WA orgs and art businesses take charge with Recovery Plan

The WA Chamber of Arts and Culture has responded to the WA Government’s Recovery Planning Framework with its own Plan for Recovery, while Regional Arts WA launched its Regional Arts Resilience Grants program this week.

This week (7 July 2020), The Chamber of Arts and Culture, Western Australia, released its Arts and Culture Economic Recovery Plan, in response to the WA Government’s Recovery Planning Framework.

The report comes as the sector rolls into a new financial year, ‘one that is undoubtedly going to challenge all of us,’ writes Shelagh Magadza, Executive Director of the Chamber.  Describing the pandemic impact as having ‘a long tail’.

The Chamber’s Recovery Plan is the outcome of a March meeting of leaders from 50 Western Australian arts and cultural organisations, to discuss a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Plan puts to government both short-term responses and longer term strategic initiatives, with the thrust towards securing the future of arts jobs, and bolstering support and strategies around diversity, Aboriginal Arts and Culture, and a secure place for arts education within schools.  

Most importantly, it sets sound recommendations for future-proofing the state’s cultural offerings, gleaned from COVID-19’s lessons.

The dollar tag on their overall Recovery Plan is $27 million over a 4-year roll out – a small spend when you think of the state’s resources wealth, and that fact that the arts contributed an estimated $3.3 billion in Industry Value Add (IVA) to the WA economy in 2018-19 alone, and generated an estimated $175.9 million in service exports.

The data tells the story

The ABS reported that there was 23% job loss in Western Australian Arts and Recreation services as at 30 May 2020, with over 450 events cancelled in Western Australia affecting nearly 900,000 attendances.

The WA creative industries employ approximately 53,000 people, and there are around 10,000 creative businesses in WA.

Among the concerns outlined by the Chamber was the reliance on the Lotterywest arts funding scheme and its lack of guarantees for long term sustainable programming. Coupled with the fact that Federal relief packages, such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, will end in September 2020, when the ‘true impact’ of the crisis will be evident as many organisations will not be able to maintain current payrolls.

‘Over 60% of the businesses in the WA arts sector are sole traders. These are contract workers who rely on events and project development for their income,’ said the Chamber.

The Chamber estimates the financial impact of COVID-19 upon the Western Australia arts sector at $48 million (at 30 May).

Organisational Boards are going to be faced with a number of critical decisions and policy questions relating to the sustainability of their organisations. At the March gathering of a concerned sector, Jim Cathcart, Director of the Fremantle Arts Centre, expressed the distress managers were feeling as programmes and venues close down.

‘We know that household livelihoods depend on the employment we provide, and no one wants to be in the position of making these decisions,’ said Cathcart.

Perth Theatre Trust (or newly established Arts and Cultural Authority) reported earnings of $6.3 million in user charges and fees in the last financial year. Event cancellations and operating restrictions will see this earning significantly reduced over the next two financial years, reported the Chamber.

They have recommend the Trust receive a payment of $3 million to enable venues to continue operating and offer reduced charges to hirers and clients.

The Chamber’s Recovery Plan offers well outlined short, mid and long term recommendations that are dollar and time specific. This is a well-structured plan aimed at real results.

Some relief to regional and remote areas

On the same day that the Chamber of Arts and Culture released its plan, Regional Arts WA launched its Regional Arts Resilience Grants program, which is geared to provide the regional arts sector support to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with grants of up to $15,000 available to practicing artists and cultural organisations. 

Regional Arts WA CEO Paul MacPhail said the program will enable the regional arts sector to develop their own creative solutions to the pandemic.

‘This injection will boost creative development, community engagement and, most importantly, capacity building projects. We encourage the sector to take this opportunity to develop their arts practice or organisation and strengthen strategic plans, marketing practices, financial management, or audience engagement skills to respond to the post-COVID-19 world,’ said MacPhail.

The program is funded through the State Government’s Regional Arts and Culture Investment Program (RACIP), and applications open 13 July and continue to December 2020 (or until the funds are exhausted).

It follows last month’s Recovery Boost grant program, also launched by Regional Arts WA with funds through the mechanisms of the Regional Arts Fund. It is delivered across three stages moving from Relief to Recovery and Renewal:

  • RAF Relief (Open 1 July 2020) grants up to $4,000 to meet immediate needs.
  • RAF Recovery (Open 3 August 2020) grants up to $30,000 to meet the medium-term recovery needs.
  • RAF Renewal (Open in 9 November 2020) which will provide up to three years of funding to support projects that have strong partnerships and demonstrated long-term outcomes, with a sustainable future-positioning focus.

It is a step forward in addressing the Chamber’s concerns – their Plan reiterated that regional and remote artists and communities continue to be disadvantaged by Perth-centric funding models, digital access and lack of access to cultural infrastructure.

‘Regional artists and arts organisations are desperately in need of increased investment and capacity development to engage with their communities and lead them out of the impacts of COVID19. Current programs, however, favour an approach of delivering art to the regions, rather than investing in regional arts themselves and from a regional perspective appear fragmented and lacking a cohesive vision,’ described the Chamber.

When it comes to working remotely, Western Australian Aboriginal artists produce 60 per cent of Aboriginal art sales nationally.

‘Over the last year Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA has prioritised capacity building within the management of Art Centres, who generate the bulk of this work. This has been made even more urgent by COVID-19 … Whilst some centres have been able to shift to digital sales, others are in need of resources and expertise to develop alternative channels,’ reported the Chamber.

These arts sales represent substantial income for these regional and remote communities.

WA is also particularly vulnerable due to travel restrictions, which continue to impact venues and presenters, who are unable to access skills and touring events. And on the flipside, WA based artists and companies, for whom national and international touring represent a significant portion of their income, are locked in by the future landscape.

There is a fear also of a talent drain when restrictions are eased. What is important is that the growth in WA does not stagnate.

Magadza concluded that the Chamber found it ‘disappointing to have the announcement of a Federal package for arts and culture, prefaced by the perplexing proposal around university fees.’

The Chamber has expressed these concerns to Federal Minister Paul Fletcher that WA needs to be represented in the decision making for the $75 million in competitive grants – the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand Fund.

‘In terms of a further response from the State Government…we applaud WA Minister Templeman for the many roundtable sessions he hosted to hear first-hand about the issues and opportunities for the sector.  We hope this will inform a commitment to the sector from Government,’ Magadza continued.

Read the full report.

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