NSW government throws a $50 million lifeline to struggling arts organisations

The NSW government will inject a $50 million lifeline for creative arts companies suffering from severe financial distress. The package which is targeted directly at the state’s creative and cultural sector aims to resuscitate arts companies suffering due to the coronavirus lockdown.

This support is the largest of its type offered by any Australian state so far and comes not a moment too soon for an industry obliterated by current affairs. Being one of the hardest-hit industries from the pandemic, without more government support, the future of the arts is rocky, to say the least.

The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, she intended to ensure the survival of “some of the most significant arts and cultural organisations across NSW”.

We know that the arts is a place of refuge and a source of inspiration in these challenging times, she added.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Wolter Peeters

Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Opera Australia, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Theatre for Young People are among the likely beneficiaries of the new state initiative. All of whom have been hard hit by the pandemic.

The highly anticipated lifeline, to be delivered in two stages, was applauded by Belvoir St Theatre’s artistic director Eamon Flack who said the award-winning theatre company was likely to run out of money before the end of the year if it could not operate at “full scale”.

“It pulls everyone back from the cliff edge,” he said. “I think this money on the table is the best show of support we’ve seen since day one and it’s a huge relief, but it will be good to see the details.”

  • The first stage is funding available now, to enable NSW not-for-profit arts and cultural organisations to hibernate temporarily.
  • The second stage is funding available in the coming months, to enable NSW not-for-profit arts and cultural organisations to restart operations after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carriageworks went into voluntary administration on May 4, a pointer to serious liquidity issues facing arts companies whose box office revenues have been decimated by the coronavirus shutdown.

Opera Australia’s chief executive Rory Jeffes said his company was still at the point where there were “enormous threats to the existence of the company in 2020” and into 2021.

It’s going to be beyond September until we’re back in the theatre with sizeable audiences, so while we are subject to health restrictions we are going to need support, he said.

NSW is the home of so many great arts and cultural institutions and live performance is going to be one of the last sectors to generate its own income.

The $50 million initiative is on top of $6.34 million announced last month by the government arts agency, Create NSW, to support independent artists and small to medium arts, screen, and cultural organisations.

Sydney Theatre Company

Under this latest plan, not for profit organisations funded by Create NSW are eligible along with other arts bodies based on an assessment of their economic and cultural importance.

More than 100 performing arts companies, museums and galleries and festivals could qualify.

Successful organisations can use approved funding to cover urgent expenses such as rent, utilities, and staff salaries; as well as funding sets, costumes and commissions for new productions when they reopen.

Create NSW will assess an organisation’s finances before making recommendations to the NSW Treasury for the release of funds.

The arts sector supports 118,000 NSW jobs and contributed $16.4 billion to the economy, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.

“The Rescue and Restart package is intended to assist NSW arts and cultural organisations to hibernate, so they are in a strong position to restart operations when health guidelines permit,” he said.

Live Performance Australia president Richard Evans said more commercially driven major arts organisations had been disproportionately impacted by their inability to perform.

“We eagerly await the detail and remain hopeful this assistance may ameliorate the catastrophic circumstances we are in,” he said.

Our primary concern is not to lose any organisations through the negative commercial consequences of COVID-19. The secondary concern is to replace the hard-fought cash lost by those companies who are drawing down heavily on their reserves.

Mr Jeffes said the initiative would enable companies “like us who employ large numbers of artists … to give them a sense of hope that after the stand-down they will be able to do what they know best – to delight and inspire audiences”.

Georgia Lowe Photo by Dominic Lorrimer

Harpist Georgia Lowe is one of those artists, a casual musician with Opera Australia Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She has lost 40 to 50 per cent of her income in the shutdown.

Lowe now plays the occasional digital concert and teaches. She misses stage performances: “Not just the financial side of it, but the stage, the audiences, the feedback after – it really gives you a high.”

It remains to be seen whether other states will follow suit in assisting the arts industry with additional funding but it is safe to say that this is certainly a positive step in the right direction.

Peter J Snee

Peter is a British born creative, working in the live entertainment industry. He holds an honours degree in Performing Arts and has over 12 years combined work experience in producing, directing and managing artistic programs & events. Peter has traversed the UK, Europe and Australia pursuing his interest in theatre. He is inspired by great stories and passionately driven by pursuing opportunities to tell them.

Peter J Snee

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