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

Media Release

Image: Tony Albert, House of Discards, The National 2019, Carriageworks. Photo by Zan Wimberley.

Internationally renowned artists Tony Albert, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Blak Douglas, Janet Laurence and Khaled Sabsabi today join hundreds of artists, curators, academics, publishers, artsworkers, and leading art galleries and museums in an open letter to the Australian Government.

This week, Australia’s contemporary arts, craft and design industry welcomes MPs back to Parliament with the call to act now to ensure fair access to COVID19 income support measures:

“We are around five hundred of Australia’s artists, curators, installers, technicians, artist-run spaces, galleries, art museums and sector organisations. Together, we represent memberships of over fifty thousand practitioners. Together, we create the experiences that search your emotions, heighten your curiosity and reframe your expectations.

“Our work draws on the oldest and richest traditions we have, expands our thinking, and creates new possibilities. Through our work, Australians find compelling new ways to understand our world and create our future.

“We’ve come together to ensure that a thriving visual arts, craft and design industry can survive COVID19 to inspire the nation – and that means supporting our work right now.

“Our work is relied upon by millions of Australians. Visual arts and craft are Australia’s most popular artform, and visiting art galleries and museums is the most popular arts activity for overnight visitors to capital cities, according to Australia Council research – which makes our work vital to economic recovery in a world without international tourism.

“Now that restrictions are being eased and announcements made about galleries and museums re-opening, we understand how easy it might be for you to think that everything’s fine now. It’s not.

“Across Australia, in just one year, we create 26,000 works of art, present 13,000 exhibitions and events, and teach 15,000 workshops and classes, according to the most recent NAVA S2M: The economics of Australia’s small-to-medium visual arts sector. Right now, all of this work is under threat, right when millions of Australians are relying on us the most. 

“Tens of thousands of livelihoods are at stake because JobKeeper, JobSeeker and the business cash flow boost were never made available across the arts sector. 

“We applaud the Australian Government for listening and responding to public demands for a wage subsidy and business cashflow support. We applaud the Treasurer for making adjustments in response to calls for fairer eligibility for non-profit organisations.

“Today we reiterate the calls we have made across three months now – both as individuals, and as a united industry – for that support to be made available to all of us. 

“Unless income support is available to everyone whose creative work is casual and short-term across multiple employers, it will take years for the industry to recover. Over 70% of artsworkers in our field are employed on a casual basis, according to the most recent NAVA S2M Report. 

“Unless local government and universities are able to claim JobKeeper and the cashflow boost, Australia will lose valuable pathways to professional practice, and our finest galleries and museums will be jeopardised, especially regionally, where audiences will suffer most. 

“Unless the Australian Government acts now, Australia’s entire economic recovery will be undermined – we can see from the Australia Institute’s analysis just how much that recovery relies on our work. 

“To assess the full impacts and plan next steps, the National Association for the Visual Arts is bringing the industry together for a summit on 16 July. By that day, we hope they’ll be assessing constructive impacts and not cataloguing irreparable damage. 

“We urge you to act now:

  • Extend JobKeeper to casuals who have been employed at least 3mo; harmonise income averaging arrangements between the ATO and Centrelink, so that artists can claim JobSeeker without losing that income because irregular cashflows aren’t recognised; extend JobKeeper to the end of January 2021;
  • Expand eligibility for all income support to local government and universities, noting that local government are Australia's biggest owners of galleries and museums (especially regionally), universities house Australia’s leading art schools and internationally recognised galleries and museums, and both sectors hold nationally significant art collections of First Nations and Australian art
  • Introduce a substantial $500m recovery fund accessible to all arts and cultural organisations across all artforms and at all scales, including for volunteer-, community- and artist-run museums and galleries, many of which may not be able to re-open without support. This should include targeted funding to support infrastructure and operational upgrades for arts organisations, museums and galleries – allowing us to quickly invest in necessary upgrades to our facilities and operations, to ensure post-pandemic regulatory compliance for managing and maintaining public wellbeing;
  • Increase the Australia Council’s grants budget by at least $70m per year so that artists and SMEs can be supported, noting that the Australia Council has jeopardised its future industry development capacities by cancelling all upcoming programs to repurpose funds into a small $5m emergency relief scheme;
  • Permanently double the Regional Arts Fund;
  • Increase the acquisitions budget of Artbank and the National Cultural Institutions so that they can invest in the work/livelihoods of living Australian artists, and remove the efficiency dividend;
  • Restore artwork investment for self-managed superannuation funds by adding an “exhibition” provision, reinvigorating the commercial art market and incentivising investment in artists’ livelihoods;
  • Make art prizes and awards tax-free, removing the inequity where the donor of the prize receives a tax deduction while the winner receives a tax burden; 
  • Establish an arts and culture working group to advise the National COVID19 Coordination Commission to identify opportunities to minimise and mitigate employment and business impacts in one of Australia’s worst-impacted industries, and ensure a swift, sustained recovery for the entire economy.”

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Leya Reid