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 social distancing to prevent rapid community transmission. The Australian Government began to advise physical distancing measures and restrictions on pubic gatherings on 13 March, and on 15 March, additional travel restrictions and self-isolation measures for people arriving from overseas. Additional restrictions from 25 March mean that Australia's galleries are now closed, public gatherings are not permitted, and we are 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, artsworkers and organisations who create our arts and cultural experiences.
In Australia, arts events and public programs are 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” – are facing unexpected income losses, some of which amount to a year or even two years' work of work.
This means that all arts organisations face detrimental financial impacts as a result of COVID-19. Now is the 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.