What will the coronavirus crisis mean for the future of Australia's arts?
Apr 22, 2020
BY MATT CONNELLAN
Actor Brad McMurray has been in the arts and entertainment industry for nearly 30 years.
His list of credits includes Australian-made shows Neighbours and Home and Away, as well as productions for SBS, the ABC, and streaming giant Netflix.
But actors, and others in the arts and entertainment industries, were hit nearly instantly by the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, and the resulting lockdown measures.
It forced lights out at theatres and cinemas around the country, while social distancing requirements made production, at times, impossible.
But McMurray says the industry had already been struggling before the onset of the pandemic.
Australian actor Brad McMurray.
"I think we were invisible going into this pandemic - when the arts got shoved into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications," he told SBS News, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement in December than Australia would no longer have a federal department with a major focus on the arts.
The Department of Communications and the Arts would instead be rolled into a new entity.
So many shows closed this week. So many theatres now dark including @hayestheatre So many incredible performers lost their livelihoods in the blink of an eye. The arts is tough. We will rebuild. This hurts though
At the time, Minister for Communications and the Arts Paul Fletcher defended the move and said it was "business as usual" and it was not unprecedented for the arts to sit in a department that does not bear its name.
"There have been two periods in the last 10 years ... one under Labor, one under the Coalition," he said.
"There is no change in the resources committed to the arts - $749 million is what the Commonwealth is committing to the arts in 2019/20."
Mr McMurray's agent is Anthony Kidd, who runs the Benchmark Creative agency in Sydney.
Mr Kidd says the impacts of COVID-19 have been particularly hard on young actors trying to make their way in the industry.
"There's certainly been a heavy impact on our interstate actors who fly into Sydney and set themselves up to live and work here," he said.
Benchmark Creative's Anthony Kidd.
"Obviously the opportunities are more fruitful here, so we've seen a lot of younger talent from 18 through to 25 having to move back to Queensland, Victoria, Adelaide, wherever they have come from, to live with their parents during this time.
"They've lost their jobs in hospitality, in cinemas all those sorts of places."
Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals at least 53 per cent of small arts and recreation businesses have closed.
But the majority of arts workers are not eligible for federal government stimulus schemes, leaving them in limbo until productions re-commence.
That's because workers need to prove loss of income caused by COVID-19, which for arts workers who are often in short-term employment, can be difficult to demonstrate. Others are on contracts for productions that have been halted and are also ineligible.
Chloe Dallimore is the federal president of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance's equity division and says the majority of people in the industry are freelancers, working from contract to contract.
This means they don't work for a particular employer for a 12-month period.
"They are the people that are falling through the gap in the JobKeeper parameters, simply because they don't tick the right boxes," she said.
"All we need to do is change some of the back-end understanding of JobKeeper and we could capture everyone."
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Ms Dallimore believes the best way to reinvigorate the industry once the pandemic is over, will be to support local productions and local actors.
"Now is the time that we need to be sharing Australian stories, and celebrating Australian stories, and supporting our local industry, our local crews, our local musicians, our local actors, writers, directors," she said.
"It could be a really wonderful time where we really celebrate what it is to be Australian."
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