The ecosystem of Australia’s performing arts theatre industry has been long recognize. It’s a network of artists, arts organizations, and institutions that are all affected by factors like education, training, audiences and policy. It includes commercial organisations, not-for profit, government-subsidised companies, independent grassroots ventures, and amateur groups that produce and tour creative works for audiences locally and nationally.
This ecology was affect by the COVID-19 epidemic. As we move from crisis to recovery and the dust settles on the post-COVID terrain it is likely that we will see a mass exodus amongst the sector’s disillusioned freelance workers. Small companies without the necessary infrastructure are also at risk. Already, the university theatre departments have been decimate. This all paints a grim future.
Over a year, the sector has been asking for additional support. Theatre Network Australia proposes an additional $100 million for the Australia Council over four years and a targeted wage subsidy to workers in the performing arts that continue to suffer from COVID-19.
Theatre in Sydney
Hope is available for the top tier. Theatres in Sydney were given permission to open at 75% capacity due to rapidly rising vaccination rates. This month will see the reopening of big stage musicals Hamilton, and Come from Away. Sydney Theatre Company will be back in November with Julius Caesar. They also plan to stage an international tour of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring Erynjean Norvill with the commercial producers Michael Cassel Group.
The Melbourne theatres are still close until the pathway above the peak of the pandemic has been establish. However, there is hope that theatres will reopen in the next few months. Melbourne Theatre Company just announced that its 2022 season will begin in January qq online.
These companies were able weather the storms in 2020 and 2021. Independent artists and smaller businesses may not have been as fortunate. The resumption or even the possibility of touring is still a far-fetched dream, with state borders still closed and regional vaccination rates lower than in other areas.
Due to COVID funding losses, drama departments at seven universities were either severely or completely cut. These programs’ loss will have devastating consequences for future generations of artists, and educators in the arts. It is possible that the end of the pandemic is near. The theatre sector in Australia is experiencing pain that may not be over.
Caught In The Rip Theatre
In June 2020, the federal government established the COVID-19 Arts Sustainability Fund. This fund was create three months after COVID shut down theatres and venues. It also halted touring. This caused unemployment or substantially reduced employment for large numbers of freelance workers.
The $50 million fund will remain open through May 2022 in order to provide assistance as a last resort to significant arts organizations at imminent danger of insolvency because of the pandemic.
The fund has just awarded $5 million to the Melbourne Theatre Company as a cash grant. This money is meant to save one of the most important cultural institutions in Australia from collapse. Virginia Lovett (executive director of the company) describe the pandemic as like being caught up in a rip.
Imminent Risk” is a term that evokes urgency. It refers to a clear and immediate danger. This language of pending catastrophe is an interesting metaphor that the government could use, considering the recent changes in Australia’s subventioned performing arts industry.
Federal funding for the arts has fallen in the last three years since the Labour government was elect. Australia is rank 25th in the OECD league table of culture spending per percent of GDP. Australia was 25th out of 34 countries and spent 0.9% of its GDP on culture in 2019. COVID-19 is a new threat to an arts ecosystem that has been in danger for a long period.
Restart Investment to Sustain & Expand (RISE) is the most important component of the government’s COVID-19 intervention for the arts. It is a project-based, $200m competitive grant fund. Up to now, $160million has distribute to a variety of organisations, including those from the metropolitan areas, as well as non-profit and commercial organizations. It also supports touring, festivals, and exhibitions. This is a wider range of recipients than the usual roll call of Australia Council funding.
Support for regional projects and initiatives is a devil in detail. If it isn’t able to quickly leverage return via buoyant ticket sales, then touring funding will be of limited use. Regional vaccination rates will continue to decline for some time.