’t happened yet in dollar terms, even though it’s absolutely happened in real terms. Or they might have received a grant in advance of an exhibition or event that’s already been cancelled. It’s hard to show that that money can’t go towards current staffing.

On top of all that, there are galleries and theatres all over regional and suburban Australia that are owned by local, state or federal government. No income support has been announced for them.

Last week, a government media release claimed that the jobkeeper package would “keep the spotlights shining in the arts sector” because “most organisations” would be eligible.

The industry has been united in making it clear that this is very much not the case.

It’s ghostlights, not spotlights, in our theatres and galleries across Australia right now.

Companies who can’t demonstrate their downturn across just the past couple of months can’t access the jobkeeper payment that allows them to retain staff. Casuals – the lifeblood of the industry – who have not worked with one employer for more than 12 months won’t be able to have that payment claimed for them. Migrant workers on visas can’t access any support at all – and despite the taxes they pay through all their hard work, they can’t even access healthcare.

Despite business, industry and union groups all over Australia seeking the inclusion of all workers in income support measures, the government has dismissed calls to protect a million of our most vulnerable workers. It just doesn’t make sense.

Why would a government ignore an industry that contributes 6.5% of the economy? An industry whose work is enjoyed by all Australians, as well as audiences in their millions around the world?

Yesterday, Australia’s artists reached over 920,000 people online by asking the prime minister and treasurer to act now to #CreateAustraliasFuture.

Today parliament sits to make those decisions. The opposition has made it clear that it will move amendments to ensure that casuals and migrant workers are covered, but the government has been steadfast in saying they won’t consider it.

Meanwhile, the entire nation is craving the return of our cultural life after the greatest disruption we’ve ever experienced.

In a rather creative mixing of metaphors, the prime minister has spoken of the “bridge” we need to build beyond “hibernation” to the brave new world on the other side.

A momentous question faces the people we’ve elected: what kind of future Australia do we imagine there?

Esther Anatolitis is executive director of Nava, deputy chair of Creative Arts Precincts, and one of Australia’s leading advocates for the arts.

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