COVID-19 Action: What have we achieved so far?

Image: Artists in conversation at a NAVA roundtable. Photo by Document Photography, 2019.

It’s been a long couple of months – a very long couple of months. Together, we’re facing a great shock to our health and livelihoods as the world’s everyday life has been suspended. As we begin to imagine what emergence looks like, let’s take a moment to reflect on what we’ve achieved together. Because despite that debilitation, our united efforts have achieved a great deal:

Support for Members, visual artists and organisations

  • NAVA’s immediate response was to make resources available to our Members and community, and many more have since been created. We’ve assessed impacts, led policy discussions, and worked with government bodies to present useful information. Here’s all of our work so far;
  • To get much-needed funds to artists, we’ve revived the Artists’ Benevolent Fund and have already made some grants – with thanks to the leadership of NAVA Member Alex Seton, Art Month Sydney for our fundraising collaboration, and philanthropist Brett Kelly for initiating ClubB50. And with thanks to Creative Partnerships Australia, donations are being dollar-matched from now until the end of June;
  • A group of independent artists have created the closed Facebook group Australian Arts Amidst COVID-19 that's become the beating heart of the online arts. They are Alex Desebrock, who initiated the group and is also a NAVA Member, Thom Smyth (originally in own time, but now as partly in-kind from Performing Lines), Dan Goronszy, Bron Batten, Jennifer Jamieson, kelli mccluskey, Sally Richardson, Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy, Janet Carter, Sarah Lockwood, Lauren Resnick, Luanne Schneier, Sue-Lyn Moyle, David Haidon, Sophia Brous, Miranda O’Connell-Lever, Michelle Forte, Katherine Quigley, Paul Terrel, Gareth Hart, Fionn Mulholland, Kit Aliano and Isobel Marmion (via in kind support from Vitalstatistix). At the time of writing the group has 17,644 members and is currently preparing a joint letter to the minister to represent artists' issues;
  • Our weekly National Visual Arts Roundtable examines policy, risk and business continuity issues for organisations and sector bodies, serving now as a recovery taskforce as well as a reference point for collegiate exchange; 
  • Our ongoing support for artist and organisational Members and our professional development program continues, even though we’re working from home;
  • The NAVA Advocacy Program has generated global interest in developing the skills we need to secure long-term policy outcomes. Hundreds of participants join us each week from all over Australia and from around the world. Attendance is free, and the NAVA Advocacy Handbook is available for NAVA Members and updated monthly as the program continues. Here's how to take part.

Public engagement

  • With each passing week there’s been more and more media attention on our sector. This has opened valuable opportunities to lead conversations on the value of arts and culture during a time of crisis, as well as getting policy priorities into the public arena. Here’s a snapshot of NAVA’s media mentions alongside all our work to date;
  • There’s been massive engagement with #DontCancelCreativity and #CreateAustraliasFuture achieving a combined 962.3K reach;
  • 3000 respondents completed our COVID-19 impacts survey designed to determine the scale and scope of impacts on the work of artists, art workers and organisations;
  • High-profile artists across all artforms have spoken publicly about what it means to be an artist right now, challenging perceptions and offering clear proposals;
  • Our 27 March open letter to the Prime Minister, front bench, Opposition, state ministers and lord mayors has been signed by 130 organisations across all artforms; 
  • Our 24 April industry piece in the Guardian has been signed by 120 organisations across all artforms;
  • Australia’s leading economists including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Grattan Institute, Deloitte Access Economics, and the Australia Institute have responded, offering industry analysis that positions COVID19 impacts on the arts in their full economic context, bolstering our efforts to secure much-needed support.

Policy change

  • Several of our requests in the 27 March letter have been met by the Australian Government, including wage subsidies, eligibility changes for support payments, support for Aboriginal arts centres and an increase to the Regional Arts Fund
  • The JobKeeper and Boosting Clash Flow eligibility requirement to demonstrate pre-COVID19 downturn has been reduced from 30% to 15% for non-profit organisations; government grants are now excluded from a non-profit organisations’ turnover, given these grants can’t be repurposed to meet urgent needs;
  • The ATO clarified to NAVA that the Instant Asset Write-Down provision can indeed be used for the purchase of artwork, and we’ve created this Member Resource to guide collectors;
  • In responses to the open letter and the industry piece, ministerial colleagues at city, territory and state level have contacted NAVA and other peaks to investigate industry needs and shape their packages. Many have taken the initiative to write directly to the arts minister, treasurer or prime minister to communicate industry priorities. As a result, over $85m in new money has been invested in artists’ livelihoods and organisations’ sustainability by across the country. Those government entities unable to secure new money in crisis response have repurposed their own funds, such as the Australia Council’s $5m Resilience Fund
  • Both Labor and the Greens have held industry roundtables to inform their policy work at this critical time, and their advocacy has been valuable. The Greens through Spokesperson for the Arts Sarah Hanson-Young have released a multi-billion-dollar proposal. The Federal Opposition have been vocal with the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Industrial Relations Tony Burke, and Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, have each consistently positioned the arts as crucial to recovery, and moved amendments to COVID19 stimulus package to include artists and artsworkers in JobKeeper and other support measures;
  • We’ve outlined what’s missing and what’s still needed, and we continue to advocate.

Industry unity 

  • Not to be underestimated, the close collegiality of this period has been extraordinary. We have drawn on one another’s advice, support and courage, sharing strengths and vulnerabilities as we work out what to do next. Formal roundtables and taskforces, and informal action collaborations, have brought us together in important ways. Let’s keep building on that – there’s so much we’ve already achieved, and so much good work to be done together.