Wednesday, 13 May 2020
COVID-19: Arts and Recreation
More than one-quarter of all arts and recreation employees have lost their jobs since March, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and many more people have seen their incomes evaporate, their job opportunities disappear, gigs cancelled, productions halted, shows stopped and galleries—like the McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery in my electorate—closed. Because so many people and so many institutions in the arts sector aren't eligible for JobKeeper, many people have been forced onto the Centrelink queues, to ask for support from friends and families or to apply for the small number of state and federal grants that are available.
It's perhaps too easy to talk about numbers and not realise that beneath those numbers are people—locals. So I want to be the voice today for two locals from Dunkley in the arts sector who represent really strongly the people in my community and across Australia who make such a contribution to our lives. I got off the phone about 15 minutes ago to Rohan Shearn, who lives in Frankston. He produces the Australian Arts Review. He sent me an email in April. This is what he said:
'As you know, we're living in unprecedented times with the pandemic, and as a constituent of Dunkley I'm writing to you seeking your support for an emergency package for arts workers like myself. I was buoyed reading Minister'—he was a little bit hopeful in that; let's say shadow minister—'Burke's opinion piece on the need for support to the arts sector. Over the past week I have seen a sector that I have worked in for more than 20 years decimated due to shutdowns, cancellations and postponements to help slow the spread of the virus. Many friends and colleagues have been severely impacted. They can no longer work.
'My business, the Australian Arts Review, supports the arts sector nationally, writing and reviewing shows, and we rely on advertising. But individual shows in major events such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival provide significant advertising revenue for us, and in the past week all that ceased because the comedy festival didn't go ahead, and we don't know when venues will reopen or events will start happening again. And while the federal government has been developing stimulus packages for many sectors across the country, to date they've been very quiet on the arts.
'I am asking you'—Rohan wrote to me—'for your support in encouraging your parliamentary colleagues of all persuasions to support a stimulus package for the arts. Some may question why the arts sector needs support over other sectors. The arts sector is, of course, one of the biggest employers of people and brings significant economic benefits. If this goes, where will we be as a community?'
The arts make a contribution that is so much more than the $111 billion economic figure. Although that is reason enough to support the arts, we should also support the arts because it's about Australian faces, Australian voices and Australian stories. It's about being able to visit places and people, to hear about concepts, to have experiences and to see times that we would never be able to reach without the arts. The arts—television, books, theatre, concerts, paintings, sculptures—provoke. They uplift. They challenge. They soothe us. They entertain us. They enrich us.
Recently, local Langwarrin author and literary agent Danielle Brooks was good enough to give me a lot of her time to have a conversation about the value of the arts locally and across Australia. As Danielle says, the arts are going to provide us with a mechanism for how we will understand this time. It's the way, for many people, that we will record this global pandemic. It's the way we will remember the lessons that we've learned from—the arts sector. It's the songs, the movies, the books, the paintings, the poems, the plays and the sculptures that have been made in, and which will be made about, this extraordinary period of isolation—about the financial and emotional stress, about this time of distance from loved ones and the discovery of new ways of living and of deep despair and unexpected joy. That's how we'll understand what we're going through.
So to Rohan, Danielle, the McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery, musicians, painters, writers, pub owners, venue operators, the Goodfellow Theatre Company in Frankston—to everyone in Dunkley who loves and is a part of the arts—I'm here today to ask my colleagues of all persuasions to support a stimulus package for the arts.