There’s not much that can be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been said.
It’s no surprise that so many are looking forward to 2021 and the symbolic, hope filled fresh start of a New Year.
But for a lot of people in our community, 2020 has been more than quiet, it’s been more than weird, and 2021 isn’t offering much opportunity either.
I’m talking particularly about the hundreds of thousands of Australians whose livelihood is dependent upon the arts and entertainment industries.
Our neighbourhood is home to Queensland’s primary entertainment district, to galleries, theatres, nightclubs, music halls, studios, stages and arts education institutions, and so the impact on our community has been massive.
I’ve spoken to hundreds of arts workers across McConnel in recent months - painters and promoters, musicians and managers, people involved in lighting and logistics - and heard heart-breaking stories of people leaving the industry. On the flip-side, I’ve heard how more flexible work arrangements have given people the opportunity to give more energy to their art, and of innovative new relationships and ways of working.
When Covid-19 restrictions hit, the cultural sector was one of the first to be impacted. As office-workers transitioned to working from home, festivals were first postponed and then cancelled.
As we streamed musicians’ lounge-room gigs into our own homes and joined online book clubs, ticket sales evaporated and incomes disappeared.
We still don’t know when we’ll get to dance at nightclubs again, or when the big international tours will come back to town, but we need to ensure the sector is still there on the other side of this crisis, whenever that is.
Not just because it directly contributes $14.7 billion to Australia’s GDP.
Or employs four times as many people as coal mining.
As an industry, the cultural sector is hugely important and, beyond the economy, is a fundamental part of our society in promoting wellbeing, reflection, celebration and inclusion.
But even before the Covid-19 crisis, we’d already seen a steady reduction in funding. Arts Council funding has declined by 20% since 2013, and is predominantly targeted at the major performing arts organisations. The ‘small-medium’ sector has twice the patronage of big organisations, produces four times the work and yet receives a quarter of the funding. It has been decimated by the Covid-19 crisis with a 33% reduction in accommodation and food services and 27% reduction arts and recreation, and an estimated $330 million in contracts lost.
While most local venues have reopened (albeit at reduced capacity) the return of the virus in Victoria shows how quickly circumstances can change. The size of Australia’s domestic arts sector does not provide the scale necessary to sustain the industry at pre-crisis levels, and the prospect of major international acts being able to tour again is receding rapidly.
The logistical capacity necessary, in the form of supporting services and skilled operators within the industry, to put on major acts must be maintained in order for the industry to be reactivated at such time when touring may be resumed.
The arts sector urgently needs more crisis support and an expansion of existing grants to venues, performers and supporting businesses, including hardship payments, and funding for mental health support.
To support the sector to recover we need to alleviate the costs on venues, subsidising the cost of security required to operate scanners for the purposes of contract tracing, and suspending lockout conditions. We need to see tax incentives for live music events, and rental holidays or waivers for use of publicly-owned venues. We need to see better recognition of the industry’s capacity in adjustment packages with support for infrastructure and industry specialists across the entire arts ecosystem.
Beyond the crisis, the Queensland Greens will push for a massive increase in arts funding to support established arts companies and programs, new and emerging artists, and programs for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
The Queensland Greens are committed to supporting live music venues by reducing the administrative burden upon them, providing safe and reliable transport, safe spaces in late-night precincts, and discouraging reliance on gambling revenue.
We want to see a thriving arts scene that is as diverse as our community, and recognise that the arts are of the utmost importance for First Nations communities in maintaining and even restoring a connection to culture and country.
We prioritise the inclusion of arts and cultural infrastructure in urban planning, and through conversations with our community have already identified opportunities across our neighbourhood with potential performance spaces in pocket parks, new community centres and an arts collaboration precinct in the heart of Fortitude Valley.
I’m at bit of a loss to think about an industry that is a bigger part of the fabric of our neighbourhood, or that could be more important in supporting economic recovery through tourism, innovation and activation of our streets.
We don’t need to wait until the New Year for a fresher, better start. That opportunity is here now - Vote 1 Greens for a future for all of us.