If you were to profile what a busy, successful hardworking arts career looks like, dancer and choreographer Liz Lea would fit the bill. On March 10, she was touring her one-woman show, Red, in England and preparing to fly to Kuwait for her next project.
After working for a decade to make it happen, she’d made it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and had work planned at home in Canberra for National Reconciliation Week, as well as a major artsACT project plus other events.
Then on March 13, COVID-19 made her world fall apart.
“I’m one of those people who lost all their work overnight,” says Liz. “Sudden and shocking sums it up. I’d been working on some projects for six or seven years and the funding I’d negotiated would have employed 12 people. Huge dream jobs just stopped after years of planning. I have no idea when any of it will return.”
Liz is a member of the Minister’s Creative Council, which provides advice on arts policy directly to the ACT Government. The council has launched a wide-ranging survey looking towards the post-COVID-19 future and seeking input from across the whole Canberra arts sector on what the most useful responses would be from government.
The focus is on how to recover, grow and re-energise Canberra’s creative community, and the Creative Council wants to hear from artists; arts workers; production and front-of-house staff; organisations and collectives; art lovers; and art makers, whether it’s their career or passion.
The council has welcomed the Homefront funding program as well as other recently announced arts and business support packages, and commends the ACT Government and Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay for their response to the COVID-19 crisis. However, it is urgently concerned about the length of time it will take the sector to recover, hence the focus on ensuring that policy is as well directed and effective as possible.
“People running dance schools, for example, have taken all their classes online, have had to manage new teaching protocols, insurance, music rights and safe dance practice,” says Liz. “It’s kicking in that theatres won’t be safe to open any time soon, and even then, shows have to be rehearsed. It will take a long time for the effects of COVID-19 to ripple through.”
Creative Council’s survey includes arts practitioners who live across the capital region and asks what the gaps are in support for the sector; what would help arts practitioners to manage the COVID-19 related impact on their work right now; what actions and support would be most useful immediately post-lockdown; and what actions or initiatives the government and community can take that will be most useful in the longer-term recovery phase.
While the Homefront funding was warmly welcomed in the ACT, the 378 applications received for 63 grants is evidence of how substantial the need is for assistance.
“The arts sector is much bigger than anyone realises,” says Liz. “If you are listening to music or podcasts, the art we look at, the clothes we wear, how we define ourselves – it’s all art. It’s made by artists and part of your everyday life.
“The diversity of arts practice in the ACT is phenomenal if you look at every level. The arts play a key role in resilience and emotional wellbeing in times of crisis.”
You can access the Minister’s Creative Council survey here until June 3.
Genevieve Jacobs chairs the Minister’s Creative Council.