Victorian Government announces $16.8 million arts survival package

With the creative industries among those hardest hit by COVID-19 shutdowns, the Victorian Government is stepping in to help both individual artists and arts organisations.
Victorian Government announces $16.8 million arts survival package The $16.8 million survival package will bring Victorian artists in out of the cold. Pictured: Moira Finucane's The Rapture in Antarctica. Photo credit: Scott Portelli
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Richard Watts

Tuesday 28 April, 2020

With theatres, galleries, live music venues, libraries and more closed across the nation as Australians work collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Victorian Government has taken decisive action to ensure the cultural sector can survive the shutdown.

Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, the Hon. Martin Foley MP, today announced a $16.8 million survival package designed to save hundreds of jobs in the state’s creative and cultural sector.

‘Victoria is proudly the creative state. Even in these unprecedented times, our creatives continue to find ways to connect and inspire us – but they are doing it tough and they need our help,’ said Foley.

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The funding – which consists predominantly of new money rather than monies repurposed from existing programs within Creative Victoria – will provide immediate support to Victorian arts organisations and individuals, helping them sustain employment, develop new works, provide opportunities for creative community participation and keep Victorians connected through the Coronavirus crisis.

The arts survival package consists of two separate streams: a new $13 million Strategic Investment Fund for arts organisations, designed to provide them with stability and meet immediate and urgent needs during the coronavirus shutdown; and a new $2.2 million Sustaining Creative Workers initiative, which will support individual artists and micro-organisations by allowing them to continue work on existing projects, create new works, develop skills, and conduct research and/or market exploration.

A further $1.6 million from existing grants programs has been fast tracked and will be invested directly into the sector over the next three weeks.

‘Ensuring that our cultural and creative sector gets through to the other side of this crisis will be critical to Victoria’s economic, social and cultural recovery,’ Foley said.

SUPPORTING ARTS ORGANISATIONS

The $13 million Strategic Investment Fund will be shared by almost 100 non-government arts and cultural organisations including festivals, performing arts companies, and museums and galleries. Collectively, these organisations employ almost 2,000 people and generate $270 million for the Victorian economy each year.

The fund will help organisations to stabilise, ensuring they can maintain operations and keep people employed, commission local artists to develop new works, and deliver programs for their communities.

Read: Our poll: Top priorities for government funding

Melbourne Fringe, whose annual festival will be presented in November, is one of the many Victorian organisations to be receiving support through the Strategic Investment Fund.

Simon Abrahams, Melbourne Fringe CEO and Creative Director, described today’s announcement as a fantastic response by the Andrews Government.

‘So many artists and organisations are in crisis and aren’t being supported through some of the existing stimulus measures like JobKeeper, which is seeing a lot of people fall through the cracks. So it’s fantastic to see a response like this,’ he told ArtsHub.

‘So many artists and organisations are in crisis ... so it’s fantastic to see a response like this.’

- Simon Abrahams, Melbourne Fringe

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Melbourne Fringe, Abrahams explained. ‘We’ve lost about $370,000 worth of revenue; we’ve seen an impact on sponsorship and philanthropy and right across the board, so the impact on us has been huge. We’ll obviously be using any income [from the Strategic Investment Fund] to support the health of the organisation and staff, but we’re also looking to support our artists, because they’re the ones that are hardest hit,’ he said.

‘We’re looking at the moment at a series of commissions, and some of the grant opportunities that we’ve already announced we’ll be able to bolster the support for those as well, to make sure that we’re supporting artists all the way through, because we’re putting on a festival in November.’

Another Victorian organisation to be hard hit by COVID-19 is the Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) for whom the Strategic Investment Fund will provide urgently needed cash flow.

Having projected a loss of $350,000 in revenue over a six-month period due to COVID-19, including lost box office income, NDIS income, venue hire, bar sales, consultancy and one-off projects, the new funding provided through the $13 million Strategic Investment Fund will relieve the pressure of ongoing operational costs.

Robyn Gawenda, Executive Director and Co-CEO said, ‘FCAC’s work is deeply embedded in place and connection with others, meaning COVID-19 has been a particularly challenging time for our artists, staff and community. We are grateful to have the support of the Victorian State Government, ensuring a future that builds on FCAC’s legacy of access and cultural rights.’

Daniel Santangeli, FCAC’s Artistic Director and Co-CEO, added: ‘For organisations like Footscray Community Arts Centre, Creative Victoria’s much-needed Stimulus Package means that the COVID-19 financial hit is a stumble and not a fall. As a nationally recognised arts centre grounded in the western suburbs, FCAC will now be able to continue with the incredible work we have been doing for the last 45 years: supporting artists from vulnerable communities to create art that impacts the nation.’

‘For organisations like Footscray Community Arts Centre, Creative Victoria’s much-needed Stimulus Package means that the COVID-19 financial hit is a stumble and not a fall.’ 

- Daniel Santangeli, Footscray Community Arts Centre

The new funds will also support FCAC’s digital projects and on-site programming, providing paid work to independent artists, as well as assisting with plans to revitalise and upgrade Footscray Community Arts Centre’s heritage-listed Henderson House as a site for independent artists and small companies to make and present work.

With independent artists some of those most impacted by COVID-19, the Creative Victoria Stimulus will allow FCAC to establish further ways to support artists from vulnerable communities to get back to work once gathering restrictions are lifted, by providing more free and low costs spaces.

SUPPORTING INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS

Separately, a new $2.2 million initiative – Sustaining Creative Workers – will offer quick response grants for Victorian-based independent creatives and micro-organisations with at least five years of professional experience.

Grants of $5,000 will be available for individuals, and $10,000 for micro-organisations and businesses. An additional $2,500 in access funding will be available for creatives with a disability, and disability-led organisations.

Performance artist Moira Finucane is one of many independents who will be applying for Sustaining Creative Workers funding and described the initiative as ‘an incredible commitment of additional funds’.

‘The $2.2 million for independents and micro-organisations is an investment in the power of all of our communities to dream,’ Finucane told ArtsHub.

‘That $2.2 million is going to be distributed out across regional Victoria as well as the city. And to me, this funding shows that the government understands that people in Victoria ... love sharing and exchanging stories.

‘Engaging directly with the arts during this crisis … is both respectful and important. It shows that we as a community, as many connected communities, value our culture, from Bruthen to Brunswick, Luna Park to Lakes Entrance. Our storytelling – from many different and lesser-heard voices that are unique and important, urgent, uncomfortable entertaining and hopeful – will lift us all. This is a direct investment in the health of all Victorian communities, and it’s bringing rain to make a rainbow,’ Finucane said.

Read: It's time to talk about investment not funding

Her intention to present performances in bushfire-affected areas, which were put on hold by COVID-19, will be a priority for Finucane once the Sustaining Creative Workers funding is available.

‘I rang Bruthen the other day, a small country town in Victoria which was very hard hit by the fires. We’d offered to go there for free to celebrate and bring people back together ... and when COVID-19 hit, I rang them back and I said, “We’re still going to come,” and they couldn’t believe us. We’re going to call it The Phoenix Tour. We’re going to bring a phoenix to Bruthen for Christmas and spend three nights there, and all the people from all the regions around there can come,’ Finucane explained.

‘These are the kinds of plans and dreams that are still happening in lockdown and the kinds of things that are really going to be helped by this survival package, that helps money flow through directly to artists and the beautiful diversity of art. And it’s going to lift us all.’

STATE VS FEDERAL

The Victorian Government’s announcement has been especially welcomed by artists given that the Federal Government to date has dragged its feet where the creative industries are concerned, despite recent research by the Grattan Institute suggesting that up to 75% of those employed in the creative and performing arts will lose their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Federal Government’s $27 million support package, announced on 9 April and targeting sectors including regional arts and the Indigenous arts sector, has been welcomed but does not go far enough, according to an open letter signed by over 100 arts organisations and published in Guardian Australia on Friday.

In the coming weeks, Creative Victoria will also announce the results of ongoing funding programs, including the VicArts Grants, Music Works, and Innovation in Marketing programs, which collectively invest almost $1.6 million across the state.

Details of the latest grants will be available at Creative Victoria from midday on Monday 27 April.

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