Queensland announces $8M relief fund for coronavirus arts emergency

Rent relief for Arts Queensland tenants and a 12-month extension of current funding for organisations are among the measures announced today.
Queensland announces $8M relief fund for coronavirus arts emergency Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch. Image via Facebook.
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Richard Watts

Wednesday 18 March, 2020

The Palaszczuk Government has announced $8 million dollars in funding relief for the arts sector to help mitigate the widespread damage caused by COVID-19.

‘To provide certainty for the sector, companies that are current recipients of the 2017-2020 Organisations Fund, will be guaranteed a further 12 months’ funding at current levels to December 2021. And in addition, Arts Queensland is also suspending applications for the next four-year funding round, in order to take pressure off organisations to do long-term planning,’ said Queensland’s Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch MP.

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‘Arts Queensland will also waive rental payments for tenants based in Queensland Government Arts facilities through to December 2020.

‘This is over $8 million in funding relief measures, which will help many small-to-medium arts organisations pay their bills and keep people employed during the current health crisis,’ Enoch said.

Read: Minister meets arts leaders to plan coronavirus approach

She also noted that the Queensland Government is working to find ways to support individual arts workers through existing programs.

‘In the coming weeks I will make further announcements about a rapid response that supports workers with creative development and digital delivery,’ she said.

‘80,000 Queenslanders work in the creative arts sector. We’re standing by them as incomes are affected by the Coronavirus outbreak,’ the Minister added.

Queensland arts workers have welcomed the announcement, with Zohar Spatz, Executive Director, La Boite Theatre Company, saying the news was ‘incredibly welcome. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.’

She told ArtsHub: ‘Obviously this creates some safety, especifically for small to mediums and those that are renting inside government-owned arts infrastructure and buildings, so everyone that’s housed at Festival House, and the Judith Wright Centre. The pressure comes off just that little bit for us to start doing some planning.’

However, Spatz said there was more work to be done by government, particularly in regard to individual artists and casual workers.

‘As you and I both know, the backbone of this industry rests with sole traders, small businesses and casuals. It’s not just performers, it’s production and tech crew, venue and hospo staff. That is the next step ... how can we support individuals? How can we support freelancers? But certainly I’m deeply grateful. When the Minister’s media release came out today, there was certainly a sigh of relief in our office and across the sector in Brisbane and in Queensland,’ she said.

Amy Hyslop, CEO of Brisbane Writers Festival, described the announcement as ‘a welcome step towards mitigating the devastating effect of COVID-19 on the Queensland arts sector workforce.'

She continued: We look forward to seeing further measures put in place to support individual arts workers and non-funded organisations.

‘Before this crisis, Australia's artists and cultural businesses were already operating in lean and challenging circumstances. Both state and federal government responses to the immediate and long term survival of the arts in Australia needs to be swift, informed through deep sector consultation and inclusive of the needs not just of funded organisations, but of the whole of industry,’ Hyslop said.

Performer, director, councellor and coach Dr Margi Brown Ash said she hoped to see relief funding directed where it was most needed.

‘My understanding is that this money is going to small and medium organisations within the arts industry to keep administrators/ artistic directors/executive directors/producers/marketing etc employed. I hope this also includes paying the independent theatre makers, the arts version of the casual workers, who had gigs with these companies, and are now so impacted due to the cancelling of said gigs,’ she said. 

‘As a therapist for artists, my sole focus is on the  individual artist themselves, who are suffering extreme anxiety, not knowing how they will move forward. I am presently offering free online counselling/coaching/creative conversations to my arts clients as well as any independent artist in Queensland who needs help,' Brown Ash concluded.

Brisbane Festival CEO Charlie Cush said: ‘We applaud any support for the sector in this difficult time and are grateful for the leadership shown by Minister Enoch.’

He called on all levels of government to ‘Listen to the sector, invest in creative development while performance opportunities are limited, roll existing grant funding into commissioning new work and allowing for research and development.  Find ways to put real money into artists’ hands.  There are so many who have lost income from cancelled opportunities and who are deeply anxious about how to weather this storm.  Ongoing funding for artists through this period is vital and the role state and federal governments play in this will help shape such an integral part of our society.’

MORE FUNDING URGENTLY NEEDED

Today’s announcement by the Palaszczuk Government follows Live Performance Australia’s recent call for a $850 million live performance support and stimulus package to support the sector following a wave of event cancellations and venue closures across the country.

‘Australia’s $4 billion live performance industry is on the brink of collapse without immediate government support,’ said LPA Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson.

According to data obtained by the website I Lost My Gig, $100 million in lost income has been reported by small to medium businesses and independent contractors working in the creative industries since Saturday.

The site estimates that 65,000 job opportunities have been lost and over 380,000 people have been impacted, numbers that will only rise as isolation measures continue.

Read: Coronavirus Australian arts event cancellations: state by state

A national meeting of cultural ministers will take place this Thursday to discuss urgent measures to support the arts sector nationally.

The sector is in crisis following the Federal Government's decision to ban public gatherings of more than 500 people to help slow the spread of the coronoavirus COVID-19. The public health decision, while necessary, has resulted in the widespread closure of theatres and galleries across the nation.

More closures will be announced following today's news that the permissible number of people in a venue or building has been reduced to 100 in order the flatten the infection curve and avoid overwhelming Australia's health system.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts