Ailing Arts Sector Calls for Life Support


Performing arts centres across the nation have added their voice to the chorus of cultural institutions calling for an industry-specific support and stimulus package.

The Performing Arts Council (PAC) has joined other industry bodies including Live Performance Australia (LPA), the Australian Recording Industry Association and the Australian Festivals Association in calling for arts funding in the face of ongoing, long-term shutdowns related to the federal government’s coronavirus-related ban on events and gatherings across the country.

PAC's executive director, Katherine Connor, said the ban on indoor gatherings and events for 100 or more could lead to permanent closures, and follow-on impacts on community life in towns and regional centres.

Connor said that many performing arts centres across the country are now considering whether they will be forced to close permanently, which will have devastating impacts not only on the sector, but also for the communities they serve.

"Arts organisations are major employers and drivers of their local economies."

"Companies are having to make difficult decisions about their ongoing viability right now and the government needs to respond accordingly - time is simply running out,” Connor said.

The entire spectrum of the arts and culture industry is in meltdown thanks to the coronavirus-related closure of performing arts venues due to event cancellations: the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Sydney Writers’ Festival and Byron Bay's Bluesfest, to name but a few large events, along with the indefinite closure of cultural institutions such as Tasmania’s MONA (and the postponement of one of its largest tourist drawcards, Dark Mofo).

Queensland's Performing Arts Centre made the "necessary and disappointing" decision this week to cancel all performances snd projects until 30 April.

And there's the highest profile casualty on the on the film and TV production landscape—the shutdown of the film production for Baz Luhrmann's Elvis biopic due to Hollywood star Tom Hanks's coronavirus diagnosis.

Connor's comments came after the federal minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher, met with commonwealth, state and territory creative and cultural ministers last week to discuss the unprecedented and evolving Covid-19 situation, but failed to make an assistance package available.

The PAC, along with LPA and other industry groups, had called for a range of support and recovery assistance measures, starting with greater national clarity around the projected timeframe for the public health response to coronavirus, including when venues and companies can anticipate preparing to resume operations.

▲Tasmania’s tourism drawcard, the Dark Mofo festival, was one of many events postponed or cancelled as a result of fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
▲Tasmania’s tourism drawcard, the Dark Mofo festival, was one of many events postponed or cancelled as a result of fears over the coronavirus outbreak.

At a roundtable convened last week, ministers discussed the importance of working together on responses and agreed to reconvene to further discuss cash flow issues and grant arrangements, consider the role of creative development and digital capability to help sustain the sector, and to continue to work together for the benefit of the sector during this once-in-a-generation event.

A communique released by Fletcher's office said the sector played "an integral economic and social role in the life of our nation, and will be critical to the health and wellbeing of people both during this immediate crisis, and into the recovery period".

"Examples of the impact of necessary restrictions on mass gatherings and social distancing measures on the creative and cultural sector were shared between all ministers.

"They acknowledged the devastating effects of live performance cancellations for artists, producers, directors, roadies and many others who rely on the sector for work, and who are often casual employees and sole traders."

LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson said cultural ministers must act decisively to save an "arrested" industry that was no longer running.

“Just as the airlines have had all their flights grounded, we’ve had every venue in the country shut down and all events cancelled," Richardson said.

While acknowledging the activation of state governments in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT regarding the provision of arts funding relief packages, Connor urged the federal government to follow New Zealand, Canada and the UK in swiftly implementing financial support to to help the ailing sector.

"We ask the government to adopt the comprehensive emergency industry support plan presented by LPA at the meeting of cultural ministers on Thursday," Connor said.

Eligible small and medium arts businesses will in the meantime be able to take advantage of measures announced last week in the federal government’s $17.6 billion package include cash flow assistance for small and medium businesses to support them continuing to pay employees, up to a maximum of $25,000.

And the industry's sole traders and casual workers may also benefit from the federal government's expansion of eligibility to income support payments and the establishment of a "Coronavirus supplement", announced on Sunday as part of the second stage of the federal government's economic support package.

The charity Support Act has also launched an emergency relief appeal for music artists and industry workers whose livelihoods have been lost due to the cancellation of concerts, festivals and shows.

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