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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: The Pain in the Arts

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The arts sector is bleeding out – COVID-19 is killing us.

The arts sector is bleeding out – COVID-19 is killing us. We are the most significantly affected industry, first to close, last to go back. It’s harder and sometimes impossible for us to adapt, and the federal government clearly couldn’t give a shit. One miner is worth 100 musicians. It’s no surprise we’ve been forgotten. The arts sector tends to be politically left wing. They tend to critique government policy. They’re creative and difficult. They don’t wear suits. The government of white men in suits hate the arts.
To them we’re weirdos.
Don’t worry. It’s mutual. To us, they’re weirdos.
This is my industry, so I write this with lived experience. I write this seeing my friends and colleagues in financial distress. People with long, successful careers, with families and mortgages, who are wondering what their future looks like. Acclaimed musicians who once worked five jobs a week that now are lucky to have one a month.
Nationally respected comedians who spent most of their time at sea working cruise boats now have to deliver packages to scrape by. Dancers, who have to train and stay in shape, but have no major production to work towards. Festivals who program and create amazing events have to close at a moment’s notice. All that work gone. Maybe not to return. Arts organisations are teetering on the brink of closure. The legacy of our vision, of our sweat and our tears – gone.
It’s killing our spirit. We’ve seen our industry slammed into the wall. We don’t feel supported by our government. And guess what, in a bushfire, in a crisis, to raise money for social inequities or injustices, we are there for our community. We are always there. You don’t see the mining industry contributing their skills to raise millions – but you will see musicians. And comedians. And artists. Yet who is there to help us when we are in crisis?
My friend has spent six months painting an exhibition that hangs in Sydney this week. He can’t go. No one can go. Our work is on the national and international stage, so when COVID-19 hits, it means every closure and lockdown, every border closure impacts us, both locally and at a state and international level.
Since the lockdown in Greater Sydney, a snap Qld border closure, and restrictions that came in on 26 June, I have lost around $16k in work. I’ve lost a week of touring, playing eight gigs in Sydney, a sold out show in Wollongong, a festival show in Longreach, a highly paid corporate gig in Brisbane, a couple of local shows and a workshop I run. That was my income for the next six weeks. It was my income to pay myself, but also for my graphic artist, printing, advertising, for airfares, and accommodation, and for people I employ at my events. For us, like any business, generating income incurs cost. We have to pay our costs, but we have no product. The product is us. It’s not a pair of shoes or a macramé hanging chair that can be sold online.
For those of us in the arts, it’s not just work now that cancels or postpones. It’s work ahead. Promoters and event organisers are bleeding too. They lose confidence and so they cancel. I’ve had numerous big paying gigs in the weeks ahead collapse. I’ve gone through two bottles of liquid paper blotting out my income.
Yes, we in the arts are resilient. We are used to innovating. We are used to living with nothing. That’s how we got to where we are. We know how to struggle. But struggling in your 40s and 50s and 60s is pretty different to struggling when you were starting out. By the time you get to your 40s, mist people have kids, and lives to support: Managers, publicists.l, sound engineers. Arts support and employ large networkst of people.
The arts and entertainment sector contributes $111.7 billion per year in GDP.  That’s over 6 per cent.  For every million dollars we turn over, we produce nine jobs. For the same amount the construction industry only produces one job.
So why has our government forsaken us? Many of my colleagues didn’t qualify for JobKeeper. We don’t fit into the business or contractor frameworks that suit their applications. When you consider our GDP, that they’re happy to take our tax, and that there are over 12,000 businesses operating as Creative Artists, Musicians, Writers and Performers, it’s downright insulting.
Sure, the federal government did supply some assistance – as grants. Where other businesses might be able to apply for a grant, and if they meet compliance they would receive the $, we were made to come up with ideas under patronising programs like ‘Adapt’ and to compete with each other for assistance. Some got money, others didn’t.
Here’s another grant: ‘Suck it Up’. Turns out we all qualified for that one but didn’t get a cent for our efforts.
We have committed our lives to excellence in performance and creative product. It’s what we do.
Being supported by our government as a severely impacted industry would recognise the important role we play in society. This is not a hobby. This is our profession. And life is better for our efforts.
We need support. We need to be recognised. We need to work.
Otherwise there will be no arts. 

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  1. All of it, so true, Mandy!
    What will it take for artists to be appreciated, valued & supported by the suits??? They’re fine, on their fat salaries & perks, for no real measurable productivity. Have them swap positions & see how they manage!

    • I beg to differ…
      Definition of art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, music, literature, dance and performance.
      Art covers various branches of creative activity; a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice, that impresses, enlightens or entertains others.

  2. So oooooo proud of you Mandy, as you say artists (which is comedians/ story tellers/ performers/dancers/artists of all descriptions etc) produce MORE income & supply more jobs directly & indirectly than many other professions. You have been impacted upon even more than the hospitality industry. This Govt is NOT only incompetent when it comes to vaccines & quarantine , BUT totally disinterested in our much loved Arts community. Much loved I guess , doesn’t apply to most politicians or corporations, who only see $ $$ in export terms, or shonky off shore deals. AS YOU RIGHTLY SAY , WHEN THE COMMUNITY NEEDS HELP & SUPPORT ON THE GROUND IT ISN’T THE MEGA MINING CORPORATIONS THAT COMES TO THE COMMUNITIES AID. That support always comes from the kindest hearts in the Arts community. I am extremely grateful to you Mandy & many other ‘weirdo’s ‘ like you …Blessed are the freaks as THEY are the ones that truly care for our planet & each other.

  3. The treatment meted out to the Art’s sector by Promo Hairplug-McSmirky sums him and his corrupt government up. I look at all of the memorial fundraising events muso’s have done to raise money for the family of a fellow muso who passed away (Andrew Durant, Ted Mulry are two I recall) or for a charitable cause, but Hairplug-McSmirky only sees lefties and critics and there is not much that he hates more than people who criticise him and he is a thug towards those he hates. He is a cultural luddite (aka a boofhead). He thinks that artists and musicians don’t deserve what he sees as a “free ride”. He made his customary “big announcement”, conning Guy Sebastian into helping him out with his deception (I suspect Sebastian now knows he was played for a schmuck) and ultimately delivering nothing – except another clarion call out to his beloved “tradies”, whose votes he has been assiduously buying for 2 years. He deliberately kept artists out of JobKeeper. He was able to decide that the government could afford to give a tradie a 100% tax write-off for a $60,000 dual cab (so there are even more of those gas guzzlers on (mostly) urban roads than ever before), but couldn’t afford to genuinely help out a sector that uniformly struggles and struggled even more during Covid – it is one sector where when working consistently, it is possible for a musician, for example, to make a kind of living (I have musician friends and clients and play in a band as my “weekend” fun), but most don’t earn enough to build up large reserves to carry them through a quiet period and even one lost gig can make life a little bit more difficult. It would be bad enough if Hairplug-McSmirky just didn’t care, but it is worse – he is disdainful of the arts generally.

  4. Totally true Mandy ” first to close, last to go back. ” but the inconvenient truth is, it is also the least missed and inconsequential in these times of life and death pandemics. So at the moment “money for nothing and chicks for free” will have to go on hold.
    Be grateful for the bounty you have already received, for what is essentially busking. Poor choices of career have repercussions, but times change perhaps you could get a real job in the interim.
    Good luck, G”)

  5. Although I’ve written & published sixteen volumes of poetry, 3 chap-books, a novel, &
    a libretto performed by The Seymour Group I’m also in the process of my second poetry
    selection. I’ve had to reach an international Publisher & audience. You are correct when
    you refer to your ‘liquid paper’, Mandy. Glue keeps writers, performers, actors & painters
    together. We don’t do it for the loot; we are -thankfully- not politician followers. That,
    fortunately, helps save our craft & talent.

  6. I like this stat – we need to start measuring things differently. “For every million dollars we turn over, we (the performing arts industry) produce nine jobs. For the same amount the construction industry only produces one job.” Looks like the money from a proect gets split more fairly in the arts industry – rather than just a small number of investors raking in the majority of the profit.

  7. So much to say about this article. Misguided anger probably at the top. Essentially art exists privately…as an expression. Who it is performed for, thousands, the mirror , or gifted to Mum does not establish its value. That people have been able to make a living from entertainment means we are lucky to live in an affluent somewhat cultured society, whose patrons and punters have established a place for the Arts to thrive and excel. Open the program for the latest Queensland Ballet Production to see who those patrons are…the government and mining companies (who continue to foot the bill even without the punters). I do not miss the tween wandering around Byron barefoot in mid winter wearing a bikini top, rompers and a floral crown numbed and dumbed by her drug fuelled, monetised ‘artistic’ festival experience. Everyone in every service industry is pretty much in the same situation with COVID. Echo chambers can be a dangerous place to be..said Hawke at Woodford when a tent of 1200 people voted that refugees were Australia’s biggest problem. Ice epidemic, droughts, failing education, land degradation, dying rivers…no the echo chamber decided it was 211 people housed and cared for, free to leave at any time but not free to enter Australia because they didnt legally qualify…this was Australia’s greatest concern. Genuine concern yes, misguided by the echo chamber, thats a matter of opinion. I think your opinion may need some more objective, independent thinking and honest evaluation of music, comedy, entertainment and dance as essential ‘industries’ . Essential yes, but they will and do exist and thrive in non commercial forms. Time for the true creatives to evolve, not stomp their feet. PS. I have been in the entertainment and arts industry for 34 years

  8. I’ve spent 55 years at it, Sally. Independent Publisher, supported by The Literature Board of The Australia Council, tutoring
    with James Cook Uni, Writer in The Community in the far North to Tasmania. Working with all ages is important & it serves
    me well because I’m also a musician. I then chose to work with the young who had problems adapting to our so-called
    Society – many were run-aways due to beatings ets. Yes – there were problems, life’s like that. It helps if you also happen to
    be a blues singer & guitarist & teach the eager pupil. I performed at the Maleny Folk Festival before it became Woodford .
    However, financial support falls over itself time & again. The ‘Arts’ – a cap. A – are often quite different as they lap up
    the ‘dollars’ & the names of the players. Governments avoid self starters – that’s the truth of it.


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