As good as a lockdown – Delta’s impact on the arts for Sydney

While Sydney has dodged a full lockdown this week, heightened restrictions have impacted heavily on the arts and culture sector.

In a press statement today (24 June), Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the current restrictions in place across Greater Sydney were sufficient at this stage.

‘We do expect more cases in the coming days but we also please expect everybody to do the right thing,’ said the Premier, adding that ‘since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that NSW is going through.’

While a snap lockdown has been dodged for now, the situation remains tenuous, with heightened restrictions forcing many arts events to be cancelled.


  • On Friday (25 June), Berejiklian announced a lockdown for four local government areas (LGAs) in Sydney, including the CBD. People who live and work in Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick and the City of Sydney are now subject to a stay-at-home order. That will be in place for a week, until next Friday (2 July).
  • Face Masks at all indoor venues and outdoor events
  • One person per four square meters social distancing
  • Outdoor seated events limited to 50% capacity
  • No non-essential travel outside Sydney Metropolitan area
  • Queensland has recorded three and Victoria recorded two new locally acquired infections.
  • Victoria has declared Greater Sydney a red zone.

There have been 49 locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the state since last Wednesday’s outbreak (11 were announced on 24 June), with more infections expected to be announced by the government today at 11:00am.

NSW Government new lockdown zones as of midnight tonight, Friday 25 June.

Create NSW has consequently advised that education facilities (including galleries and museums) should be closed in those four LGAs. By implication, entertainment venues (including theatres and concert halls) should also close in the four LGAs.

The lockdown announcement has impacted a number of productions, galleries and events, including:

  • Belvoir has cancelled all remaining performances of The Cherry Orchard;
  • Sydney Theatre Company has cancelled all remaining performances of Grand Horizons (Fri 25 Jun – Sat 3 Jul), the first two performances of Triple X (Thu 1 Jul & Fri 2 Jul) and Friday night’s Rough Draft live-streamed event.
  • The Seymour Centre has closed its doors to the public for one week.
  • Darlinghurst Theatre Company has made the decision to its theatre until 2 July, impacting on performances of Once the Musical.
  • Sydney Opera House has closed until Friday 2 July.
  • Galleries including Annette Larkin Fine Art, Dominik Mersch Gallery have also closed.


One of the biggest hit among today’s announcements is the cancellation of the 2021 National Indigenous Art Fair scheduled to due to take place July 3-4 at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks, to kick off NAIDOC Week. The organisers today said: ‘In the interests of public safety, Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation, have made the decision to cancel this year’s event, but are urging people to buy online instead. This iconic annual event had planned to bring together artists and makers from across Australia, for two uniquely immersive days of contemporary Indigenous culture.’

Read: Documenting the pandemic, season by season

First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Peter Cooley said: ‘This is a very disappointing outcome but we know we have made the right decision, with the health of both artists and visitors top of mind. Although the Sydney event has been cancelled we urge people to continue to support remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by buying directly from the Art Centres who had planned to join us this year in Sydney.’

View a list of participating Art Centres with links to their websites. Save the date for next year – the National Indigenous Art Fair will be back Saturday 2 to Sunday 3 July 2022.

Festival impacted:

Bondi Festival has delayed the start of the Festival, in line with Waverley Council’s response to the recent outbreaks.  Organisers confirmed: ‘No performances or activities will take place until Thursday 1 July at the earliest. Even though COVID-safe events are currently permitted in Sydney, these decisions have been made in the interests of our community, audiences and performers.’ 

If you have purchased tickets for events or activities that were scheduled to be held from Friday 25 June through to Wednesday 30 June, the Festival team will contact you directly to arrange a refund.

Major State Venues:

The Powerhouse Museum has cancelled its opening event for the Eucalyptusdom exhibition that was scheduled for 30 June, however it has announced that the exhibition will still open to the public on 1 July 2021, in line with NSW Health guidelines.

Eucalyptusdom will present over 400 objects from the Powerhouse Collection alongside 17 newly commissioned works by creative practitioners working across the fields of design, architecture, film, applied arts and performance.

Similarly, Sydney Living Museums was due to open its major exhibition History Reflected, that was scheduled for Thursday 1 July at the Museum of Sydney. Again the museum remains open at this time adhering to health regulations. History Reflected is a collaboration with the NSW State Archives.

Both the MCA and Art Gallery of NSW have posted on their websites that they remain open with enhanced health and safety measures – including updated capacities within the building. This is perhaps most impacting upon the popular Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize exhibition and the new major exhibition Hilma af Klint, both at AGNSW. Entry until 1 July is only permitted when wearing a mask.

‘In line with NSW Health advice, we have reduced our capacity in line with the 4 square metre rule’, confirmed AGNSW.

Theatre productions

With heightened social distancing in place, theatre seating is one of the first impacted.

The Lyric Theatre’s website states: ‘All performances of HAMILTON are proceeding as planned. In accordance with advice of NSW Health, masks are mandatory for those aged 12 and up at all times you are in the theatre. If you do not have a mask, we will provide you with one free of charge. Be assured, we are adhering to the reduced capacity announced on Wednesday 23 June.’ 

Sydney Opera House (SOH) has confirmed:  ‘Sydney Opera House theatres will move to 50% capacity from 24 – 30 June 2021, with spaced seating between bookings. We will be in touch with ticketholders directly as soon as possible.’

Currently performing are American Psycho: The Musical, and Bangarra Dance Theatre’s SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert. Over the weekend, Opera Australia was to perform Aida, and most significantly celebrate the opening night of Attila on Tuesday, 29 June. The company has not released an independent statement as yet, and would comply with SOH’s reduced seating.

Also premiering a production – now facing a cancellation – is The Australian Ballet School Sydney season of Butterfly. Refunds will be issued to all ticket holders. The Australian Ballet School are continuing preparations to bring Butterfly to Melbourne in December as planned.

Solo exhibitions and independent gallery shows

The following art galleries have announced cancelled exhibition openings, talks and events scheduled for this week:

Sadly the National Art School has decided to postpone its exhibition opening, Valerie Marshall Strong Olsen – A rare sensibility until 19-28 August.Valerie’s show will now run at the same time as the upcoming Colin Lanceley: Earthly Delights exhibition in the NAS Gallery, and Milpatjunanyi in the NAS Drawing Gallery, our exhibition of drawing works from seven APY art centres. The current exhibition John Olsen: Goya’s Dog remains open to the public in the NAS Gallery until August 7 at this point.

In light of updated COVID-19 restrictions effecting the UTS campus, UTS Gallery will be closed to the public until Wednesday 1 July. The exhibition The Other Portraits is split across UTS Gallery and SCA Gallery, where it remains open to the public.

Artspace was wrapping up the last of its programming ahead of its closure for renovations with a suite of public programs this weekend – now cancelled – as was Parramatta Artists Studios with its Farewell Macquarie Street.

Artspace closing exhibition, the pleasurable, the illegible, the multiple, the mundane, is open until 11 July (hopefully).

Sabbia Gallery was planning to open new exhibitions by South Australian artist Brenden Scott French – work made as 2020 recipient of the Art Group Creative Fellowship from Canberra Glassworks – and Amelia Lynch on Wednesday, 30 June. The exhibition will be open to the public, with event details to be advised.

Read: Testing Times: the unpaid labour of auditioning from home

Similarly, new shows by Susan O’Doherty and Asher Milgate were to open Art Atrium on Saturday 3 July with guest speaker, Rhonda Davis Senior Curator Macquarie University Art Gallery, and talks with Craig Foster AM,Australian Multicultural Council, Adjunct Professor, Torrens University Australia Committee, Human Rights Watch Ambassador, Amnesty International and First Nations artist Blak Douglas – now all cancelled.

Manly Art Gallery & Museum has decided to soldier on, turning its opening of Peter Sharp’s solo exhibition Accidental Tourist this Saturday 26 June into a ticketed event to ensure a covid safe environment.

Grace Cossington Smith Gallery’s group exhibition (re)arrangements, also schedule to kick off with an event on 26 June has postponed due to the restrictions. The exhibition will open to the public for now, and a new event date to be advised.

Sadly, the expectation is that this list will continue to grow in the coming days.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina