Visual arts sector overlooked in COVID relief support

The National Collecting Institutions Touring program has received $1M but the visual arts sector trails well behind performing arts and festivals.
Woman in gallery looking at abstract painting.

The Morrison Government has announced $1 million to support the development and touring of Australian and international exhibitions to 24 institutions across the country.

The funding supports touring in 2022 through the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program.

But while the funding is welcomed, closer analysis reveals that the visual arts sector is receiving considerably less relief compared to multi-arts festivals and the performing arts.


In total, 17 new and existing exhibitions will tour to national (even international) audiences thanks to the latest funding round. They are:

  • $152,640 for the National Film and Sound Archive to tour The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition to venues in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria; and to develop a web-based version of the Archive’s interactive trivia game centred around Australia’s history, culture and audio-visual heritage;
  • $228,516 for the National Museum of Australia to tour Red Centre: Art from Australia to the National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Happy Birthday Playschool: Celebrating 50 Years! to one venue in Western Australia, and funding to create two purpose-built museum showcases;
  • $119,690 for the National Portrait Gallery of Australia to tour Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize 2021 to Tasmania and Queensland and Pub Rock to three Queensland venues;
  • $30,500 to National Library of Australia to tour Illustrating the Antipodes: George French Angas to one venue in South Australia;
  • $24,320 for Bundanon Trust’s Arthur Boyd: Landscape of the Soul to visit one venue in New South Wales; 
  • $166,585 for the National Gallery of Australia’s Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony to one venue in Queensland; Terminus: Jess Johnson and Simon Ward to five venues in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales; and Judy Watson and Helen Johnson to one venue in New South Wales;
  • $137,249 to the Australian National Maritime Museum to develop the new exhibition Mariw Minaral (Spiritual patterns) by Torres Strait Islander artist Alick Tipoti;
  • $90,500 to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MoAD) to tour Behind the Lines 2020 and 2021 to venues in New South Wales and Victoria; and,
  • $50,000 to the National Archives of Australia to develop the exhibition Motel: Images of Australia on Holiday with Tim Ross.

Federal Minister for the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said: ‘Locals and visitors can look forward to visiting these exhibitions as the vaccine rollout progresses and lockdown restrictions are lifted.’

An additional $220,000 has also been provided to two cultural institutions under the International Cultural Diplomacy Arts Fund (ICDAF). They are:

  • $124,924 to the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art for four projects at the tenth Asia-Pacific Triennial, and
  • $100,000 to the National Gallery of Australia for Ever Present: The Art of Australia’s First Peoples 1887-2020.

This week’s announcement has welcomed by a sector previously described as ‘precarious’ by the national peak body NAVA.


Today’s announcement from Minister Fletcher’s office proudly states: ‘The Morrison Government is investing more than $1 billion into the arts and creative sector in 2021-22.’

While there are a number of different schemes on the table, we turn to the allocation of RISE funding – the Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand Fund – to demonstrate just how out of balance the picture of ‘valued recovery’ is.

Read: Fourth RISE round announced: $40 million to 82 orgs

Based on these official batch lists, 324 arts and culture organisations have received RISE grants to date, totalling some $140 million, figures which the Minister’s office confirmed with ArtsHub.

Of those 324, a mere 38 (12%) have been visual arts organisation, while 44% of recipients have been performing arts companies, and 35% are multi-arts festivals (which are often largely performance-based).

ArtsHub asked the Minister whether small visual arts organisations and individual artists might expect future support from the Federal Government, e.g. artists who have worked on making new artworks over the past 18 months in the pandemic, only to have their work sit on the walls of a gallery whose doors have remained closed.

Such artists are desperately falling between the cracks.

A mere 12% Visual Arts orgs have been funded through RISE, while performing arts companies take the lion share at 44%, followed by festivals with 35% of the RISE pie.

A spokesperson for the Minister told ArtsHub: ‘In this fourth batch of projects, small to medium organisations account for 62% of successful recipients; approximately 33% of the funding will go to organisations in the not-for-profit sector and 58% to the commercial sector.’

Such figures relate to the total body of recipients and skirt the visual arts question posed.

The Minister’s spokesperson further confirmed: ‘The Morrison Government’s $475 million of COVID support for the creative economy has been especially important during such a difficult period for the sector’, and added: ‘the centrepiece has been the $200 million RISE (Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand) Fund.’


Earlier this month, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) voiced its concerns about the imbalance and called on Federal, State and Territory governments for greater support and recognition of Australia’s visual arts, craft and design industry.

Mimi Crowe, Co-Director of NAVA said in a formal statement: ‘It is time to talk about how artists, arts workers and visual arts organisations are valued in Australia.’

According to the I Lost My Gig survey, 823 visual arts events or shows have been cancelled since July 2021, equating to $1.65 million in lost income.

The survey also found that just 33% of respondents were eligible for Federal COVID relief packages and only 16% for State packages.

823 visual arts events or shows have been cancelled since July 2021, equating to $1.65 million in lost income.

I Lost My Gig

Penelope Benton, Co-Director of NAVA, said that while they welcoming the funding today, ‘However, many artists and arts workers will still be ineligible for existing schemes.’

The peak body has felt the pressure of this through their Artists’ Benevolent Fund, which was relaunched at the start of 2020 and raised $300,000 for crisis payments to artists. It has now been totally depleted.

NAVA is calling on the Australian Government to provide crisis funding for the visual arts in the same way it recently allocated $10 million to music charity Support Act.

Minister Fletcher’s office has confirmed that $40 million in relief funding (to date) was directed towards Support Act, $20 million to the SCREEN Fund, $5 million for Playing Australia Regional Recovery Investment and $90 million to the Show Starter Loan Scheme.

‘It is time for a different discussion,’ Crowe concluded.

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