National, local & queer arts organisations call for government assistance

Arts and nightlife organisations have given an update on the current situation regarding COVID-19, calling for government assistance to see the industry through these uncertain times.

Performing Arts Connections Australia released a statement this week, highlighting that performing arts centres across the country are dealing with the prospect of ongoing, long-term shutdowns, with the extension of the ban on events and gatherings across the country.

PAC Australia Executive Director Katherine Connor says that the ban on indoor gatherings and events for 100 or more reduces the ambiguity for many venues as to whether they can remain open, however a primary concerns is the venues that will be unable to re-open without substantial new investment and the major impacts on community life in towns and regional centres in every state and territory.

“We have surveyed venues across the country and the data so far indicates that the loss of income, combined with direct, unbudgeted expenses may drive many performing arts centres to shut down permanently and many more into significantly reduced programs and community engagement well into future years,” Connor said.

“The (130+) arts centres and venues in our membership are critical community infrastructure in towns and suburban areas large and small. When we come out of this crisis they will be essential meeting places for community recovery – if they survive as non-profits and businesses.”

“Performing arts venues are major employers, massive contributors to their local economies and community’s wellbeing and are the very organisations programming the work that will keep the arts alive into the future. For some, postponement of shows will push their 2021 programs further back; for others the costs of cancelling current programs will have to be absorbed into future years. The flow on effect will be immense.”

PAC Australia is working with other service organisations and industry groups to ensure their members, are kept up to date with the evolving response to COVID-19. PAC Australia also provided information from their research in advance of the Minister’s Round Table on Tuesday and is speaking directly with the Federal Arts Department about immediate responses to the closures.

“One of our priorities is for direct funding to be provided to presenters around the country for future programming, allowing presenters to provide ongoing work to touring companies and artists once isolation measures are no longer in place,” Connor said.

PAC Australia, along with Live Performance Australia, are calling for immediate emergency support and ongoing recovery assistance measures.

These include greater clarity around the timeline for public health response to coronavirus, immediate access to income support for industry participants who have lost employment or income, funding to assist in continued support for casual and contract staff, extensions on government funding for the next 12 months to minimise disruption and a cash injection into the arts sector to meet shortfalls in the short term.

The organisations are also calling for more funding for the Australia Council to fund those already assessed by the peak body, repurposing of the $22 million Live Music package, and funding to enable online and digital platforms.

Where are our local arts organisations at?

Community radio station RTRFM and Black Swan State Theatre Company both shared updates on their situation today – outlining their plans for avoiding large gatherings under the government’s new guidelines.

RTRFM recently revealed they would no longer be going ahead with their annual Neon Picnic and In The Pines events, but the station will continue to broadcast 24 hours a day.

“RTRFM is taking steps to ensure the health and well-being of its volunteers, presenters and staff,” the statement reads.

“RTRFM will continue to bring you outstanding programming from our extraordinarily creative volunteers presenters, making sure you hear the best and most diverse music we can find, as well as stories from your city and beyond.”

“RTRFM sees the impact the virus prevention restrictions are having on the livelihoods of people in our treasured music and arts community. The vulnerability of music, arts and hospitality workers is a grave concern.”

The station has pledged to continue to celebrate and support the creative sector of our state, calling for creative artists to submit live performances to the station for their Live At Home initiative. Interested parties can find more information on their website.

RTRFM are also urging listeners to ask the government for more support for Aussie artists, to continue supporting local businesses, and for artists to share their stories through the I Lost My Gig website.

Black Swan State Theatre Company have also announced today they will be postponing the remainder of their 2020 season, with the exception of Oklahoma! in November.

“We have taken this strong stance in the belief that it will help prevent the spread of the virus, and because it is our obligation and social responsibility to put the safety of our audience, employees, cast, and creatives first,” the company’s statement says.

“We are in the business of gathering people together to enjoy the experience of theatre. The reality is that the decision to postpone our productions will take a heavy toll on all of us. Many people will suffer financially, especially our casual workforce and freelancers. Black Swan cares deeply about the people we work with and we are concerned for the sector’s long-term viability.”

“In this unfamiliar time of social distancing we are looking at the period ahead as a time of creative opportunity. We will refocus, collaborate and create new ideas using digital technology to keep us connected.”

“So whilst Black Swan’s lights will be dimmed on stage, our creative energy will shine on in order to continue to bring the joy of theatre to people in new and innovative ways. And in doing so, we are honouring our contracts with our creative teams in order to help support our sector, keep theatre professionals employed and keep creativity alive.”

RTRFM and Black Swan join many local arts organisations who have been forced to shutdown events including the Fairbridge Music Festival, Perth Festival’s film screenings and Busselton Pride.

What does this mean for the LGBTIQ+ community?

The intersectionality between the arts and the LGBTIQ+ community is undeniable, and nightlife performers have raised concerns over their future with the temporary closure of LGBTIQ+ venues.

This week Connections Nightclub revealed they will be closing their doors for a short time to minimise the effects of COVID-19, while The Court will stay open with special restrictions based on government advice.

Local drag and nightlife performers are asking fans who are able to show their support by directing them to merchandise*, with some setting up Patreon accounts with digital content to supplement lost income.

A group of LGBTIQ+ parties on the east coast have also co-signed a letter to federal arts minister Paul Fletcher, highlighting the impact of the arts industry on the Australian economy.

The letter has been signed by Hobart’s Limbo Party, Sydney’s Heaps Gay, Control, GiRLTHING and Unicorns, and Victoria’s Closet and Gay Times.

“The Government’s decision to restrict non-essential events will mean we won’t be able to hold our next parties as planned,” the letter reads.

“While we absolutely support efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are sure you can imagine we are concerned about the impact these event cancellations will have on the performers, DJs, artists, local small business, staff and security who would normally be employed and contracted at our events.”

“We are writing to call on you to immediately fund a proper package for sole traders, the creative community and event industry that will be devastated without support. Without direct and ongoing support the arts and entertainment industry will be on the brink of collapse.”

“This is an industry which contributes $50 billion to the Australian economy and employs hundreds of thousands of Australians, many in regional areas including our own parties.”

“Our arts and entertainment sector is always ready to step up and give back to the community, it’s time you gave back to them.”

“We look forward to you stepping up to support our arts and entertainment sector.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

* OUTinPerth is currently compiling a list of local drag merch for those interested in supporting these artists. Stay tuned.

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