WHERE FOR ART THOU?
AUSSIE ACTRESS CALLS OUT GOVERNMENT FOR LACK OF HELP SINCE COVID DECIMATED THE CREATIVE ARTS INDUSTRY
Straight shooter Noni Hazlehurst has no qualms about calling it how she sees it. And right now the Aussie screen legend and multiple AFI/AACTA and TV Week Logie Award winner has had a gutful of the nation’s arts and cultural sector not being recognised for the valuable contribution it makes to the fabric of society.
Since COVID restrictions decimated an industry she’s been a part of for more than 40 years, the Gold Coast Hinterland resident has been tucked away in the rainforest, only working a handful of days.
“It seems the powers that be are looking to divide us with culture wars,” said the 67-yearold during a publicity campaign for The End, a Foxtel drama set on the Gold Coast and filmed in Queensland.
“Artists tend to make people feel and think and it’s as though that’s not wanted right now.”
Particularly scathing about the lack of financial support offered to the nation’s artists following COVID restrictions, whether they be actors, musicians or painters, Noni said it felt like there was little support for an industry that contributed billions and billions to Australia’s GDP.
“I’ve only had a few paid days’ work since March,” she said, “but I have a very quiet life when I’m not working anyway and am content to be a hermit for awhile until the next job comes along.”
Last year the thespian penned a poignant statement in support of the industry that she’s devoted most of her working life to. Here is a slightly abridged version of her feelings on the lack of importance governments place on the arts and cultural sector.
“Despite the fact that every study on the subject ever undertaken overwhelmingly demonstrates the value and importance of exposure to and/or participation in the arts in enriching and improving the lives of children and adults alike, it seems that arguing for the support of culture doesn’t cut it in this country right now,” she wrote.
“Somehow the artistic and cultural sectors have been officially dismissed as unnecessary and elitist, which is blatantly untrue and utterly without foundation. The reverse is true. There is very little about being an artist or arts worker in this country that could be described as elitist.
“It feels like the only argument that will gain traction or attention in the prevailing climate is an economic one. The figures speak for themselves. In 2017, 43 per cent of production business in our industry was exported, compared to 7.6 per cent in the wider economy.
“In 2018, 26 million Australians attended live performance events – more than those who attended AFL, NRL, soccer, super rugby, cricket and NBL combined, with a revenue of $2.2 billion.
“Our industry contributes $111.7 billion to GDP, not counting the flow-on benefits to tourism and hospitality. The aviation industry contributes $18.6 billion – that industry, one sixth the size of ours, has received a
$750 million rescue package. The creative industry contributes 6.5 per cent of the economy. Mining contributes about 8 per cent.”
She said more than 90 per cent of Australia’s artists, creators and associated businesses were not in receipt of public funding and were ineligible for relief measures.
“There are 50,000 professional artists and 600,000 workers in the creative industries. The vast majority are not employed full-time, and therefore have little, if any, resources to fall back on.
“Our industry was one of the first casualties of the crisis and will be one of the last to be able to start up again,” she said.
“I am particularly concerned about the effect of the hitherto gradual, and now accelerated, diminishing of creative and artistic practice in curriculums and in our communities, on our children and young people, who were suffering from unprecedented mental health problems before any of this happened.
“Without exposure to and participation in the creative arts, we know that children suffer and educational outcomes are diminished. Just as a diet of junk food makes you sick, so does a diet of junk culture.
“Leaving our creative industry and its workers to founder makes absolutely no sense, culturally, emotionally or economically.
“Our product is valued not only by Australians, but all over the world. Our artists and creative workers are highly respected and sought after, and our output has played a crucial role in raising Australia’s profile internationally, and in attracting people to come here. Far more so than sport. Yet come election times, the majority of promises made are about sporting facilities, not creative endeavours or opportunities.
“Contrary to what many would have you believe, the people who work in our industry are not airy-fairy, not hobbyists, not hysterical divas, nor whinging egomaniacs.
“There are no more examples of this in our industry than in any other workplace. Probably fewer — we can’t afford to be.
“The overwhelming majority are talented, incredibly dedicated, hardworking individuals striving to add value to the sum of human experience and existence, and to tell stories that unite, rather than divide us.
“Despite the value and quality of their contributions being officially ignored and minimised, derided and jeopardised, they continue to strive to ameliorate the obvious outcomes of current policy settings — falling education standards, increased mental health problems, social isolation and a general dumbing down of the populace.
“Our industry practitioners are always on the frontline when it comes to providing solace and support in times of need. The first to step up to raise funds and provide their services, to lift spirits and unify and comfort shattered communities. To remind people that they are not alone. We are not trying to argue that we are special, but our contribution is unique. We just hope to survive and to work, to continue to contribute.”
Noni’s not the only prolific person in Australia’s creative sector crying out for more to be done to help the arts. Last week music rights organisation Apra Amcos wrote an open letter signed by 3500 names in the Australian music industry calling on the government to extend JobKeeper beyond March 28.
Signatories include members of bands the Cat Empire, Birds of Tokyo, Killing Heidi and Midnight Oil as well as Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Missy Higgins and Bernard Fanning.
The chief executive of Apra Amcos, Dean Ormston, said the music industry had been one of the sectors hardest hit by pandemic, with analysis showing live music was still operating at 4 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
“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.
“Since March last year there has not been a single national tour undertaken by an Australian artist and there has not been a single festival run at full capacity. Night clubs remain closed and what venues are open are trading at an average of 30 per cent due to social distancing capacity regulations.
“Extending JobKeeper, or providing an industry specific wage subsidy, will keep the show on the road.”