I’ve been doing a lot of reading while in COVID-19 lockdown. It’s been a fair balance between fiction and non-fiction, however, in the case of the world news, one could be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference. It’s hard to believe some aspects of the current reality.
This week a couple of articles published by The Guardian stood out for me. The first was an opinion piece by Australia’s federal arts minister Paul Fletcher titled ‘Coronavirus hit Australia’s arts industry hard and early. Our support package is designed to help’, and the other was the Australian arts industry’s timely response in the form of an open letter to Paul Fletcher titled ‘If our government wants cultural life to return, it must act now’: an open letter from Australia’s arts industry’.
I recommend reading both of the aforementioned pieces. In the former piece, Fletcher acknowledges the sporadic nature of employment in the arts industry. “Typically work in the arts sector is collaborative and project-based – with a group of people working on the project under different arrangements. Some are full-time employees, some are contracted for the life of the project, some are casuals employed for just a short time. The government has deliberately structured a range of support arrangements which responds to this variety of employment arrangements.”
While Fletcher’s words are seemingly well-meaning, the last statement is what many arts practitioners are at odds with. The arts industry’s open letter exposes some of the cracks in the government’s support arrangements. “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.”
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have been working hard to support artists who have lost work and are calling on the government to provide a wage subsidy for arts workers. Based on Fletcher’s words, the government has “deliberately” glossed over the ineligibility of the “casuals employed for just a short time” (less than 12 months), or those “contracted for the life of the project”. Projects in the arts industry can run for as little as a day up to several years, meaning that once that project is done, the company may then cease to exist and cannot claim jobkeeper on behalf of its employees. Many artists are feeling neglected and helpless.
As I reflect on the many artists whose stories are yet to be told, it strengthens my resolve to continue this independent publication. As a freelancer and sole trader my arts income has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown, particularly when live events were cancelled. I have had to adapt to innovative approaches to keep my studio running as social-distancing measures have been implemented. Nevertheless, I’m still operating at about fifty percent less turnover than I anticipated for 2020.
I count myself lucky that I still have the bare necessities and can still work with my singing clients, and offer my freelance writers and artists some payment for their talents. A career in the arts has always been challenging but for the past three years, since going freelance, I’d made steady progress. This is an unusual year, but I want to try to look beyond this crisis with hope.
Tomorrow, I will launch Issue 6 of my quarterly digital magazine. Its pages are filled with one hundred per cent Australian content and stories about independent and emerging Australian artists. If you are looking for ways to ensure that Australia’s creative future is sustainable, please join me in keeping the arts visible.Become a Patron!