Arts Sector Receives $27 Million In Funding, Warn Much More Is Needed To Keep Industry Alive

Not-for-profit Support Act will receive $10 million in government funding as part of a package announced by the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher. The $27 million package also includes $10 million of funding for regional arts, along with $7 million for Indigenous arts.

Support Act has welcomed the Federal Government funding, with Chairperson Sally Howland commenting, “Since COVID-19 shut down live performances across Australia last month, unprecedented numbers of musicians, road crew and other music workers have been turning to Support Act for crisis assistance.

“Despite dozens of online fundraising campaigns by hundreds of artists over recent weeks, the organisation has been stretched to the absolute limit by these cries for help so today’s announcement will be a game changer for the entire music community.”

The funding will allow Support Act to provide crisis relief and short term financial support to the many artists, crew and music workers who have lost income and employment as a result of restrictions on mass gatherings introduced last month to reduce the spread of coronavirus – many of whom will be unable to access government benefits.

While the sector has welcomed the news, it has warned that it won’t be enough to save smaller companies, reports Financial Review, who acknowledged that Live Performance Australia had previously asked for an $850 million rescue package, pointing out the industry generated $2.2 billion in ticket sales last year and employed tens of thousands of people directly and through casual work.

Yesterday, the government voted down 29-24 a motion to create a tailored stimulus package for the arts and entertainment sector introduced by Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke, in recognition that a large portion of the sector would be ineligible for government benefits such as the JobKeeper program.

An impassioned speech made in Parliament by Burke went viral later that day, calling for the arts and entertainment sector to be included in the Government’s wage subsidy scheme.

“Some people want to think of this sector as celebrities, they are workers. They are workers who are almost entirely ineligible for the scheme that is before us right now, because their work, by and large, goes to forward contracts. They have forward contracts set up for the rest of the year, all of which have been cancelled because of decisions of government. The scheme that’s being put forward now leaves every single one of them ineligible for this assistance.”

“We’ve been saying from day one, ever since the rule came in restricting gatherings of more than 500 people, that this sector was the first to be shut down and will be one of the last to get back on its feet. This can be fixed. It can be fixed with a stroke of a pen by the Treasurer under the powers that he is given today.”

Burke acknowledged that during the Australian bushfire crisis this summer, the country turned to the arts sector – a sector he says has now been abandoned while facing their own crisis.

“It’s not just the artists. It’s the workers, the ushers, the people who work behind the bar. It’s the road crew who set up gigs. It’s the tradies who make the place work. This entire sector falls short in what is before the Parliament today, and the government cannot waste a day longer before these workers are shown the respect they deserve.”

That was part of a wider push by arts organisations for the government to broaden JobKeeper criteria to provide protections for workers who aren’t covered as part of the scheme, such as freelancers employed on a contract basis, or casual workers who have been employed for under a year with a company.

On Monday, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance CEO Paul Murphy acknowledged that live entertainment workers would fall through the cracks if not included in financial relief efforts.

“The Federal Government must not abandon the arts and entertainment workforce at this time,” he commented in a statement. “But as JobKeeper currently stands, a large proportion of the industry’s workforce will miss out.”

Today, Burke took to Twitter to comment on the $27 million package. “I don’t think they understand the magnitude of the problem,” wrote Burke. “A $50b industry dependent on gatherings is shut down. Its workers are largely ineligible for the wage subsidy. And this is the response,”

Live Performance Australia Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson has responded to news of the additional funding today, welcoming it while acknowledging that much more assistance will be needed in order to keep the industry afloat.

“Our industry will need much, much more in the form of direct assistance from all levels of government if we are to have a live performance industry of any scale following the pandemic,” commented Richardson in a statement.

“Governments still haven’t come to grips with the scale of the devastation that has been wreaked across our world-class $4 billion live performance industry. We were the first impacted and will be the last to come out. We stand ready to work with government now and during the recovery.”

“Much more must be done, and time is running out.”

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