When the Show Cannot Go On: Rebooting Arts & Culture After COVID

Culture is an inescapable part of what it means to be human. We can no more imagine a life without the arts than we can imagine a life without language, custom, or ritual. Australia is home to the oldest continuing cultural traditions on the planet, and some of the world's most renowned actors, musicians and artists. But while we have a proud story to tell, the future of Australian culture looks increasingly uncertain.

New research from the Centre for Future Work, 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 after the crisis. 

Key findings:

  • 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.
  • By international standards, Australia ranks low in its funding support for the arts and culture. The OECD average for government expenditure on the cultural sector is 1.2% of annual GDP. Australia contributes just 0.9%.
  • Due to their disproportionately insecure labour market conditions, arts and entertainment sector workers are experiencing significant ruptures in their employment arrangements due to COVID-19.
  • The federal government has not adequately responded to the scale and severity of the crisis in the arts & entertainment sector. Worse still, it has implemented increasingly hostile policies, including weakening local production quotas and increasing the cost of studying creative fields.
  • Unpredictable health restrictions due to vaccination program failures mean the viability of the arts & cultural sector will likely be hampered for years to come.
  • Australia needs a public-led reboot of the arts & cultural sector that lays 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.

While damage to the sector has been grave, the pandemic presents an opportunity to rebuild a better culture. The report presents clear policy measures to reinvest in our culture and deliver a richer, more vibrant, and more diverse cultural sector. These measures include implementing a new Commonwealth creative fellowships program, whole-of-Australia public streaming platform, strengthening the quality of jobs for artists and cultural sector workers, and more.

"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,” Eltham said.

“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’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.”


Please see the full report, Creativity in Crisis: Rebooting Australia's Arts & Entertainment Sector After COVID, by Alison Pennington & Ben Eltham.


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