The National Association of Visual Arts has issued a stark warning that the country’s galleries, museums and other visual arts venues are in dire straits.
The surprise statement earlier this week that the Carriageworks performance and exhibition venue in Sydney is going into voluntary administration could be the first of several such announcements, the association’s executive director, Esther Anatolitis, said.
“It’s the first big announcement like this but I can tell you now, it won’t be the last,” she told Guardian Australia. “What we’re seeing right across Australia is a total loss of self-generated income for galleries. As yet, there’s no strategy looking at how to financially support galleries so that they will be able to survive and reopen.”
Carriageworks’ income has been devastated
Carriageworks is a multi-purpose venue that supports and showcases contemporary visual arts. It also hosts festivals, fairs, produce markets and commercial exhibitions. Founded in 2007, it is located on an historic 50-hectare site at the Eveleigh rail yard complex.
Planned income for the current financial year has been devastated by the pandemic and lockdown, with all revenue-generating activities suspended for the immediate future. Management at Carriageworks decided to enter into administration when the NSW government said it could not guarantee future funding to keep it going.
There are now suggestions that the venue may be taken over by the Sydney Opera House, but this is unconfirmed.
Many other venues around Australia face similar challenges
In her Guardian Australia interview, Anatolitis said Carriageworks’ exposure to commercial headwinds is no greater than many others in the sector.
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, many museums, galleries and arts venues have suffered cuts in funding from Australia Council, while visitor numbers have been impacted by the devastating bush fire season and drought in many parts of the country.
“Regional galleries have been hard hit by drought, fire and the resulting loss of tourist traffic. “There’s barely been time to recover from that and now we have a global pandemic for which there is no treatment and no vaccine,” Anatolitis said.
We may be heading for a devastating cultural recession
In March, a virtual round table hosted by Arts Minister Paul Fletcher with key people in the cultural and creative sector brought forward concerns that Australia could be heading for a devastating cultural recession resulting from the coronavirus.
At the time, Labor’s arts spokesman Tony Burke said more action was needed.
“Our artists, performers and the many thousands of people who support them need urgent help. They’re already on the brink. A meeting is not a plan,” he said.
“People watched months of income disappear during one media conference. We need a plan.”
Among the huge number of venues forced to close is the Belvoir St Theatre located in Surry Hills in Sydney. It opened its doors in 1984.
“The future of the performing arts in Australia is more uncertain than it has ever been, and we stand in solidarity with all our fellow companies, big and small, and with the huge workforce of freelance artists and casual workers who are the lifeblood of our industry,” directors Sue Donnelly and Eamon Flack said.