Reading the roadmaps: the visual arts sector prepares

NAVA is listening to network leaders to better understand industry perspectives and processes as Vic and NSW prepare to reopen.

Image: Dean Cross behind the scenes during filming of the Sit For An Artist campaign. Photo: Lauren O Photography. Location: National Art School.

With Victoria and New South Wales planning staged reopenings, NAVA has been engaging with the visual arts community to ensure we can reconnect safely with artists and audiences. Alongside NAVA’s Sit For An Artist campaign which launched this month urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, NAVA hosted a national roundtable of network leaders to better understand industry perspectives and processes as we prepare to reopen.

NAVA believes in listening to the challenges of the sector to form our advocacy work. Through sharing experiences and challenges, our sector can be better informed in its decision making. We asked ourselves: what do the Members need to know about the plans organisations and peak bodies are going through to reopen? What is on the horizon for organisations in states not currently affected by lockdowns when they look at easing border restrictions?

Many organisations within the sector are well advanced in their planning and how they respond to the vaccine mandates that will form part of the health orders linked to reopening in some areas. The conversation covered three key themes:

  1. Leadership - The why. Understanding our responsibilities as sector leaders and being brave in the face of tough decisions
  2. Devil is in detail - The what. Making sure we all understand what the details are around mandates, exemptions and ensuring consistency
  3. Pragmatics - The how. What are the ins and outs of delivering on these mandates and how do we ensure access, awareness and safety.


Steven Alderton, Director of the National Art School (NAS) in Sydney joined as a guest to talk about the work they’ve done around reopening. As a peak learning institution, they underwent an extensive consultation process with staff and key stakeholders. His key takeaway was about the importance of leadership and for organisations to be brave in decision making to ensure the safety of staff and students. With advice from an industrial lawyer, NAS concluded that it's safer to mandate, than not to. From a WHS perspective, Steven outlined his leadership approach in the interests of protecting staff. 

This will be a complex decision for any organisation to make both within and outside of the arts. There will be staff changes as a result of this and all organisations should ensure they are working, as NAS has done, with staff, organising bodies and other key employment advisory sources. We heard Steven’s clarity in his planning around placing staff and student safety at the core of his decision making.  

The ‘Why’ of leadership is key. Understanding the principles leading your decision making will guide and give clarity in your communication with staff and stakeholders. Steven spoke of staff consultations, all staff meetings, one on one meetings and more. As you are making your decisions about your reopening plan, make sure you are giving staff and stakeholders time to absorb, discuss and respond.

Devil is in the detail

There are big conversations needed around the authentication of vaccination status. What will organisations accept and what will true exemptions look like? Each organisation will have to make decisions around what verification it will accept to meet its duty of care. Some important questions to ask are: What evidence will we accept to prove vaccination? Are there any privacy concerns about this? How do we communicate this requirement and help people access the correct verification? This will form a critical part of any COVID Safe Plan for reopening.  

Another important conversation to have and decision to make is around medical exemptions.  What is your authentication process? Will you accept any medical certificate or will you require any staff seeking exemption to see a pre-approved medical professional for assessment. This point came up when considering those who work staff, artists or visitors that might be immune compromised or from a vulnerable community.


‘How will we do this?’ was the most common question asked in our meeting. Small-to-medium galleries and other spaces are not set up for this type of vetting. What are the additional costs or risks associated with this new requirement? How do we ensure the safety of our staff or volunteers? 

Further conversations arose from this around inclusion and access. Key questions to ask for your organisation are: How do we ensure attitudinal awareness and understanding of access needs, language barriers, privacy or other considerations in checking vaccine status? What do staff need to know about supporting people to access the correct information? What additional training do vetting staff need? 

We know that front of house staff, when not volunteers, are often the lowest paid workers in organisations. What support is needed to ensure they are kept safe from a health and wellbeing perspective? 

NAVA listens to its Members about where the visual arts sector needs to go. Our industry is made up of state funded galleries mandated by state requirements, commercial galleries, regional galleries under local government management, small independent galleries and artist run initiatives largely driven by volunteers. This is new ground for all of us and NAVA is at the centre of industry perspectives and views.

With a view of being informed by the states who will be implementing these measures in the next few weeks, we were also briefed by Destination NSW (DNSW) at their visitor economy meeting. They advised that all staff and customers must use the QR code to enter premises.

In NSW, once the new Public Health Order (PHO) comes into effect on 11 October, then all workers must be vaccinated. This will have an immediate impact on staff scheduling for any organisation included in the vaccine mandate which will include, at this stage, public galleries and other arts or ‘entertainment’ venues. 

Current support packages will wind back once 80% of the eligible population is vaccinated, meaning COVID-19 Disaster and JobSaver payments will be phased out from 80% onwards. NSW would continue to fund its share of JobSeeker payments after the federal government pulls its funding when the state reaches the 80 per cent vaccination rate. Both Federal and State are currently looking at support packages that will kick in after this date, but these will likely be weighted towards stimulus measures to drive demand.

From 1 December, all NSW workers will be able to return to the workplace and it will be a decision between employers and employees as to whether vaccination is mandated. This will be a guide for other states in the decisions employers are making and impact and response to those decisions. The updated NSW PHO makes it clear that from 11 October, vaccination status is a requirement which will give businesses the legal power to determine who comes in and out of your gallery or venue.

The questions we posed above are key. NAVA recognises that there are some who require a genuine vaccination exemption. Our Sit For An Artist campaign encourages those who are eligible and able to get vaccinated, in hopes that more vulnerable members in our society will be safer. 


Reading the roadmaps: the visual arts sector prepares