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Report Details Covid-19 Struggle For Australian Artists

The irregular nature of work for artists and cultural workers meant many were ineligible for Covid-19 support measures.

CANBERRA, Australia — 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,” said the working paper Keeping Creative.

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 AU$250 million ($182.7 million) in arts funding through the Creative Economy JobMaker Package.

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the Morrison Government was investing more than AU$1 billion into the arts and creative sector in 2021/22. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image)

This included AU$75 million ($54.8 million) in competitive grants funding, AU$50 million ($36.5 million) to kick-start local screen production, AU$35 million ($25.6 million) to support Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organizations, and AU$90 million ($65.8 million) in loans to arts and entertainment businesses for new productions and events.

The announcement came off the back of AU$27 million ($19.7 million) earmarked to support Indigenous arts and regional arts in April 2020.

But the AU$90 million ($65.8 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 organizations,” the report read.

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the Morrison Government invested more than AU$1 billion ($730 million) into the arts and creative sector in 2021/22.

“This includes our annual investment of around AU$750 million ($548.1 million) in core funding. In the 2021/22 budget, the government announced additional investment in the sector of more than AU$400 million ($292.3 million) over five years,” a spokesperson said.

The Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand fund, initially AU$75 million ($54.8 million) over one year, has been expanded to AU$200 million ($146.2 million) over two years.

“That is already supporting 242 art projects that will create over 89,000 jobs across all Australian states and territories. There is AU$100 million ($73.1 million) of funding available this year, and applications remain open,” said the spokesperson.

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,” said the authors.

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 the Australian government not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach or over-focus on large organizations when formulating support for the arts.

Paul Murphy, chief executive, Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance, 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 the support provided to arts and creative industries at a federal level, said Mimi Crowe, advocacy director, National Association for the Visual Arts.

“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.”

(Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Saptak Datta)