Meanwhile, more than 60 productions have been shut down or delayed, representing an investment of $387 million, according to an early snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian screen industry.
Affected productions ranged from feature films to television drama, light entertainment, online series, and immersive and interactive media, and include works intended for release by Netflix, Amazon, Nine, Seven, Disney and Universal Pictures, said Screen Producers Australia. One of the most high-profile productions to suspend filming is Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis biopic after one of its stars, Tom Hanks, fell ill with coronavirus.
“When adding in the likelihood of business failures and flow-on effects, an early estimate of damage to the sector is greater than $2 billion, affecting over 20,000 working employees, freelancers and contractors,” said Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner.
This number, it said, was likely the tip of the iceberg.
Former arts administrator Kim William said: “… we are looking at a complete existential threat to the fabric of the ecology of performing arts companies and as importantly support to individual creators.
“Further careful analysis, action and investment will be core to the health of the immediate future of our artistic community, which is profoundly fragile.”
Musicians, actors and other out-of-work art workers are eligible for the Jobseeker allowance, doubled for a temporary time, while theatre companies, Aboriginal art centres, and small performance venues can apply for grants of up to $100,000 under measures announced yesterday.
Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher also foreshadowed the relaxation of funding grant conditions by Australia Council and Office of the Arts on a case-by-case basis, including permission to divert funds from cancelled shows to pay staff or rent.
Live Performance Australia said the small business package measures announced yesterday, while welcome, would make no material difference to 80pc of its companies.
“These are businesses whose entire revenue has fallen off a cliff,” Live Performance Australia’s Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson said. “Without immediate support, they won’t survive. They also have no certainty about when or if they will be able to resume operations in the future.”
Without a targeted, immediate and substantial support package, Ms Richardson said there would be no industry left in the next few months.
She estimated the industry needed an additional $650 million in targeted support measures by the end of the week.
National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), the peak body for the sector, welcomed the temporarily doubled Centrelink payment but also worried some out of work artists would not qualify.
“Not everyone is going to be able to show that they are immediately affected because they haven’t got a contract, for a residency or festival was happening in a few months’ time,” NAVA’s executive director Esther Anatolitis said.
Ms Anatolitis urged freelance and itinerant arts workers not to dip into superannuation savings if at all possible as they would have little left for retirement.
“The arts industry is what so many other industries rely on for their success,” she said. “Hospitality, tourism, local, regional, community and business rely on the arts and creative industries and what we are seeing now is the most debilitating and perilous disruption in our nation’s creative life for many generations.”
Meanwhile, NAVA said it was advised by the Australia Council on Friday that multi-year funding grants would be announced as planned at the end of this month, ending an anxious wait for those shortlisted organisations in literature, performance, and the visual arts.
With about a quarter of all organisations that originally expressed an interest in four-year funding likely to be successful, NAVA has called for the $100 million-plus funding pool to be doubled.
NSW Government is expected to follow the lead of South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland and announce support for the sector this week.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald
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