Australia’s arts industry given the cold shoulder by government, theatre director says

Australia’s arts industry given the cold shoulder by government, theatre director says

Theatre show ‘Come From Away’. Pic by Jeff Busby
Words by Tom Parker

Geordie Brookman has spoken out about the lack of support.

Geordie Brookman used to be the artistic director of the State Theatre Company South Australia and is now based in Germany. His most notable directing credits include Things I Know To Be True, Machu Picchu, Animal Farm, The Gods of Strangers, Sense and Sensibility and so many more.

When the coronavirus hit, Brookman said he lost 12 months worth of income in three emails and a single phone call. While he was racing to figure out his state of affairs back home, in Germany, where he was located when everything went down, legislation was quickly passed to support freelancers, including Visa holders.

“We were able to apply online two days later. A day after that, money landed in our bank account, so we paid our rent, fed our kids and breathed out for a moment knowing we would be OK,” he said via social media.

Brookman was saved by the very fact he was not in Australia. But for those back home (here), things aren’t so rosy.

“Guilt because I’m having my arse saved by a foreign government while the government of my homeland hangs my friends, collaborators and entire professional cohort out to dry,” he continued.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of jobs in the arts sector have dropped by 18.7 per cent between the dates March 14 and April 4. This is second only to the hospitality industry which saw a 25.6 per cent drop in jobs.

Yet the majority of the 193,000 workers within the arts industry have not been eligible for the government’s JobKeeper payment, even though they identify themselves as sole traders – it depends on the eligibility of the organisation with which they have been affiliated most recently.

Looking more closely at the moves Germany has made to support its arts industry – on March 31, it was announced that €500 million would be distributed to artists and freelancers as part of a grant program created for residents of the state of Berlin.

Those who applied for the grant only had to provide their mailing address, tax file number, banking details and a legal form with their company’s name and within a few days, up to €5,000 was wired to their account.

Within a few days of the grant being launched on March 27, 50,000 successful applications had been successfully submitted from creative sectors and other industries such as nightlife, restaurants, hotels and events businesses.

“I was number 110,000 in the line,” Berlin-based artist Zuzanna Czebatul told German art website Artnet. “But overall the process was satisfyingly uncomplicated.” She confirmed that €5,000 had been deposited into her bank account within days of applying. “I am pleasantly shocked,” she said.

In a statement, Australia’s Federal Government reassured that there was support for the arts industry in place already.

“I urge all artists, arts workers and arts organisations to consider applying for support measures that are available, including cash flow assistance, support to pay staff, income supplements, flexibility with existing grants, loan support, rental protections and loan deferments,” Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said.

But given the broad nature of the current support scheme, there are holes in eligibility, most of which is leaving the arts industry out in the cold.

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