“There is no delay,” said a spokesperson for NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin. “This is a 12-month program. The current focus is on the rescue stage. The purpose of the $25 million rescue stage is to provide the most vulnerable organisations with support while their businesses are affected by COVID 19. Nearly half of this funding has already been allocated.”
Musica Viva and Australian Theatre for Young People are among those arts companies hoping to successfully apply for the second part of the program focusing on restarting live performances.
Calling for the government to release a full list of the successful applicants, Shadow Treasurer Walt Secord said the program was a cruel hoax. Large arts companies appeared to have been supported at the expense of small to mediums.
Mr Secord said he had been inundated by smaller arts and culture groups that been denied funding but were reluctant to go public for fear of jeopardising their long-term prospects for assistance.
“This makes an absolute mockery of the Berejiklian Government’s claim that it was providing a rescue package to the arts and culture community struggling with COVID-19 and its impact on their audiences,” he said.
“Arts and cultural organisations and performers were among the first and hardest hit by the COVID crisis and they are being told that they will be the last to go back to work.”
The program’s implementation has also generated disquiet among major arts companies. One chairman was critical of the government’s requirement that COVID-19 impacted organisations draw down on carefully maintained cash reserves. It was a move, they said, that effectively penalised those in the sector that had prudently planned for adversity at the expense of those who had not.
Further, it left arts organisations that needed reserves to qualify for federal and state funding potentially exposed.
There was some good news for volunteer-run museums, however, with Mr Harwin revealing that $1.5 million had been allocated from the rescue money to support volunteer organisations, choirs, and other community-based businesses.
To qualify applicants for these $5000 grants must have a turnover of less than $100,000 and face financial difficulties as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
Penelope Benton, acting chief executive officer of the peak arts body, the National Association for the Visual Arts, called for transparency and urged the NSW government to invest with “responsible foresight in a larger, not a smaller, set of creative companies”.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald