COVID-19 is the greatest disruption of Australia’s cultural life in generations, and urgent action will be needed to ensure that the arts industry survives and thrives – this was the consistent message to Minister for Communications and the Arts Paul Fletcher at the national roundtable he convened this morning.
Present for the one-hour phone hook-up were the heads of 18 peak industry and sector service organisations spanning First Nations arts, live music, museums and galleries, national cultural institutions, performing arts, regional arts and visual arts. Given the impossibility of ever assembling all arts stakeholders in the one place at the one time, the Minister welcomed further contact from the sector, as well as to the Office for the Arts and the Australia Council, who were also on the call.
Minister Fletcher began by emphasising that a whole-of-government approach is going to be needed right now – especially given the cumulative impact of the fires, floods, storms, smoke and now COVID-19, plus the high proportion of casual workers, and the flow-on effect of event cancellation on workers in other industries. The Minister outlined the measures already taken in the bushfire recovery fund and stimulus package, and then spent the full hour listening closely to what sector colleagues had to say.
And – my goodness. It’s truly a magnificent set of people who are heading up Australia’s peak bodies in the arts. I was astounded by the clarity with which colleagues articulated what’s happening and what’s at stake.
One after the other, colleagues spoke about the impact on health, especially for First Nations artists at regional and remote arts centres; on artists, audiences and workers, especially casuals and freelancers; on regional communities; and on the sustainability of careers and the viability of companies.
We outlined a great many ways forward, for both immediate and longer-term action – you’ve already seen NAVA’s Industry Advisory Note, advocacy priorities, as well as our survey on impacts – and also, ways to be clear and consistent in COVID-19 messaging and government directives on gatherings and events at this time.
The most important message from the sector was the urgency. If we don’t act now, we risk a great deal – and we left the meeting in no doubt that the Minister appreciates the both the risks and the urgency.
In thanking us at the end of the call, Minister Fletcher emphasised that this was a first meeting, and encouraged us to stay in touch: “I am confident that we will get through this as a nation and as a sector, because of the resilience, the talent and the commitment of Australia’s artists and creators.”