People / Resolutions

More than a return to normal: how to rebuild our arts industries

Isolation is a time when many of us are craving creativity more than ever. Books, new TV shows, art, music and honest journalism.

It's a sad irony that the coronavirus pandemic outbreak has been hardest on the creative industries - industries that were already a challenged even before this disease changed life as we know it.

So how do we rebuild? Where do we even start? New research from The University of South Australia indicates rebuilding our creative economy requires much more than a ‘return to normal’.

In a new report, UniSA’s Professor Justin O’Connor and Dr Ben Eltham from Monash University, deliver a ‘snapshot’ from data pulled from the last three Australian censuses. It looks at cultural employment (cultural occupations in any industry) and creative industries employment (including ‘non-creative’ jobs such as managers in theatres or newspaper printers).

For anyone in these industries, the finding do not come as a surprise.


Employment declining, freelance rising

The research show that while cultural jobs as a whole were growing, this rate of growth was actually less than the growth national employment overall - and employment specifically in the creative industries was declining.

According to the data the overall decline in creative industries employment can be attributed to a collapse of ‘cultural manufacturing’ – like printing of newspapers, magazine and books. This of course is more exacerbated than ever. It seems like we hear of a magazine or publication closure almost weekly. Likewise, there are plenty of beloved titles that, while not closing, have paused print production for now and near future.

“These cultural manufacturing losses nationally were almost offset by job growth in design, architecture and advertising, and especially among freelance cultural workers,” Professor O’Connor says.

And although we take a glass-half-full attitude and look hopefully at the growth that we are seeing in some areas, it's important to look at the full picture. Much of the growth comes from freelance employment.

“However, despite the growth in these sectors, the rapid rise in freelance employment suggests an increase in precarious, contract employment, and while those in cultural occupations are more educated than the average workforce, they earn less, with a significant over-representation in the under-$30,000-a-year range.”

More than ever, freelancers are making up the backbone of the creative industries, but they often have the least support. We at RUSSH have written before about how casuals and freelancers have been left out of the government's Job Keeper initiative.

“We found the COVID-19 crisis has hit a sector already struggling with a high degree of precarious employment, after years of declining incomes and job security,” Prof O’Connor says.

“The ways in which both Job Seeker and Job Keeper schemes have bypassed many in this sector has been well-documented, contributing to the devastating effects of the virus lockdown.


How do we value the arts?

“However, while the economic needs of this sector are urgent, we don’t think that they should be seen primarily as an engine of economic recovery – first and foremost, they are an engine of social and cultural recovery,” Prof O’Connor says.

We can't help but agree.

The arts, media and creative sectors are not "nice to haves". These are an integral part of our identity. They forge the path for progress, diversity, accountability and give voices to those that need a platform to stand on. History is documented and made through art and culture. We as a society and as a global civilisation need these avenues more than we ever have before.

Professor O’Connor offers an important note, a sign off from the study's findings. “Strategies to develop the sector in Australia should move away from ‘picking winners’ among a few high-growth companies and look to the creative ecosystem as a whole,” Professor O’Connor says.

“In this way they can develop long term, sustainable recovery, one which will feed into the social and cultural fabric of life in Australian cities and regions.”

If you're looking to offer some support to these important industries, there are a few ways you can help. Try visiting your favourite art gallery online. Or watch the Australian Ballet on its new digital channel. Shop Australian with the We Wear Australian initiative. Read, watch and engage with your favourite artists. Follow creatives on Instagram. And if you can, write to your local MP. Tell the world what art and culture means to you.

We stand strong. Creativity will always find a way.