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You are not forgotten: Minister's personal pledge to struggling arts sector

Culture

Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch had a message for Queenslanders working in the arts sector following yesterday’s emergency funding announcement by the Palaszczuk Government: “You are not forgotten”.

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“I want to say to artists, arts workers, and those who support this very important work, that you are not forgotten by the Queensland Government,” the minister told InQueensland in an exclusive interview.

“We have been absolutely stepping up in terms of supporting the sector through COVID and now, post-COVID, and we’ll continue to support the arts being grown in this state.”

The Government’s two-year, $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package comes in addition to an already announced $20 million for the hard-hit industry.

The funding includes $11.3 million to assist in offsetting revenue losses and stabilising businesses in live music and performing arts organisations and venues; $4.2 million to fund a pipeline of performing arts and live music to support cultural and tourism recovery; $4.15 million in new grants to support audience and market access; and $2.9 million to support partnerships with local councils, venues, artists, festivals and organisations.

Enoch acknowledged the next two years would be a critical period for the sector, and said yesterday’s funding announcement aimed to specifically offer assistance to parts of the industry that have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There will be a whole assessment process around it but the allocation will be across a couple of categories, including live music venues, which of course have been really hard hit and will continue to find it difficult to be able to bring back some of the performances that we want to see in the live music space.

“There’ll also be a category around performing arts organisations and festivals in particular that have been previous recipients of funding from Arts Queensland since the beginning of 2018. There’s a category around Indigenous Art Centres that are supported by the department, through the Backing Indigenous Arts Program,” she said, adding that none of the state’s Indigenous Arts Centres had been eligible for JobKeeper.

Enoch reflected on how the arts had enriched her life and career, saying her life “may have been very different” if it had not been for the positive impact and confidence she had been instilled with as a result of being exposed to artistic expression in her formative years.

“As a kid that grew up in what would be regarded as a low socio-economic area, where a lot of people had certain views about what you’d be able to achieve or accomplish,” said Enoch, whose family, including her playwright brother Wesley, moved from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) to Woodridge, in Logan City when she started primary school.

“If I didn’t have the arts in my life – and that ability to be able to enliven my own sense of who I was – I may have believed some of the stories that people had told me about what I could and couldn’t achieve and my life may have been very different.

“I know that as a former drama teacher, I know that same thing happens to so many people who come in contact with the arts at whatever point in their life. It gives them this whole new way of looking at things, different insights, and it lights up new paths in your life.

“So, it is such an important part of our everyday, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s, economic, social, whether it’s about our own physical and mental wellbeing.

“For me, personally, I truly believe that our stories are the strongest things about us, they are the things that help us navigate the twists and turns of the reality that we face every day.

“Being able to share stories – through song, through performance, through dance through all of the modalities of the art sector – gives us the best possible chance to be able to see ourselves, not just today but in the future, as we navigate these incredibly challenging times.”

The minister detailed how some of the funding had been specifically aimed at assisting small-to-medium operators in the arts and live music sectors.

“One that I’m really keen on is the Play Local program, which is all about enabling live music and performing arts venues to program Queensland artists to support the employment of independent artists and organisations and arts workers.

“I think right now, given we know that the international borders will still be very much restricted for quite some time, the idea of being able to support in a really hyperlocal way our artists here in Queensland and I’m really keen to see how that program is going to make some impact on the ground.

“There’ll be another grant stream around what we’re calling the First Nations Commissioning Fund, which will enable independent First Nations artists and organisations to be able to continue to invest in new productions, new visual arts exhibitions, just so that we can see the ongoing employment for First Nations artists and arts workers.

“Then there’s another stream called the first night showcases program, which is all about supporting independent artists and organisations to present some new words at some of our venues so Judith Wright Centre, for instance, in Brisbane, and Bulmba-ja Arts Centre in Cairns, they’ll be doing that through an expression of interest.”

Enoch said the $4.15 million component of the funding announcement would include venue support, dedicated support for youth theatre, as well as a focus on supporting the expansion of digital performance.

She said the Government had been working with some of the state’s major performing arts companies and other stakeholders to ensure audiences felt safe to return to venues when live performances returned.

“For instance, there’s a heap of work happening over at QPAC, about, how do we socially distance and make it safe for people to come back so that they can feel confident about that. But ultimately we have to take the health advice on this and I think even though it’s painful, everybody understands that that’s what we have to do.

“In the meantime, It’s the arts and cultural and creative sector, where the innovative, creative ideas about how do you navigate all of this, how do you find new ways to do things, you know, that’s what’s bubbling away and needs to be supported and that’s what our funding announcement will be doing – supporting that great resilience and incredible creativity of that sector to bounce back.”

Enoch has also renewed her calls for the Federal Government to expand JobKeeper to ensure arts workers – may of whom have been deemed ineligible under current criteria – are covered by the scheme.

“I stand firm on my request to the Federal Government, I’ve written three times to the Federal Minister [Paul Fletcher], I’ve raised it at the two ministerial sort of meetings that we’ve had, I’ve been very vocal and very strong on this, they should be revisiting the JobKeeper criteria, and they could do that right now.

“They should be revisiting their criteria right now to broaden it for some of these independent freelancers and independent artists, and they should be looking at the extension of JobKeeper – particularly for the arts and cultural sector but also the tourism sector. So expand the criteria and extend that beyond September because there’s no way the arts sector is going to be able to pull up in time.”

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