More than 3,500 music industry artists, workers, venues and businesses have signed an Open Letter to the Australian Government calling for it to extend the JobKeeper subsidy or provide direct industry support to thousands of vulnerable workers.

One of the ghost lights installed by the Sydney Opera House in each of its theatres during COVID-19 in 2020. Photograph © Daniel Boud

The music and live entertainment industries have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While live performance was shut down for most of last year, concerts and shows continue to operate in an uncertain environment of snap border closures and lockdowns. Recent weeks have seen the delayed opening of the Perth Festival, cancelled concerts for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and a postponed opening night for Victorian Opera’s The Sleeping Beauty.

New figures from music rights organisation APRA AMCOS show live music alone is operating at under four percent of pre-COVID levels, while a recent study conducted by RMIT of the music sector in Victoria revealed 58 percent of respondents are considering leaving the industry.

“Each time there is another COVID-19 cluster or a quarantine breach, any plans to trade again are halted. Musicians, sole traders, venues, clubs, festivals, music businesses and the industry remain out of work. Billions of dollars for hospitality and tourism generated from Australian music remains stifled. We are an industry in crisis,” the Open Letter says. “We applaud the work of local, state and federal authorities, as well as the community and acknowledge the situation in Australia is much different to most nations around the world. But Australia remains in a cycle of lockdowns and border closures to keep on top of the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Extending JobKeeper, or providing an industry specific wage subsidy package, will keep the show on the road. This doesn’t just make cultural sense, it makes economic sense. The arts and entertainment sector contributes around $15 billion per year in GDP, employing close to 200,000 highly-skilled Australians. Australia Institute research has found that for every million dollars in turnover, arts and entertainment produce 9 jobs while the construction industry only produces around 1 job,” the letter says.

The letter has been signed by musicians including Katie Noonan and Heather Shannon, musicians and music professionals from bands like Boy & Bear, Cold Chisel, The Cat Empire, The Living End, Regurgitator and Spiderbait, as well as people working with organisations including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian Art Orchestra, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, The Metropolitan Orchestra, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre, Music Australia, Tall Poppies Records, Symphony Services Australia and Limelight Arts Media, publishers of Limelight.

“The entire arts ecosystem is on a cliff edge, so much so that the termination of the JobKeeper supplement at the end of this month could be disastrous for the long-term recovery and vitality of the creative industries,” says Limelight’s General Manager Cara Anderson. “The arts needs a tailored federal response which supports all tiers of the industry and recognises the economic impact it contributes each year to the GDP.”

CEO of Symphony Services Australia Kate Lidbetter told Limelight that her organisation is collaborating closely with arts peak bodies including Live Performance Australia, APRA AMCOS and theatre companies. “We are all fairly aligned in our request to government for JobKeeper to be extended,” she said. “I would hope that Symphony Services Australia would be able to coordinate some sort of a presence in Canberra in the first half of this year – whether that’s a physical presence or whether we do it by Zoom. We did an event of that kind very early last year before COVID and that included a reasonably wide range of classical music organisations so we would hope to be able to do something similar, perhaps in a different way.”

The Open Letter points out that the inability for the music industry to trade has a direct knock-on effect on the hospitality and tourism industries – and therefore the economy as a whole – across Australia. “Every live music venue and festival in a city, town centre or regional area is part of an intricate network that supports our industry. Sitting behind these venues and events is an army of musicians, managers, agents, promoters, crew, technicians, music teachers and many other industry professionals,” the Open Letter says. “We can’t afford to lose the skills and businesses of our industry. The result for Australian music and live entertainment would be catastrophic.”

The arts on a cliff edge: The termination of the JobKeeper supplement at the end of this month could be disastrous for the arts

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