Federal parliamentary report suggests roadmap for the arts as COVID devastation becomes clearer

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The Federal House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts has released a National Cultural Plan, recognizing the enormous economic and cultural benefits of Australia’s arts and entertainment sector, and recommending a series of policy initiatives to support and develop ” the post-COVID economy ”.

House of Parliament. Image aph.gov.au

At the same time, demonstrating how devastating the pandemic has been to the arts, Live Performance Australia (LPA) released its own report, detailing how $ 1.4 billion was taken from the live entertainment industry in 2020 – a decrease of 70% compared to 2019.

As the LPA report details, 2018 and 2019 were record years for live entertainment in Australia, which made the 2020 collapse even more brutal. According to the report, the number of tickets issued for live performances fell 68% and revenue from ticket sales fell 69%.

The impacts were felt in all the performing arts. Contemporary music suffered an overall decline of 63% in revenue and 65% in attendance between 2019 and 2020; musical theater lost 80 percent of its revenue and 79 percent of spectators.

Unsurprisingly given their population size, New South Wales and Victoria accounted for the largest share of income and attendance in 2019 (a total of 66% of income and 61% of attendance) and 2020 ( 56% of revenue and 45% of attendance), but the scale of market share has plummeted due to Victoria’s extended foreclosure in 2020. And of course, that’s before we even consider 2021, which will be no doubt equally bad considering the extended lockdowns in NSW and Victoria.

Live Performance Australia Managing Director Evelyn Richardson said: “As the largest live entertainment markets in Australia, we need NSW and VIC to perform well for the health of the industry as a whole – this is especially important as we come out of the pandemic and enter the recovery phase.

However, the recovery is expected to be slow, especially given the lack of artists on international tour. Contemporary music accounts for 60 percent of total industry revenues and 43 percent of audiences, a significant portion of which comes from festivals and international events.

Richardson says, “This industry has been severely affected by the pandemic over the past 20 months, with the Delta variant disrupting industry reactivation plans. Our live music businesses have now lost their small window of opportunity to schedule international artists for concerts and music festivals in the last quarter of this year. These events are now canceled or postponed until the end of 2022 / beginning of 2023. “

These figures from the LPA report make it clear that the sector needs more help from the government, not only to recover from the pandemic, but to repair the damage caused by the lack of a clear arts policy throughout the tenure. of this government.

The report of the parliamentary committee, chaired by Member of Parliament Dr Anne Webster, opens promisingly, with Webster’s foreword beginning: “Australia’s artistic production gives enormous value to our society, enriching our lives and creating an economic boost through domestic and international spending. The report also attempts to say how widely it has consulted the industry, referring to the more than 5,500 submissions it received, responses to The State of the Arts online survey, 351 submissions and 46 exhibitions from organizations, agencies, institutions in the arts industry, academics, think tanks and individuals, and oral presentations presented at four public hearings held from November 2020 to February 2021.

These submissions highlighted what we already know: that almost all Australians engage in the arts in some form or another (98% of us, according to independent think tank A New Approach); that the arts make a huge contribution to the Australian economy, particularly through cultural tourism (comparable to the education sector, and almost double the contribution of agriculture, fishing and forestry).

But the impact of the sector extends far beyond the economy. As the report details, Australia’s cultural and creative industries “bring unquantifiable cultural and social value to our health and well-being, our society, our education and Australia’s identity in the world”.

Ultimately, the report presents a series of 22 recommendations to “empower Australian creative and cultural industries and institutions to emerge from the COVID-19 public health emergency and allow Australian arts to reach new heights.” These include:

  • quotas for streaming services, requiring them to spend at least 20 percent of local revenues on new dramas, documentaries, children’s content, commissions, co-productions or acquisitions of Australian content;
  • encourage local, state and federal governments to develop cultural activities in their own jurisdictions, to establish regular contacts and to place a strong emphasis on rural, regional and remote support for the creative and cultural industries;
  • the establishment of a national center for indigenous arts and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art;
  • study the creation of an application that contains a repository of information on current artistic and cultural events.

However, as valid as so many of these recommendations are, and as desperately necessary as the thousands of submissions make clear, they and indeed the very existence of the committee are undermined by recommendation 4: “The Committee recommends the title of the ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications be amended to include the Arts ”, demonstrating how far we need to go in developing a comprehensive arts policy.

APRA AMCOS welcomed the recommendation to rename the current department, but went further by calling for an autonomous Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries. “A cultural plan must be ambitious so that Australia can reach its full potential as a music nation that can realize the cultural, economic and social benefits of a healthier music industry accessible to all Australians,” said the CEO Dean Ormston.

As made clear by a number of submissions to the committee, the precariousness of working in the arts has been compounded by the federal government’s responses to COVID, from JobKeeper and JobSeeker to the exclusion of freelance creatives, with Centrelink not recognizing “The artist” as a profession. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) estimated that half of its members were unable to access JobKeeper due to eligibility constraints.

Additionally, much of the emergency funding announced by the government during the pandemic was far less than the industry had advocated, was incredibly slow to deliver, and mostly went to a small number of large organizations. As the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival argued in its submission to the committee:

The federal government has allocated $ 70 billion to JobKeeper, but financial support for the arts sector remains relatively low. After months of lobbying, the industry was finally told of a $ 250 million support plan at the end of June. This “bailout” includes $ 75 million in a very competitive grant program, $ 90 million in loans, $ 50 million to Screen Australia and the remaining dollars go to federally funded arts organizations (Fletcher, June 25 2020). It flies in the face of the Australia Institute‘s call for a $ 750 million arts industry bailout (Farr 2020) in April. It is also unclear how, or if, any of the funds will go to people who make art, perform art and make a living from art.

In addition to the specific issues related to pandemic relief, the committee’s report also showed that federal funding for the arts has declined over the lifetime of this government. In the report’s own words, “when you consider per capita public expenditure on arts and culture as a share of GDP, Australia is below the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average (OECD ) and fell 4.9% from 2007-08 to 2017-18.

Despite these shortcomings, responses to the report have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “We welcome this survey and the more than 5,000 responses the committee received from our industry through the survey or in written submission as well as the comprehensive contributions made by many of our colleagues at the public hearings throughout. the year, ”said Penelope Benton and Mimi Crowe, co-directors of the National Visual Arts Association (NAVA).

“This report demonstrates the Committee’s understanding of the value of arts education, local content quotas, economic empowerment, investment in business development and financial management, building a professional industry.” and the urgent need for comprehensive data collection through the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“APRA AMCOS welcomes the recommendation to develop a national cultural plan and calls on the Australian government to ensure that the development of a plan is accompanied by serious investment and a whole-of-government approach to the sector,” said Ormston.

“COVID-19 has been devastating for the Australian music industry, with thousands of people left out of work as artists, industry workers and music companies wait for borders to reopen and venues, events and festivals restart confidently and operating at full capacity.

“Despite this, the pandemic has offered a once in a generation opportunity to ‘better rebuild’ Australia’s music industry and ensure it is sustainable, accessible and a flagship of national pride.”

The committee’s final recommendation is that the relevant Commonwealth Minister (s) report on the progress of the committee’s recommendations by December 2022. With federal elections slated for before that date, it is not surprising that the organizations arts and culture are in a constructive mood, and aim to keep the conversation open. Many in the industry are hopeful that, whatever the outcome of the election, the next government will enthusiastically adopt the recommendations in this report.

We wait, holding our breath.


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