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Rebuilding Australia’s creative industries in post-Coronavirus world essential for economy and society

Rebuilding Australia’s creative industries in post-Coronavirus world essential for economy and society
May 19, 2020

With Australia’s cultural sector massively impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic - with theatres, art galleries, music venues and museums closed – a new report from the University of South Australia indicates suggests that rebuilding the creative economy in the post-Coronavirus will require much more than a ‘return to normal’.

The study, from UniSA’s Professor Justin O’Connor and Dr Ben Eltham from Monash University, deliver a ‘snapshot’ from the last three Australian census datasets, focusing on cultural employment (cultural occupations in any industry) and creative industries employment (including ‘non-creative’ jobs such as managers in theatres or newspaper printers).

Commenting on the findings, Professor O’Connor advises “we found the COVID-19 crisis has hit a sector already struggling with a high degree of precarious employment, after years of declining incomes and job security.

“The ways in which both Jobseeker and JobKeeper schemes have bypassed many in this sector has been well-documented, contributing to the devasting effects of the virus lockdown.

“However, while the economic needs of this sector are urgent, we don’t think that they should be seen primarily as an engine of economic recovery - first and foremost, they are an engine of social and cultural recovery.”

The research reveals that despite the central role cultural industries play in people’s day-to-day lives, many in the sector were already struggling before the Coronavirus pandemic, showing that while cultural jobs as a whole were growing nationally, this growth was at a rate lower than national employment overall, and employment specifically in the creative industries was declining.

The overall decline in creative industries employment was due to a collapse in ‘cultural manufacturing’ or ‘blue collar’ jobs in the sector – especially printing of newspapers, magazine and books, as well as distribution, wholesale and retail functions.

Professor O’Connor added “these cultural manufacturing losses nationally were almost offset by job growth in design, architecture and advertising, and especially among freelance cultural workers.

“However, despite the growth in these sectors, the rapid rise in freelance employment suggests an increase in precarious, contract employment, and while those in cultural occupations are more educated than the average workforce, they earn less, with a significant over-representation in the under-$30,000-a-year range.”

Professor O’Connor says South Australia has been particularly hard-hit by the changing face of cultural employment, noting “our research shows (the state) has been losing cultural manufacturing jobs while also failing to add jobs in design, which is one of the high-growth sectors nationally.

“The State has also lost a significant number of creative freelancers, because the big agglomerations of Melbourne and Sydney are more attractive than a small pool like Adelaide.”

Professor O’Connor and Dr Eltham suggest the plight of Australia’s creative industries, both before and after COVID-19, indicates the nation needs a drastic rethink on how it values the sector, not just as a source of employment, but as an essential, invaluable part of our society.

Professor O’Connor adds “strategies to develop the sector in Australia should move away from ‘picking winners’ among a few high-growth companies and look to the creative ecosystem as a whole.

“In this way they can develop long term, sustainable recovery, one which will feed into the social and cultural fabric of life in Australian cities and regions.”

Professor O’Connor and Dr Eltham highlight a sad irony that while the output of creative industries has been sustaining Australians during lockdown - from books and films and video games to dedicated coverage of the crisis - the journalists and editors working long hours to produce this have no certainty they’ll have a job at the end of it.

Images: Sydney's Carriageworks has entered administration during the Coronavirus crisis (top) and UniSA Professor Justin O’Connor (below).

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26th April 2020 - Arts groups call for Federal Government action over Coronavirus hit to industry

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4th April 2020 - LPA believes funding still not enough to prevent decimation of live performance industry

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30th March 2020 - TEG survey suggests most Australians expect ‘normal life’ to resume within six months

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20th August 2019 - Creative Partnerships Awards recognise philanthropic art leaders

13th November 2017 - Australia Council research reveals decline in artist’s incomes

1st November 2017 - Arts and sports industries the fastest growing jobs sector in Western Australia

21st December 2015 - Victorian Government looks to back creative industries

29th August 2011 - New funding for artists to build a creative Australia

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