Melbourne’s arts industry at crisis point

Melbourne's performance spaces, including the Comedy Theatre, were empty for many months because of Covid. Picture: Marrinergroup.com.au
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Without additional financial support or a big increase in vaccinations, Melbourne’s arts and events scene could soon be a shadow of its former self. Jack Crnjanin reports.

Melbourne’s once vibrant creative and event industries could be going backwards without government support, experts say.

Victorian College of the Arts lecturer and art curator Sophia Cai said risk-averse event organisers, entertainers and others were producing less experimental and untested work for financial reasons.

“I worry about our more established institutions reverting back to more conservative aesthetics because the industry is at such a critical juncture,” she said.

“With funding and what funding offerings there are, the arts industry hasn’t really quite recovered a few years ago, in terms of funding being reallocated, and now it’s even worse.”

Event coordinator Bonnie Bradley said performers at grassroots events were also at risk of losing work, even without lockdowns.

Mx Bradley said that after years of weekly events, the snap coronavirus lockdowns had made it harder to launch similar weekly events. Performers and technical staff had suffered the most.

I have burlesque, drag performers, DJs, AV crew and volunteers reaching out and wanting to do stuff, but with all the uncertainty of lockdowns, it’s really hard to talk to everyone because I can’t promise I can pay people.

“It was only through the financial reassurance of the venue that the next event will be fine, but If a lockdown happens again, it might be a very different story,” they said.

Melbourne’s arts industry at crisis point
Even with their weekly event experience, Bonnie Bradley struggles to coordinate monthly events amid the risk of snap lockdowns. Picture taken via video call.

Research from Creative Victoria showed that in March 2020, 45 per cent of Victorians felt deterred from attending events because of the risk of lockdown.

Lockdown uncertainty also meant that over a quarter of Victorians were buying tickets within weeks of an event.

But that hasn’t stopped Mx Bradley from planning their show as if it was business as usual.

“Because of the chaotic nature of running events weekly, I’m used to living in that space and working in it,” they said.

“This new event being monthly, I’ve had to bring my overcommunication to the new team, and it’s worked well.”

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Ms Cai said the added challenges coordinators, curators and others were facing meant events could now reach people who usually couldn’t attend.

“What I’m hopeful about though, is people recognising that you can offer more accessible or more experimental ways of engagement,” she said.

It’s also been a huge positive for accessibility in terms of putting these things online, making sure they’re captioned and actually reaching audiences that might not otherwise even be able to come to a physical space.

But the one thing Mx Bradley thinks could save Melbourne’s event and arts industry might be out of its hands.

“The Federal Government’s job of vaccinations is the No.1 thing that needs to happen,” they said.

“I can’t imagine these lockdowns just not happening over and over. As much as I would like to not have snap lockdowns, I don’t know what else could fix it.”