Visual arts sector far from recovery, NAVA survey reveals

Illustration by Emily Johnson.

A new survey by NAVA found that the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to devastate the visual arts, craft and design sector. The snap survey, conducted over a week in late-March 2021 aimed to capture the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 public health orders on the work, practices and income of artists, arts workers and arts organisations in the sector. 

Key findings from the survey:

  • Of the 801 respondents, 488 artists, arts workers and arts organisations reported over 3,688 events since September 2020 that they were hosting or participating in had been cancelled, postponed or downsized.
  • Artists, on average, experienced a $13,545 loss in income, while arts workers lost $25,191 in income, and arts organisations lost an average of $67,452. 
  • 100% of artists experienced loss of work or reduced hours in one or more arts industry-based professions, while nearly half lost work or hours in other industries. 
  • 38% of artists and arts workers will be affected by the end of the COVID-19 supplements JobSeeker and JobKeeper.
  • Only 4% of galleries and other arts organisations expect to return to 81-100% pre-COVID business activity in 2021. 
  • Art galleries and arts organisations expect to return to 60% of their pre-Covid capacity in 2021.
  • Without a targeted wage subsidy, 12.5% of galleries and arts organisations will make staff redundant; 29% will continue to keep staff stood down; 17% will reduce hours of staff working full/part time hours; 17% cancelled contracts with artists and arts workers; and 21% can no longer pay artists and arts workers for their participation.
  • Organisations estimated an audience loss of 10,372 people on average.

While the impacts of the pandemic continue to be both overwhelming and long-lasting for the arts sector, there are some rays of hope. Since September 2020, just under 40% of artists said 1-2 new opportunities had emerged, while over 40% of arts organisations had established 1-2 new programs.

NAVA welcomes the announcement made by the Government on 25 March 2021 of an additional $135 million to support jobs in the arts and entertainment sector, together with an update to the RISE program’s guidelines to include smaller projects from $25,000 (current minimum is $75,000). NAVA also welcomes a further $10 million to the charity Support Act in 2020-21, to assist with its vital work in providing crisis support to artists and other workers across the creative sector. 

Yet if we are to see a full recovery for the arts, we need targeted and consistent government support for artists and organisations.

On Tuesday 11 May 2021, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, will hand down the 2021-22 Federal Budget. The Budget will outline the Government’s economic forecasts from the COVID impacts of 2020 and set out the next phase of the Government’s plans for stimulus and reform.

NAVA is putting pressure on the Government to invest urgently and ambitiously in the sector. If Australia is to pursue the most effective means to social and economic recovery, it must empower the creative sector to drive it. This requires putting significant funds towards creative education, arts tourism, the creative industry across all artforms and scales, and creative workers no matter where and how they’re employed.

Links to further research on impacts

Audience Outlook Monitor, March 2021

Res Artis