Report details COVID struggle for artists

·3-min read

Many artists and cultural workers slipped through the cracks of Australia's early rounds of COVID-19 support measures, a new report finds.

Researchers from the University of South Australia looked at state and federal government responses to the pandemic's hit on the arts sector in 2020.

"JobKeeper and JobSeeker were inadequate for a large proportion of artists and cultural workers because the kinds of frequently precarious and short-term employment contracts commonplace in the sector did not meet the eligibility requirements," the working paper Keeping Creative read.

Eligibility for JobKeeper was contingent upon having had the same employer, or having operated as a sole trader, for at least 12 months.

"Cultural and creative work is more likely to be freelance, seasonal, portfolio-based and can often consist of multiple casual contracts throughout a year with multiple employers," the researchers noted.

In June 2020, the federal government announced $250 million in arts funding through the Creative Economy JobMaker Package.

This included $75 million in competitive grants funding, $50 million to kick-start local screen production, $35 million to support Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations, and $90 million in loans to arts and entertainment businesses for new productions and events.

The announcement came off the back of $27 million earmarked to support Indigenous arts and regional arts in April 2020.

But the $90 million of concessional loan arrangements were reportedly inaccessible to many, who would be unable to repay the loan.

"Few other industries badly impacted by COVID-19 have been subject to concessional loan arrangements, and these kinds of arrangements can only benefit larger arts and culture organisations," the report read.

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the Morrison Government was investing more than $1 billion into the arts and creative sector in 2021/22.

"This includes our annual investment of around $750 million in core funding. In the 2021/22 budget, the government announced additional investment in the sector of more than $400 million over five years," a spokesperson said.

The Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) fund, initially $75 million over one year, has been expanded to $200 million over two years.

"That is already supporting 242 arts projects that will create over 89,000 jobs across all Australian states and territories. (There is) $100 million of funding ...available this year and applications remain open."

Surveying state responses to the impact of the pandemic on arts and culture during 2020, the Keeping Creative report found that Victoria performed the best.

"(Victoria) has a mix of strategies for supporting cultural and creative workers, as well as large, medium and small-scale cultural infrastructure and enterprises, alongside broader policy intervention that is both arts-specific and inclusive of adjacent industries more broadly," the authors wrote.

However, overall state funding for the arts "reveals a general trend towards large-scale arts and cultural infrastructure, rather than direct-to-artist grant funding".

The researchers called on all levels of Australian government not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach, or over-focus on large organisations when formulating support for the arts.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said the report showed federal government support for the arts in 2020 was "woefully inadequate and too slow coming".

"The only conclusion that can be drawn from the Morrison government's poor response is that it does not understand the nature of employment in the arts sector, and it does not value the enormous contribution the sector makes," he said.

The report revealed the disparity in support provided to arts and creative industries at a federal level, National Association for the Visual Arts advocacy director Mimi Crowe said.

"Artists' careers often rely on many short-term commissions or project-based work," she said.

"Largely their incomes are low and intermittent as they work project to project.

"This precarity, compounded with the impacts of rolling lockdowns, uncertainty in the workforce and ineligibility for income support packages has left visual artists some of the most vulnerable and adversely affected in the pandemic."

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