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COVID and the Arts

Artists are often called on to provide support for fundraisers and to build community spirit. But in 2020, the impacts of COVID-19 put the arts sector in crisis. Venues closed, shows were cancelled and artists and arts workers lost income. Who would be there to support the artists?

The Australia Council reported on survey results from  April 2020, stating that: 

“Hundreds of thousands of arts workers have had significant negative impacts to their immediate and future livelihoods. The original ‘gig’ workers, the vast majority of artists work as freelance or self-employed in their art form (81%), relying most commonly on contracts for fixed amounts (43%) followed by royalties and advances (35%).”

And 

“A national cross-industry survey conducted by the ABS between 16 and 23 March showed that more than half of all arts and recreation businesses had ceased trading, the highest proportion of the 17 industries analysed. In addition, 73% of arts and recreation businesses reported that their business had been adversely affected by COVID-19 in the previous two weeks – second only to accommodation and food services businesses (78%). The most common adverse effect was reduced local demand (93% of those affected) followed by staff shortages2 (49%) and reduced international demand3 (32%).”

(https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/8042020-summary-of-covid-19-ar-5e8d010193a6c.pdf)

To support artists, arts workers and the arts sectors, federal and state governments mobilised to provide financial relief, as did local councils, philanthropists and arts organisations. 

In early 2021, the Australia Council reported “In 2020–21, the Government has announced around $800 million of additional support to strengthen Australia’s cultural and creative sector.

This includes around $700 million of additional support to the sector in response to the pandemic, plus new support measures through the 2020–21 Federal Budget.”

https://www.arts.gov.au/covid-19-update

But even with financial support, impacts of COVID-19 on the arts sector will be long lasting – especially the emotional roller coaster that was 2020. 

It feels bitter sweet to remember my last big event on 8 March 2020. It was All About Women at the Sydney Opera House. Women writers came from around the world to discuss topics of technology, fashion, beauty, the climate crisis and more – all through a feminist lens. I had the best time – speaking at the event, watching events, talking to the other participants and …….

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Catherine McKenna | Contributor

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Catherine McKenna is the author of Ina’s Story: The Memoir of a Torres Strait Islander Woman, and My Island Homicide.  She is an Accredited...