When the Show Cannot Go On: Rebooting Australia’s Arts & Entertainment Sector After COVID-19

New research from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, written by Senior Economist Alison Pennington and Monash University’s Ben Eltham, reveals the ongoing, devastating impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s arts and entertainment sector and provides a series of recommendations to government that would reboot the creative sector following the crisis.

Key Findings:

  • The arts and entertainment sector is a significant employer in Australia that makes a substantial contribution to the economy.
  • More people work in broad cultural industries (over 350,000) than many other areas of the economy that are receiving greater policy supports, including aviation (40,500) and coal mining (48,900).
  • Despite years of significant funding pressures and policy neglect, the arts and entertainment sector contributed $17 billion in GDP to the Australian economy in 2018-19.
  • However, due to their disproportionately insecure and precarious labour market conditions, arts and entertainment sector workers are experiencing significant ruptures in their employment arrangements due to COVID-19 and the federal government has not adequately responded to the scale and severity of the crisis.
  • Looking ahead, adequate support to rebuild the sector should include: expanding funding to community arts organisations and artists; introducing a new Commonwealth creative fellowships program; creating a whole-of-Australia public streaming platform; introducing an Australian content quota on all services, including international streaming platforms; introducing a digital platforms levy to fund a merged-content production fund; better coordinating cultural policy between federal, state and local government levels, especially during the COVID-19 recovery; and strengthening pay and conditions for arts and entertainment sector workers.

Quotes attributable to Ben Eltham, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University: 

“COVID-19 has badly damaged Australia’s arts and cultural sector. Rolling lockdowns and health restrictions have devastated the live entertainment sector. Around the world, millions of artists and cultural workers have been thrown out of work by the pandemic,” Eltham said.

“Tens of thousands of artists now face lockdowns across major cities without adequate protections for their jobs, incomes and productions.

“The Morrison government’s policy response to the crisis has been late and inadequate. The Morrison government’s attacks on universities, the ABC and local production quotas are all bad news for the future of Australian culture.

“The pandemic has changed the way we think about creativity and culture. Australians have turned to the arts in their time of need, embracing cultural pastimes during extended lockdowns. We have rediscovered the value of culture, even as the pandemic has spread.

“Old arguments about government spending have been turned on their head. For many artists, JobKeeper was the first time they had been able to draw a steady, liveable income from their craft. The massive cash injection shows that Australians can afford a better society and culture if we want.”

Quotes attributable to Alison Pennington, Senior Economist, Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute: 

“Destructive market-first policies eroded the richness and diversity of arts and culture in Australia long-before COVID-19 hit. Endless short-term grant cycles and philanthropic dependency is not a place the arts and culture sector should “snap back” to,” Pennington said.

“Australia needs a total public-led reboot of the arts. This cultural reconstruction must ensure that the sector does not just survive the pandemic, but stands ready to flourish on the other side. It must lay the groundwork for a sustainable, vibrant future for the arts and culture, built through ambitious public investment and planning across many sectors of our cultural economy.

“Australia’s arts and cultural sector needs an ambitious public investment program to provide reliable funding for arts organisations from the grassroots-up, provide arts education to all children, and rebuild cultural labour markets to ensure that artists and cultural workers earn decent, living incomes.”

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