'If our government wants cultural life to return, it must act now'
Along with almost 100 arts groups and organisations, Writers Victoria has signed its name to an open letter from Australia's arts industry, issuing a clarion call to minister Paul Fletcher.
The letter and its signatories are presented here in full, and can also be viewed on The Guardian.
We celebrate the federal arts minister, Paul Fletcher’s, enthusiasm in the opinion piece published by the Guardian on Thursday, and share his excitement for the day when Australia’s cultural life can resume.
But to make sure that our creative industry survives to greet us on that day, urgent action is required.
We welcome the $27m in targeted measures already announced – they are a helpful start for some of the most vulnerable. We are running out of time, however, to address Australia’s $111.7bn creative industry comprehensively.
The industry has been clear and united in outlining the gaps that exclude the people who Australians rely on to create our future.
The exclusions from jobkeeper eligibility are perilous. Artists and arts workers engaged casually for less than 12 months can’t access income support. Every exhibition, every show, every festival, every gig you’ve ever experienced relies heavily on these experts. If they instead join the jobseeker queues, they jeopardise their employer’s future as well as their own, because they’re draining creative businesses of specialist talent.
Local government institutions and their employees are also excluded – that’s every regional and suburban gallery, museum and performing arts centre in Australia. The lifeblood of their communities, with nowhere to go.
70% of artists who earn a living beyond their creative work do so through teaching, but universities are excluded, as are university galleries and their staff.
The expectation that creative workers could claim the jobseeker payment while continuing to sustain a creative practice is optimistic: artists who receive any income towards their practice instantly lose that income support. While the Australian Taxation Office recognises what it takes to carry out a business as one of Australia’s 50,000 professional artists, Centrelink does not.
In his piece, the minister praised the innovative ways that artists are delivering content, citing the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Virtual Concert Hall and the Biennale of Sydney’s Google partnership. But live streaming or digitising work isn’t always an option, and it comes with its own pitfalls. Artists and organisations are foregoing ticket sales, copyright payments, royalties and all the other ways that their income is generated.
Compounding this, ditching content quotas for Australian drama, documentaries and kids’ programming cuts incomes at a time when all of the industry’s self-generated income is already gone, and community TV is being switched off. There are shelves and shelves of excellent new Australian shows waiting for audiences – and after years of production and post-production work, they are lost at the very moment when Australian audiences are craving them.
The Australia Council has had to jeopardise its future by cancelling valuable industry development programs to amass $5m for a resilience fund, given there has been no investment in its essential work at this perilous time. Kim Williamshas joined the consistent call from the entire industry to double the Australia Council’s funding as a vital first step.
Australia’s most prominent artists have come out in numbers in strong support for an industry package as a matter of urgency. Tina Arena, John Bell, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Rachael Griffiths, Rachael Maza, Richard Roxburgh, Sally Smart, Christos Tsiolkas, Julia Zemiro and many, many more have devoted expert attention to making this clear.
The response from the public has been extraordinary. Social media movements #DontCancelCreativity and #CreateAustraliasFuture have seen millions of engagements all over the country. Australians are having a lot of trouble understanding why the cultural life of the nation is not being considered as strategically as the tourism, hospitality, accommodation and aviation industries, which rely on our success to drive theirs.
When the entire nation is telling you the same thing, you know it’s time to act.
The creative industry was the first hit, and has been hardest hit. Within two weeks of the shutdown fewer than 50% of our businesses were still trading, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This has since declined further: over 70% of businesses will be hit, with 75% of our people losing work, according to the Grattan Institute.
For those who are eligible, wage subsidies do help distribute government welfare to workers who need it, but this is not an investment in the industry. Independent, non-profit and commercial businesses who’ve lost all self-generated income can’t cover non-staffing costs and may not survive this hibernation period.
No other industry has been hit anywhere near as hard. Bookshops, galleries, community museums, live music venues, theatres, cinemas, festivals – all closed. Some may never reopen.
The industry, our artists and our audiences have been united and clear in outlining what’s missing and what’s needed.
State and territory ministers and premiers have stepped up. Lord mayors have stepped up. Governments all over the world have stepped up.
The opportunity before the Australian government is a once-in-a-lifetime prospect.
Will you act now to create Australia’s future?
Actors’ Benevolent Fund of NSW
Art Month Sydney
ART ON THE MOVE
Artists’ Benevolent Fund
Arts Industry Council of South Australia
Arts Law Centre of Australia
Arts North West
Association of Artist Managers
Ausdance National and the Ausdance Network
Australian Arts Trust
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art | ACCA
Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS)
Australian Craft and Design Centre Network | ACDC
Australian Design Centre
Australian Directors’ Guild
Australian Festivals Association (AFA)
Australian Guild of Screen Composers
Australian Independent Record Labels Association
Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material
Australian Major Performing Arts Group
Australian Museums and Galleries Association
Australian Music Industry Network
Australasian Music Publishers’ Association Limited (AMPAL)
Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT)
Australian Production Design Guild
Australian Publishers Association
Australian Screen Editors Guild
Australian Screen Sound Guild
Australian Society for Music Education
Australian Society of Authors
Background Providers of Music (BPM)
Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Contemporary Art Organisations Australia | CAOA
Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre
Critical Stages Touring
Cultural Development Network
Diversity Arts Australia
Electronic Music Conference
Ferris Davies PRM
Floating Goose Studios Inc.
Footscray Community Arts Centre
Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery
Just Another Agency
La Mama Theatre
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery
Live Music Office
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Merrigong Theatre Company
Monash University Museum of Art
Monkey Baa Theatre Company
National Advocates for the Arts in Education
National Association for the Visual Arts
NorthSite Contemporary Arts (KickArts)
Outback Theatre for Young People
Public Galleries Association of Victoria
Public Galleries Queensland | PGQ
Regional & Public Galleries NSW
Screen Producers Australia
Select Music Agency
Theatre Republic (SA)
The Sydney Fringe
United Workers Union
University Art Museums Australia
West Australian Ballet
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company