Calls for $250m coronavirus arts support package to target culturally diverse artists

There are concerns that inequalities in the arts sector will be entrenched further in the wake of the pandemic.

“We end up getting typecast and stuck with just doing particular projects," said Maria Tran, second from the left.

Phoenix Eye Productions workers have taken a 50 per cent wage cut due to coronavirus. Source: SBS News

There are calls for diversity quotas to be introduced for the distrubution of the government's $250 million arts support package to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not worsen the under-representation of culturally and linguistically diverse artists.

The struggling sector is set to receive $250 million worth of grants and loans over 12 months under a COVID-19 recovery package unveiled by the federal government on Thursday, to kick start the industry after the pandemic.

Artists were among the first workers affected by COVID-19 as events and festivals were cancelled, and they continue to struggle due to limits on mass gatherings expected to remain in place for some time.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and singer Guy Sebastian view a sound desk in the Sydney Coliseum Theatre during a tour of West HQ at Rooty Hill in Sydney, Thursday, June 25, 2020. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the arts funding package alongside singer Guy Sebastian at a theatre in Sydney's western suburbs. Source: AAP

Lena Nahlous, director of Diversity Arts Australia, told SBS News that it was essential that a portion of the money flowed to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workers. 

“We've been calling for grants and funding to be equity tested and there needs to be embedded into those grants, not only a way to ensure culturally diverse artists receive funding, but also that those large institutions and organisations that are supported and given bailouts... that they actually have diversity quotas embedded into those grants so that it doesn't further widen the gap,” she said.

Ms Nahlous said that even before coronavirus hit, there was already under-representation of “culturally diverse artists, or artists of colour at all levels of the arts, screen and creative sectors in Australia”. 

A Diversity Arts Australia report found 51 per cent of all major cultural organisations had no CALD representation at the leadership level and only nine per cent of the 1,980 leaders were CALD Australians. 

Those figures are overwhelming considering 39 per cent of Australia’s population has a CaLD background, according to the Human Rights Commission. 

Hopes for a more inclusive post-COVID-19 industry

Ms Nahlous hoped the restart of the industry post-COVID-19 would lead to more CALD artists being given a fair go in any institutions in the arts sector. 

“This is a really amazing opportunity to rebuild a sector, [to] embed equity and inclusion that represents the true breadth of the diversity of Australia,” she said. 

“There needs to be greater support, not less for those groups… I feel like this is an opportunity to reset.”

The government has rejected calls to extend the JobKeeper wage subsidy to more in the arts sector. 

Instead, the package includes $75 million in grants for new festivals, concerts, tours, and events, $90 million in concessional loans, $50 million to help producers unable to get insurance and $35 million for direct financial assistance for Commonwealth-funded organisations.

"This package is as much about supporting the tradies who build stage sets or computer specialists who create the latest special effects, as it is about supporting actors and performers in major productions," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

"Many in the sector will find a new way to operate while the current social distancing measures remain in place and while that won't be easy, I know there's a strong desire among all Australians to see the return of gigs, performances, and events."


But the director of Sydney's Sacred Music Festival, which showcases CALD artists, is not optimistic about the government's latest announcement.

"A lot of that money won't reach us, they go to the established organisations... there is not enough money aimed at places like us," festival director Richard Petkovic said. 

Because of coronavirus restrictions, the concert has had to cancel its regular September event, which will see a loss of about $50,000 in funding.

But Mr Petkovic was determined not to let the pandemic take the stage away from culturally diverse performers and will hold three online concerts instead. 

"We're just funding it from little scraps of money we've got left in our bank account, but not doing a festival was not an option this year. 


"It's our 10th year, these artists rely on us to create these opportunities, so our board is really adamant that we had to do something." 

'People will question us'

Film producer Maria Tran has had to move her company Phoenix Eye Productions, previously employing eight culturally diverse people, from its Fairfax base to her father's property to save on costs. 

“If we don't have a space what do we do? But then I thought, well OK my dad has a space, it's not exactly the biggest, it doesn’t look professional, industry standard, but it's still a space,” Ms Tran said.

There are concerns that inequities in the arts industry will be exacerbated in the wake of the pandemic
Maria Tran has shifted to working at her dad's property. Source: SBS News

The team of eight has had to take a 50 per cent wage cut to stay afloat. 

“To be honest there are times when I have to finance through my own little piggy bank just to keep the cash flow definitely has been really tough,” she said. 

She said that as a group of CALD creatives, they have been pigeon-holed in the industry, and because of the statistics seeming to work against CALD creatives, she fears her career development may be stunted.

“A lot of the work we do is on migrant stories, and I love doing migrant stories, but we are the go-to for that and outside of that, people will question us,” she said. 

“We end up getting typecast and stuck with just doing particular projects and over time with the hope and dreams of doing something bigger later on, but we don't know if that's going to happen in Australia or not.”

Compared to other companies in the industry, Ms Tran said “we don't get a chance to play on the same level playing field”. 

She fears for the company's future post-COVID-19.

“If I'm not clever enough or innovative or creative enough ...the company might go down.” 

6 min read
Published 25 June 2020 at 4:43pm
By Abbie O'Brien, Brooke Fryer
Source: SBS News