The arts have comforted us in these difficult times – but the future of creative industries remains uncertain.
Over the past few months, our arts engagement has increased: we’ve retreated into the world of a good book or video game as we stay indoors.
But creative industries themselves have been significantly and negatively impacted: live performances, exhibitions, festivals – unless they can shift online, they’ve all been postponed or cancelled.
Dr Amanda Coles, from Deakin University’s Business School, recently hosted a seminar to consider the effect of the pandemic on creative industries – and to speculate what their futures may hold.
It featured three leaders from some of Australia’s peak creative bodies; Kim Tran, Director of Policy and Governance for Live Performance Australia; Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association; and Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director for the National Association for the Visual Arts.
Here’s what they had to say.
How has the pandemic impacted your industry?
Kim Tran: It’s been pretty dire. Within a matter of weeks from the 16th of March, every single live event across the country could no longer proceed, which threw up a lot of chaos. It affected every single genre and everyone in the supply chain. People are no longer in employment, not only performers but all the caterers, the crew, the lighting and tech people for staging companies, and so on. For most of us, we’ve gotten over the shock phase. But I think it will be a slow path to recovery.
Ron Curry: It’s been a tale of two cities for our industry. For those with product in the market, and those who’ve got some solid franchises behind them, we’ve seen incredible growth in those first weeks of lockdown. That’s the nature of the product and the fact that people are at home. For those who haven’t got product in the market, we’re getting effects similar to other creative industries. It’s been difficult for people to reach out and sell their product to anyone, as all the major sales events and conferences for this time of year have been cancelled.
Amanda Coles: There is indeed a narrative that there’s huge chaos and the impact has been really profound on the creative industries and cultural sector, but it’s not an even story. There’s important textures from sector to sector that need to be picked up to understand this in a really sophisticated way, from an industry viewpoint.
Esther Anatolitis: In the visual arts, we talk about artists, their practice and the impact of galleries, festivals and biennials. These are major international events featuring a range of international artists and visitors, and all of that has been halted. For commercial gallerists and artists’ agents, it’s been very difficult to meet or welcome any new collectors or buyers. University galleries and local government galleries aren’t eligible for any income support, including JobKeeper. We’re looking at a long tail of recovery, with many serious financial and policy questions to be answered.
Amanda Coles: This really does underscore how comprehensive and deep the impact of this kind of disruption is. We sometimes talk about digital disruption and innovation in somewhat sanitised, marketised terms, but this is a disruption of a different scale that I don’t think we’re quite grasping in its entirety.
How is the industry responding to the current operating conditions?
Kim Tran: A lot of things are moving online. That’s not the easiest solution in a live context, because a lot of companies are still understanding how they can derive an income from a virtual world. And there are challenges: you don’t get the audience response to certain things, which helps generate a certain vibe. From an industrial relations perspective, it adds significant licensing costs to be able to present online.
Ron Curry: The irony for us is, we’re a digital-first industry. We live in this world. But we do business in the physical world, at two or three major global events, all of which have been cancelled. For us, the challenge was to create digital versions of events that usually support the industry, and to create them quickly.
Esther Anatolitis: Some important collegiality and unity has emerged. The industry has been educating governments to make sure that the interdependency between the arts and other industries – tourism, hospitality, technology and so on – is well understood. It’s essential to keep that collegiality going forward.
Amanda Coles: One of the interesting tensions that seems to be emerging here is there’s a lot of trauma and negative impacts, but that same tension – particularly around the shift to digital – has also created opportunities. But how do you take products and monetise them in a digital world and connect them with audiences? That attitude of, “we’ll just slap it online” is like the film industry’s, “we’ll fix it in post”. It’s not really an answer, without any serious thought about the dynamics of the digital world.
What do you think the lasting impact of the pandemic is going to be?
Kim Tran: I worry about what companies will still be around after this. No companies are driving income, which is critical to reinvest back into future work. Without it, the opportunity to put on new shows is significantly dampened. However, the performing arts is always very good at doing lots with nothing. I think the industry will become even more creative, in that respect.
Ron Curry: I think we need to export our way out of this financial crisis, as 90 percent of the revenue in Australian games comes from export dollars. I’d also like to see that collegiality between creative industries and state and territory governments continue. We’ve been amazed and flattered by the amount of time they want to spend talking about solutions, not just for us but right across the sector.
Esther Anatolitis: Something that has been really heartening to see is different models of artist self-organisation, about expressing ideas and frustrations or developing ways to share collegiality and resources.Certainly for the visual arts, it’s been extremely clear for some time that the key policy frameworks for the visual arts and crafts sector – or VACS, the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy – have completely fallen by the wayside. It’s nowhere near fit for purpose. It was supposed to support collegiality and exchange and also some foundational funds and has very much slipped from that. This situation has exposed what’s needed policy-wise and industry strategy wise. We need a far more relevant, responsive policy framework that includes the entire industry in all of its complexity.
Dr Amanda Coles is a lecturer in arts and cultural management at Deakin University