This COVID-19 Industry Advisory Note is intended for NAVA Members and our colleagues in the contemporary arts sector across Australia. This document is not offered as health advice nor health emergency management advice. As circumstances change, this advice may change.

COVID-19 graphic on green background


Across the world, precautions are being taken to protect us from novel coronavirus COVID-19, a respiratory illness that is causing a rapidly growing number of deaths. On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic and called for “urgent and aggressive action”. This action includes stringent personal hygiene and physical distancing to prevent rapid community transmission. The Australian Government began to advise physical distancing measures and restrictions on public gatherings on 13 March, and since then galleries have closed, public gatherings have not been permitted, interstate and international travel has been suspended, and we have been advised to stay at home. The latest information is on the Department of Health's website. These actions are vital to protecting our health and saving lives. They also have significant impacts on Australia’s cultural life – and on the artists, arts workers and organisations who create our arts and cultural experiences. 

In Australia, arts events and public programs have been either being downscaled, postponed, or cancelled. Biennials, festivals, exhibitions, symposia, residencies, workshops, talks and all other programs are jeopardised indefinitely, with a debilitating effect on our cultural life. Organisations are seeing their self-generated income vanish, and are having to make difficult decisions around staffing. Individual artists – the practitioners whose itinerant work invented the terms “gig economy” and “portfolio career” – have been facing unexpected income losses, some of which amount to a year or even two years' worth of work.

This means that all arts organisations have faced detrimental financial impacts as a result of COVID-19. It is time to assess those impacts, plan ahead as best we can, and advocate for what’s needed to ensure that our industry remains viable and Australia’s cultural life remains vibrant.

Industry advice

Best practice at this time is about ensuring we’re protecting everyone’s health first and foremost, while doing what we can to minimise the immediate and long-term impacts.

  • Reassess risks: NAVA advises Members and all sector organisations to re-assess the health, financial, cultural, community and other risks that your organisation or business faces this year. Consider bringing your board and executive staff together by teleconference as soon as you can to undertake these assessments, so that you’re in the best position to plan your work this year.
  • Working from home: Consider what arrangements you have in place for working from home, and how best to implement these.
  • Keep your key financial stakeholders including government updated about the impacts on your organisation. Be assured that NAVA will be doing the same on behalf of artists, the sector and the entire industry.
  • Offer brief small, common-sense advice that reminds us to wash our hands, shield our coughs, and stay at home if we’re unwell. Offer advice that links people directly to information from public health authorities in your state rather than offering your own, so that we’re all connected to the most authoritative information and its updates.
  • Complete a COVIDSafe Plan as required by authorities in your state when your gallery or business is open to the public. This document will outline all the measures you are taking to keep everyone safe.
  • Get in touch with artists who will are affected by your program changes as early as you can, and let them know what your plans are. NAVA is advocating to government and philanthropic bodies that the payment of artists and freelance or casual arts workers be prioritised from funds that have been secured for this purpose, ensuring also that organisations are not penalised come acquittal time. We're heartened to see that many states and territories have already made such announcements.
  • Take extra special care with all of your communications at this time: formal and informal, internal and external. Be aware of how your language and tone may be received by people experiencing this crisis in different ways. Express your duty of care and emphasise that care. Be as clear as you can, and consider how your message can be repeated and presented across multiple formats.

Further Reading

National priorities

Australia’s arts industry is already in a precarious condition as the result of public investment not having kept apace with industry growth, public policy not aligning with industry needs –  and also, as a result of last summer’s fires, storms and floods. Despite this, artists and arts organisations came forward at that catastrophic time to donate their work and their efforts in creating impactful fundraisers that collected millions of dollars for those in need.

Action is required to ensure that the COVID-19 impacts do not devastate the arts sector.

NAVA is advocating for a range of urgent measures including an ambitious and well-funded stimulus package specific to the arts sector in response to industry advice:

  • Offering specific measures for artists and artsworkers whose work is itinerant or casual, including paid sick leave for those required to self-isolate;
  • Immediate initial relief payments to artists, artsworkers and organisations, delivered efficiently via professional membership bodies and by the Australia Council;
  • Urgently implemented Centrelink eligibility with no waiting periods; a paid sick leave fund for itinerant, casual and freelance workers;
  • Targeted stimulus and support for regional and remote Aboriginal art centres;
  • Ensuring that the regional fire, storm and flood recovery needs are not forgotten at this critical time;
  • Setting specific timeframes around national self-isolation and event restrictions, rather than indefinite restrictions, so that creative businesses can plan their work – for example, announcing a review date on public gathering, social distancing and travel restrictions; all levels of government to provide immediate clarity to publicly-owned galleries so that their boards and committees can make the decisions necessary to protect staff entitlements, collections and all programs;
  • Prioritising the payment of artists and freelance artsworkers on government- or philanthropy-funded activities that are no longer proceeding; encouraging all government funding bodies and philanthropic trusts to let funded organisations know that they will not be penalised for paying artists for cancelled work, and that organisations who have been unable to present funded programs will not be penalised when the time comes to acquit their grants;
  • Extending all local, state and federal multi-year funding to the end of 2021, CPI indexed; relieving organisations of reporting burdens to their government funding bodies across the next six months, to be reviewed towards the end of that period;
  • Implementing immediate and ongoing additional investment in the Australia Council of $50m per year that doubles the available funding pool for the Four Year Funding for Organisations program, which has already been assessed and due to be announced on 30-31 March, so as to invest in the capacity of those nationally-focused organisations best placed to build the capacity of the entire sector; Additionally, tripling the Australia Council’s competitive funding pool budget, to facilitate timely stimulus;
  • Ambitious donations to build the Artists’ Benevolent Fund into a program matching the work of Support Act in the music industry – with thanks to Premier Steven Marshall and Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore for their donations;
  • On industry advice, creating well-designed long-term stimulus measures to avoid industry collapse and inspire innovation – including an impactful and inspirational public campaign to rebuild confidence.

Further Reading

  • NAVA is open for business, offering advice and support to our Members, and leading policy, advocacy and action for a contemporary arts sector that’s ambitious and fair.
  • NAVA staff are working from home, and all interstate travel is suspended. Given our national focus, our office systems are already designed to promote remote working and online meetings for effective national collaboration. 
  • We encourage all enquiries to be made via email rather than by phone, so that we’re best placed to respond to you wherever we are. 
  • Unfortunately, NAVA's Members' insurance package does not cover loss of income due to cancellation of work and other impacts of COVID-19. Please follow this link to more information.
  • We're leading weekly national roundtables on crisis management and post-COVID19 transition, as well as participating in industry roundtables led by the Office for the Arts and the Australia Council.
  • We've created a weekly Advocacy Program to focus skill development and political engagement, culminating in Arts Day on the Hill.
  • NAVA’s biennial national gathering, Future/Forward, will not be presented this year. 
  • Arts Day on the Hill, Australia’s national day of arts advocacy, went ahead on Wednesday August 12, with dozens of organisations and countless artists engaged in a massive national online program amplifying our Parliament House conversations. 
  • NAVA already presents a range of programs and events online, including workshops, online courses, and our suite of professional practice resources. 
  • We are seeking donations for the Artists’ Benevolent Fund. Donations of $2.00 or more are tax-deductible.
  • We've led national industry unity to create clear outlines of what's needed and what's missing in the Australian Government's response to date, and this work has directly informed the packages offered at capital city, state and territory level.
  • We're working closely with sector peak bodies across all artforms, with key organisations, and with artists and artist groups, to support effective advocacy for urgently needed action.
  • We remain in ongoing contact with state and federal ministries and government departments, as well as state and national colleague organisations, working hard to make sure that the impacts on our sector are minimised and that the government response becomes effective. 

NAVA has prepared a submission to the COVID-19 Senate Inquiry.

Immediate support

At this difficult time, please know that support is near:

Public health information in your state

Information from arts funding bodies

NAVA welcomes arts package and strongly encourages visual arts, craft and design applicants, 25 June 2020

Australia’s visual artists, craft practitioners and designers call for urgent, fair access to COVID19 support in an open letter to Government, 11 June 2020

Prime Minister, this is your moment to create Australia’s future, 4 June 2020

Creative Partnerships Australia announces matched funding to Artists’ Benevolent Fund, 4 May 2020

Top priorities for NSW’s next minister for the arts, 10 April 2020

City of Sydney donates $83,000 to Artists’ Benevolent Fund, 9 April 2020

NAVA welcomes the first of the Australian Government’s COVID19 arts industry measures, 9 April 2020

It’s ghostlights, not spotlights, for the industry hardest hit by COVID19, 8 April 2020

Artists unite to demand that Government act now to #CreateAustraliasFuture, 7 April 2020

SA Government donates $50,000 to Artists’ Benevolent Fund, 2 April 2020

Creative industry unites to secure Australia’s cultural life, 27 March 2020

Philanthropist reinvigorates Artists’ Fund with 10-year vision, 26 March 2020

Second COVID-19 stimulus: what does it mean for the arts?, 22 March 2020

NAVA responds to Meeting of Cultural Ministers Communiqué, 19 March 2020

Today’s critical moment for the future of our arts and culture, 19 March 2020

COVID-19: Minister Fletcher acts quickly to ensure whole-of-government response is informed by arts industry, 17 March 2020

Urgent arts sector stimulus needed to secure the industry that inspires our healing nation, 16 March 2020

What the world needs now is art, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 2020

Arts industry could wait three more months for Coalition's $250m Covid-19 rescue package, The Guardian, 7 August 2020

We need to stop punishing artists: their creative thinking will help us out of this crisis, The Guardian, 28 July 2020

Labor fears delays over arts bailout package, ArtsHub, 3 July 2020

Arts sector reps speak at Senate committee: “We can’t operate at reduced capacity. It’s simply not financially viable”, NME, 1 July 2020

Calls to extend JobKeeper for arts sector, 9news, 30 June 2020

What the arts sector says about the Fed Government's $250M relief package, ArtsHub, 25 June 2020

'Massive public demand': artists welcome overdue assistance, Australian Financial Review, 25 June 2020

Struggling arts sector gets $250m lifeline, Australian Financial Review, 24 June 2020

Moody's: Australia doing better than other advanced countries, Australian Financial Review, 23 June 2020

'Our work is relied on by millions': artists urge rescue package, Australian Financial Review, 11 June

Tina Arena, Jimmy Barnes among 1,000 others calling on Coalition for rescue package, The Guardian, 10 June 2020

The economic argument against the arts is over. The government lost, ArtsHub, 24 May 2020

Esther Anatolitis on Backchat - FBi Radio 94.5FM, 23 May 2020

Arts industry NSW: Policy reforms key to restarting industry, The Daily Telegraph, 22 May 2020

Coronavirus NSW: galleries and museums scramble after unexpected lifting of restrictions, The Guardian, 20 May 2020

Coronavirus: Lack of aid for arts triggers cries of culture war, The Australian, 18 May 2020

'Our income vanished': Australia's galleries and museums buckle in Covid-19 storm, The Guardian, 7 May 2020

Devastating times for museums, galleries and visual arts venues, Australian Times, 7 May

Fears for Australia's arts industry after Sydney's Carriageworks folds due to coronavirus, SBS News, 5 May 2020

‘Dire’ situation for creative industries with collapse of iconic arts centre, 2GB 837AM, 5 May 2020

Iconic Carriageworks cultural centre that hosts popular farmers market and writers' festival folds as coronavirus devastates Australia's arts industry, Daily Mail, 5 May 2020

Carriageworks enters voluntary administration, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 2020

'If our government wants cultural life to return, it must act now': an open letter from Australia's arts industry, The Guardian, 24 April 2020

Struggling NSW arts companies given $6.35 million relief package, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2020

Are you an artist who’s been affected by COVID-19? There’s a survey for that, CityMag - InDaily, 9 April 2020

Arts sector to receive $27m in targeted support package, The Australian, 9 April 2020

JobKeeper amendments for casuals voted down, ArtsHub, 9 April 2020

Australia's arts have been hardest hit by coronavirus. So why aren't they getting support?, The Guardian, 8 April 2020

Coronavirus has shut down Australia's arts industry but artists say the Government has ignored them, 8 April 2020

Urgent financial investment in the arts would ease four-year funding fallout, ArtsHub, 7 April 2020

Australian artists unite today in a day of action, Limelight, 7 April 2020

Day of Action as Australian Artists Unite to #CreateAustraliasFuture, Art Almanac, 7 April 2020

Arts and the budget: ad-hoc approach reflects Coalition’s misunderstanding of the sector, Crikey, 4 April

Esther Anatolitis on SBS French TV, 3 April 2020

Esther Anatolitis on ABC Radio Adelaide, 3 April 2020

Survive, adapt, create, says Australia Council, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 March 2020

Nation's cultural life is in tatters, industry groups warn, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 2020

Dear Prime Minister: Creative industries unite to secure Australia's cultural future, ArtsHub, 27 March 2020

New arts funding announced in light of COVID-19, Art Guide Australia, 26 March 2020

Artists and companies to get emergency government funds to pay bills, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 2020

Philanthropist reinvigorates Artists’ Fund with 10-year vision, Art News Portal, 25 March 2020

ICYMI: The week's top news in the arts – NAVA reveals Arts Day on the Hill 2020 date, ArtsHub, 25 March 2020

ICYMI: The week's top news in the arts – Philanthropist reinvigorates Artists’ Fund with 10-year vision, ArtsHub, 25 March 2020

Plea to help the shows go on, The Australian, 23 March 2020

NAVA reveals Arts Day on the Hill 2020 date for ambitious national advocacy at this critical time, Art News Portal, 23 March 2020

Don't stop: Arts leaders plead for more help, The Age, 22 March 2020

Covid-19 and the arts, The Saturday Paper, 21 March 2020

Arts leaders in crisis talks as virus shuts down sector, The Australian, 19 March 2020

Yes Minister? Talk's great, but we need commitments, ArtsHub, 19 March 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on the arts sector, SmartArts, 3RRR, 19 March 2020

Today’s critical moment for the future of our arts and culture, Art News Portal, 19 March 2020

Esther Anatolitis on Triple R, 3RRR 102.7FM, 19 March 2020

Insurance 'won't save' arts companies from existential crisis, The Age, 17 March 2020 

Another round of broken arts, The Australian, 17 March 2020 

Arts carnage as virus forces QPAC closed for six weeks, Morning Bulletin, 17 March 2020

Arts leaders warn of an industry 'on the brink of collapse', The Australian, 17 March 2020

Minister meets arts leaders to plan coronavirus approach, ArtsHub, 17 March 2020

Australia's arts industry faces existential crisis amid COVID-19, Insurance Business Australia, 17 March 2020

Esther Anatolitis on 'The Project', Channel 10, 16 March 2020

Coronavirus will cause 'devastating' cultural recession, Australian Financial Review, 16 March 2020