Current Issue #488

State government, Australia Council outline support for COVID-19 affected arts sector

Gregory Lorenzatti
Caleena Sansbury and Katina Olsen perform in Taree Sansbury’s mi:wi at Vitalstatistix

The South Australian government has revealed a $1.5 million grants program to assist artists and arts organisations affected by the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a big task – that’s pretty much all them.

First came a freeze on mass public performances, then came the ban on pubs and venues, before finally this week the federal government forced all art galleries, museums and other public institutions to close their doors. In all, a pretty devastating series of blows for the state’s arts sector, which has been vocal in its calls for assistance since the onset of the crisis.

This week, the state government gave its first answer with three-tiered package of grants aimed at helping independent artists, small-to-medium organisations and major arts organisations survive and adapt during the difficult weeks and months ahead.

The Creative Endeavour: Quick Response Grants for Independent Artists will offer funding of up to $10,000 for independent artists and groups “to support the continuation of practice in uncertain times” with particular focus given to artists who have had contracts, performances, tours or exhibitions cancelled or postponed by restrictions to travel, public gatherings, and the operation of performing venues. It’s a pretty wide net, and justifiably so.

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, that applies to a broad swathe of the arts community. Indeed, the state government’s most recent round of COVID-19 measures bans all forms of public performance save for small ensembles, at a safe distance apart from one another, being recorded for the purpose of livestreaming. To this end, the Innovating Practice: Quick Response Grants for Independent Artists will provide funds of $5000-10000 for independent professional artists to invest in the tools needed to use digital and online platforms to share their work with audiences. Applications for both ‘quick response’ grants close on Tuesday 31 March, with successful applicants expected to be informed in around a week.

Expressions of interest are also being sought for a further five Arts Organisations’ Collaboration Grants of up to $100,000, to encourage the small-to-medium sector and independent artists to work with major arts and cultural organisations. This theme of all-creatures-big-and-small collaboration is also, incidentally, a key plank in South Australia’s Arts Plan released last year. Applications for the Collaboration Grant close Tuesday 14 April.

Additionally, the Australia Council this week began to outline the new forms of support it plans to provide to the sector. This includes bringing forward payments for organisations with existing funding arrangements, while also relaxing requirements placed upon them. These requirements range from audience KPIs – obviously tough to meet in the current climate – to project timelines, and allowing funds to be repurposed from their originally agreed-upon use.

Josie Withers
Despite these initial measures, organisations including ACE Open (pictured) and Vitalstatistix have called for further support

It is also plans to roll out a series of webinars offering “practical, accessible and useful professional development” touching on themes of crisis management and arts in the digital age, to an online Facebook group to offer ongoing support and communication to the sector.

The Australia Council has also flagged a plan to put $5 million towards new, yet-to-be-revealed programs providing relief to artists and organisations for the duration of the pandemic. However, these measures will not be coming from a new injection of funding. Rather, the Australia Council will be cancelling all remaining funding rounds from this financial year – some of which have already opened up applications – in order to scrounge together the aforementioned $5 million. 

While these steps by the Australia Council will add some relief, dipping into its own pockets – which, to continue a tortured analogy, have shrunk in the wash over the years – is only a stop gap solution.

More broadly, the government’s recent support measures for workers and businesses across the economy can also be of assistance to the arts sector; the Jobseeker allowance, with newly relaxed requirements and an additional $550 per fortnight Coronavirus supplement, will be accessible to many artists and arts workers now out of work, while measures to support small to medium sized businesses will also be of assistance to many arts organisations and related businesses.

Today however, creative organisations from around the country including South Australian bodies such as ACE Open, Arts Industry Council of SA, Guildhouse, Jamfactory, Vitalstatistix and Writers SA signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling for deeper support beyond that already announced, demanding targeted stimulus measures including a $1.5 billion cash pool for affected businesses, $180 million to assist the Australia Council in supporting the sector, tax incentives to promote philanthropy and $40 million towards Support Act and the Artists’ Benevolent Fund to address the impact of the crisis on artists’ and arts workers’ mental health.

As of Thursday 27 March, there have been 235 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Australia. Readers are advised to consult SA Health’s website for the latest information.

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer and editor living on Kaurna Country.

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