The current financial loss to the Australian creative industries is estimated to be 145 million dollars. Let that figure sink in for a second. In Australia, it’s estimated that one-third of artists already live below the poverty line, and to date, the arts have taken a blow so massive that we may never recover. If we do, it will be unrecognisable to what we once were.
Last Sunday, I was backstage and about to perform in a show for Arts Centre Melbourne when our producer came into the dressing room, telling us that ours was the last Arts Centre performance to go up. At 12 am they shut their doors for at least a month. We were some of the lucky ones, as Sunday was our closing night. Still, it was an eerie and foreboding feeling.
Like many others, I had been left reeling by the devastating closures, cancellations and postponements that hit like blows to the collective body in the preceding weeks – Melbourne Fashion Week, Melbourne Comedy Festival and Melbourne Queer Film Festival, were the first, and then Melbourne Museum, NGV, State Library of Victoria and Melbourne Arts Centre all followed. From fashion designers to publicists, artists, technicians, performers, and critics, I know no-one in the Melbourne arts scene that has not been negatively affected in some way.
While most of society was out panic buying toilet paper, artists like me were faced with a very serious question, how the fuck will we survive this? Not the virus, but the loss of income, the very serious prospect of not being able to pay rent, of working as ushers and front of house staff in venues and being at risk. What would be the long-term effects, and how long until we really began to feel this utter devastation?
It was like the recent bushfires had reignited, this time ripped through the tight-knit theatre and arts community. For so many queers, theatre and the arts is our safe space – the one we find after loved ones, family and society rejects us. But now, even this place is threatened to be taken from us, and I am scared.
For a week now, my phone has been ringing off the hook, with friends and colleagues checking in or just needing to vent about their second, third or even fourth gig being cancelled.
We wait for the announcement on Wednesday if our smaller venues – those so often the heart and soul of Melbourne’s art scene – will also be forced to lock down. A friend who runs one such venue, contacted me yesterday, voicing his concerns about how their venue staff now face the very real threat of homelessness due to loss of work.
I understand the need for these measures, and that these are dangerous and unprecedented times. As someone who is HIV-positive, I am within that 4 percent for whom Coronavirus is a very serious threat. But because I am an artist, I am also resilient, and though we may be reeling right now, we must stand together. As Gloria Gaynor sang, “I Will Survive”.
But more than this, we need the public to understand the difficulty that Australian artists –from the stage to those drag queens that grace our clubs and bars – are currently facing, and that we need your support. There are very real and practical things that you can do for us.
If you have ticket to a show or event that has been cancelled, don’t request a refund, but allow that money to go to the artists. If you know someone who works in the industry, reach out. I know how thankful I have been for those that have done so for me this past week. There will be fundraisers launching soon, so please donate.
Being an artist is not a luxury. It’s is not a past-time, and for many of us it’s even more than work – it is our entire life, its every fibre in our being, it is our livelihood. This virus will fade into history. Let this passage in time not also see so many artists similarly fade away into nothingness.