In the last weeks we have seen our cultural and creative sectors suffer enormous damage as a result of the unfolding COVID-19 crisis that has seen public gatherings, performances and exhibitions cancelled in the interests of public health.
We must do all we can to support the arts community, for whom the impact of COVID-19 is catastrophic. Venues have shut their doors with little or no notice, organisations have been forced to cancel their programs and activities, and hundreds of thousands of arts workers have had significant negative impacts to their immediate and future livelihoods.
The impact is not just on our cultural and creative sectors. The flow on effect is immense for the broader community and economy, not least the many thousands more employed in related industries driven so strongly by the arts and creative industries, such as tourism, hospitality, regional and community businesses.
And importantly, the rapid disappearance of Australian creative work from our lives will have a major social and cultural impact on the Australian public in both the short and long term.
We acknowledge the hardship and isolation felt by artists and practitioners at this time, and the impact that temporary closure of many arts organisations is having on our collective wellbeing.
We have freed up funds – as much as we are able – to immediately respond to the critical situation faced by Australian arts and culture.
We are introducing new support and sector development programs.
We are establishing virtual gathering opportunities and important conduits for sector feedback as we work together and codesign solutions to the host of new challenges we face.
We are also working closely with the Office for the Arts and our Minister to provide advice and information to assist the Government’s response to this urgent crisis.
In these stressful times, our arts sector continues to be extraordinary. It has been enormously important to hear from so many of you and witness great acts of organising and solidarity, including many creative responses to make people feel included at a time of social distancing, and rapid pivots to new platforms to release work.
Our Response Package, at this stage, includes:
- Reporting and other grant conditions relief
- Adjustments to Four Year Funding 2021-2024
- Suspending current investment programs and introducing new ones
- Online learning series
- First Nations support
- Sector roundtables
- Digital support
- Sector development initiatives
- Research and analysis to identify immediate and long term impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s cultural sector
Reporting and other grant conditions relief
For organisations and individuals who have current Australia Council arrangements, we are adopting a flexible approach. This includes:
- Removing requirements on meeting audience KPIs
- Bringing forward payments
- Delaying or simplifying reporting requirements
- Varying the purposes and outcomes of funding
- Extending timelines for projects
- Allowing organisations to use money provided for a deliverable to be repurposed to pay essential bills such as wages, rent or utilities.
You are encouraged to speak with your contract manager about options that can provide flexible support during these difficult times. If you’re not sure who that is, please email email@example.com and we will direct you to the right person.
Four Year Funding 2021-2024
In light of the impact of COVID-19, we are proceeding with Four Year Funding 2021-2024 and identifying how to keep as many organisations as possible funded through this critical period. More information will be available on 30 March 2020.
Suspending investment programs
With immediate effect, we have suspended many of our investment programs currently or due to open. Suspending programs will allow Council to concentrate our efforts on responding to the crisis situation faced by our artists and arts organisations.
Suspended programs include:
Career Development Grants for Individuals and Groups, closing date 2 June
Arts Projects for Individuals and Groups, closing date 2 June
Australia Council Fellowships, closing date 2 June
Arts Projects – Organisations, closing date 2 June
Playing Australia: Regional Performing Arts Touring Fund – closing date 2 June
Contemporary Music Touring Program (CMTP) – closing date 2 June
International Arts Strategy Outcomes Fund, closing date 19 May
National Arts and Disability Awards 2019-21, closing date 7 April
Arts and Disability Mentoring Initiative 2019-21, closing date 7 April
Rights Fund for Literature, closing date 28 April
Translation Fund for Literature, closing date 28 April
Travel Fund for Literature, no closing date
If you have submitted an application to any of the above programs we will be in touch with you in the coming days.
Introducing new programs
The Australia Council has repurposed all available uncommitted funds from this financial year to immediately respond to the critical situation faced by Australian arts and culture. We will redirect at this stage approximately $5M to new programs designed to provide immediate relief to Australian artists, arts
workers and arts organisations to support their livelihoods, practice and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will provide further detail on the new programs, including eligibility and opening dates for applications in April.
Online learning series
In the coming week, we are launching Creative Connections, an online webinar series for the cultural sector, offering practical, accessible and useful
professional development. The content will be delivered by industry experts on key topics and emerging themes that will assist our sector to navigate the immediate and long term impacts of COVID-19.
Themes will include crisis management and communication, arts in the digital age as well as ongoing issues of climate change, intercultural working with First Nations artists and inclusive learning practices.
These sessions will be recorded and published on the Australia Council website for public engagement and wider reach.
First Nations support
We have commenced a weekly series of First Nations’ roundtables for artists, creatives and organisations for updates and discussion of the implications of COVID-19 for our First Nations independent and small to medium sector, live performance and public gatherings.
The first roundtable was held on Friday 20 March. Future roundtables will be held each Friday from 2pm-3pm. You can watch past roundtables and register for upcoming ones here.
Other sector roundtables
From Tuesday 24 March 2020, the Office for the Arts and Australia Council began a weekly COVID-19 Support workshop with peak arts bodies. This week, representatives from the COVID-19 Business Liaison Unit, the Australian Banking Association and the Department of Social Services provided information on support available for creative and cultural organisations and their people.
We will be implementing additional roundtables to work with the sector to codesign responses to COVID-19. More information to come.
Digital support solution
On Monday 23 March we launched our new Facebook Group Arts and creative industries: digital support as the first stage of our digital support solution.
Content can be shared and promoted on this new channel. Importantly, it will be a professional development resource for all individual artists and small to medium organisations who may not have the technology, skill sets or bandwidth to successfully present and represent their work online through live streaming or other methods.
Other sector development initiatives
The rapidly evolving environment requires quick responses to sector development needs. We will be working with artists, organisations, industry and government to deliver a development program to assist our cultural sector through this period.
Research and analysis
A number of surveys are underway in Australia and around the world to gather data on the impacts of COVID-19 on the arts and cultural sector. We are working with the Australian survey organisers to draw results together in a national sector-wide summary. We will also convene a working group to facilitate future data collection of longer term effects. If you are currently running a survey or considering it, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other government support
All artists, art practitioners, arts groups and arts organisations should also be looking at the Government’s measures to provide hardship support.
The Government has temporarily waived the asset test and waiting periods for the Jobseeker allowance, while a new, time-limited Coronavirus supplement will be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight to both existing and new recipients. This effectively doubles the current JobSeeker allowance.
Small and medium sized arts organisations such as theatre companies, Indigenous art centres, small venues and many others may be able to draw on business support measures announced on 23 March 2020.
The Government is providing payments of up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium sized businesses, and not for-profits (including charities) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. These payments will provide cash flow support to help eligible businesses and not-for-profits keep operating and retain staff. This includes creative and cultural businesses and not-for-profits.
A loan guarantee scheme will also support small to medium-sized businesses. There are no charges for accessing the scheme, and it will be repayment-free for six months. The maximum loan is $250,000, for a term of up to three years. Creative and cultural businesses are eligible to apply. This complements $8 billion in measures announced by Australian banks to support small business by deferring small business loan repayments for six months.
In addition, the Department of Social Services has a hotline 1300 653 227 and web advice on support for workers who lose income because of COVID-19 health measures. The Treasury Business Unit also has advice on all other financial measures for small business.
Further details about the measures can be found at: https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus
The Australia Council is undertaking analysis to identify in more detail how artists and organisations can access the Government stimulus packages. We will update with more information as it becomes available.
Adrian Collette AM
Chief Executive Officer
Australia Council for the Arts