Thursday, June 25, 2020

Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced

For the creative sector it’s a case of both good news and bad news in a world that has been very much about bad news. With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown of most of the creative sector, the announcement of massive reductions to Government support for humanities courses in universities, job losses at our major cultural institutions and continuing loss of ABC services, there has not been a lot to smile about.

First the bad news – the National Gallery of Australia will shed staff due to a range of pressures including the ongoing impact of the efficiency dividend. I’ll write about this separately later. What I want to focus on first is the good news – Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has been persuaded by relentless lobbying from the creative sector that it has been disproportionately impacted by Government action to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and needs relief.

Life saving buoy - Emergency use only.

He in turn has managed to persuade the Government it finally needs to act. There have been hints around for a while that this might occur, coming to a head in the last few days. The creative sector will get access to $250 million worth of grants and loans under a COVID-19 recovery package unveiled today.

What the package includes
 According to the ABC, the package includes:
  • $75 million for a competitive grants program to provide capital for new festivals, concerts, tours and events as social distancing restrictions ease. Grants will range from $75,000 to $2 million
  • $90 million in concessional loans to help fund new productions. Loans will be delivered through commercial banks with a Commonwealth guarantee
  • $50 million to help film and television producers who have been unable to access insurance due to COVID-19 to secure finance and restart production
  • $35 million in direct financial assistance for Commonwealth-funded organisations which are struggling to stay viable, including theatre, dance, music and circus

‘Perhaps it’s too little, too late but, as with the overall Government response to the pandemic, it has dragged itself against its natural instincts to intervene in the economy to prevent disaster. It might be a case of what else could it do if it didn’t want to look like an incompetent economic manager, but it responded and it acted and that is a good thing.’

Perhaps it’s too little, too late but, as with the overall Government response to the pandemic, it has dragged itself against its natural instincts to intervene in the economy to prevent disaster. It might be a case of what else could it do if it didn’t want to look like an incompetent economic manager, but it responded and it acted and that is a good thing. Where it all goes next and whether it all ends in tears may be another matter.

How it stacks up
It would be interesting to see how this package compares to what would be needed to extend the Jobkeeper wage subsidy to those in the sector who are unable to access it because of the peculiar casual nature of the business models with which the sector operates. My understanding is that only a small proportion of the sector has been able to obtain Jobkeeper, yet according to the ABC report, the Government said the sector was receiving $100 million per month from the Jobkeeper program and cash flow support.

When the pandemic first hit, due to the Government restrictions to deal with the virus, within a short period 47% of the Arts and Recreation Services sector had closed down, higher than any other sector except for Accommodation and Food Services. So if, for the sake of argument, we assume that perhaps one in ten of those affected have been eligible for support, then $250 million is much cheaper than the likely $900 million needed to extend the Jobkeeper subsidy to the whole sector. If one in five have been eligible for support, then as I estimate, the sum to extend Jobkeeper would be $400 million.

I’ve contacted independent research body, the Australia Institute, to see if they might be able to apply their expertise to clarify the issue. The Institute has been looking at the creative sector increasingly recently, which is a very positive step, and this could be one more useful contribution.

To keep it in perspective, it's also worth noting that the whole package for the entire creative sector is only half the value of the current extension to one single cultural institution, the Australian War Memorial.

‘While the package is welcome…I have a problem with the way the Government keeps seeing the creative sector as not that important a part of the economy. It continues to deal with it through relatively small discretionary grants, rather than through the subsidies and incentives it offers to other industry sectors.’


As I’ve said before I have a problem with the way the Government keeps seeing the creative sector as not that important a part of the economy. It continues to deal with it through relatively small discretionary grants, rather than through the subsidies and incentives it offers to other industry sectors. The creative sector was one of the first to shut down and it will be one of the last to open again. This package is welcome and the Government – and particularly Minister Fletcher – should be commended for it. I just wish it had come earlier and had been part of the initial response to the impact of the pandemic, treating the creative sector as the important economic sector it is.

Kate Fielding, Program Director of research body 'A New Approach', has welcomed the package and noted some of the broader implications,‘We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to lead National Cabinet discussions about the next steps to get events, tours and venues operating around the country again. This, along with the announcements of targeted packages for arts and culture from state and territory governments around the country, is an encouraging sign that these different levels of government understand the need for leadership and action. The establishment of a Creative Economy Taskforce announced by the Prime Minister is another meaningful step.'

She goes on to note,‘With the recent and unsurprising news that Australia is in recession for the first time in 29 years, this package and the associated announcements creates an important opportunity for investment in the creative and cultural sector to stimulate activity and drive employment as well as build community confidence.Studies from around the world show that cultural and creative activities improve community connectivity and help individuals recover from the sort of disasters and traumas we have experienced over the past six months. The announcement today will help arts and culture to do this important work.’

In the broader context of massive reductions to Government support for humanities courses in universities, job losses at our major cultural institutions due to the endless attrition of the efficiency dividend and continuing loss of ABC services, coupled with concerns about how effective the rescue package will be, the benefits it finally provides are at risk of being overlooked. Let's hope something better can come out of this.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook

The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world
‘When I hear the call to get back to normal, I think ‘what was normal about the old normal?’ The sudden shutdown of large sectors of the economy highlighted drastically how precarious was the situation of vast chunks of Australian society, in particular but not exclusively, the creative sector. The business models implemented by the Government to help businesses survive and employees keep their jobs didn’t work at all for those who had already been happily left at – or even deliberately pushed to – the margins of society and the economy. In good times the creative sector is flexible and fast at responding. In bad times it is a disaster, as the failure of the COVID-19 support packages for the sector shows’, The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world.

Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy
‘Survival in the creative sector in a post-COVID world will require enhanced literacy in the opportunities of the new industries of the future, the clean and clever knowledge economy which is altering our world on a daily basis. Now a new short course delivered completely online in the new digital universe we are all increasingly inhabiting will look closely at the creative and cultural economy and the broader impacts of creativity and culture, both economic and social. It will outline the role of the creative sector in managing meaning and explain how telling Australian stories puts us on the international stage in an increasingly globalised world’, Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy.

Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck

‘In its response to the pandemic the current Government came a long way in terms of its narrow economic views about minimising the role of Government. However the longer history of neglect of the creative sector shows how severe the Government's economic limitations are and how its grasp of the economy (without even mentioning the social sphere) is too narrow and out of date. It has missed a whole sector of the economy that was large, fast growing and included many of the jobs of the future. It's most recent actions have merely compounded a seven year history of neglect and damage,’ Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck.


Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector
‘The last few months have been a wild ride. First the national bushfires and now global pandemic. In February people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By March they were being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. I’m quietly seething at governments which knew this was coming, but just didn’t have a fixed date, and thought they could make savings by pretending it wasn’t coming. Now the Australian creative sector has largely been infected as well, but without the ventilators required to keep it alive,’ Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector.

Out of the ashes – art and bushfires
‘While the current bushfires raging across much of Australia are unprecedented in their scale and severity, they are a reminder of how people have responded after previous fires, rebuilding communities and lives in the affected areas. They have also focused attention on the impact of the fires on creative practices and business and on how those in the arts and culture sector can use their skills to contribute to bushfire recovery into the future’, Out of the ashes – art and bushfires.

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture 
‘Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the mechanisms and motivations that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.’, Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture.

What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture
‘With arts and cultural support increasingly under pressure, arts and cultural organisations and artists are trying to find ways in their own localities to respond and to help build a popular understanding of the broader social and economic benefits of arts and culture. Much work has been done in Australia and internationally to understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture. The challenge is to share and to apply what already exists – and to take it further’, What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture.

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world
‘If you are losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years, this is a summary of all 133 articles up until mid July 2017, broken down into categories for easy access. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture’, See also – indefinite articles in a definite world.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture

‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

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