Australia’s creative sector can lead post COVID-19 recovery, but it needs immediate support

Posted November 24, 2020

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SGS Economics and Planning Australias Creative Industries

The creative and cultural industries sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions in Australia and internationally. To understand more about how the sector has been impacted in Australia - and how to support the sector in the future - the Australian Government announced an inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions in August 2020.

With more than 30 years of experience working with governments and businesses to identify and quantify the social and economic benefits of arts and cultural infrastructure in Australia, we knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. Our submission outlines five ways to support Australia’s creative and cultural industries sector and lead post COVID-19 recovery. But first, why is the creative and cultural industries sector so important?

Australia’s creative and cultural industries sector contributes a whopping $90 billion to the national economy. A study we prepared with the Creative Industries Innovation Centre in 2013 found that Australia’s creative industries sector:

  • contributes around $90.19 billion to the national economy annually
  • adds almost $45.89 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP)
  • helps generate exports of $3.2 billion annually, and
  • employs more than 600,000 people in Australia, with 263,563 embedded in non-creative industries. This demonstrates a clear industry demand for cross-disciplinary skills.

By the time COVID-19 hit Australian shores in early 2020, the contribution of the creative arts to the national economy was most likely significantly higher than reported in 2013.

More recently, our Economic Value of Creative & Cultural Economy in Victoria report 20171 found that Victoria’s cultural and creative sector:

  • employed 241,842 Victorians
  • contributed to $1.5 billion in exports
  • provided a $1.5 billion contribution to cultural tourism
  • represented 6.5 per cent of the total Victorian economy.

Five ways to support Australia’s creative industries sector

The diverse creative workforce has an important role in Australia’s post COVID-19 recovery. Below are five ideas for supporting the creative and cultural industry sector in Australia.

1. Establish a temporary intergovernmental authority or task force

The best method for layers of government to cooperate and deliver policy is to establish a National Creative Industries Development Authority or Task Force with a three-year life. This task force could include members from the Australian Government and each of the states with the national local government peak bodies. Representation from across the creative and cultural sector will be critical to the success of this task force.

The National Creative Industries Development Task Force could:

  • Measure the direct and indirect economic benefits and employment opportunities of creative and cultural industries using an agreed methodology (SGS’s work provides a guide for this already).
  • Quantify the impact of COVID-19 on the creative and cultural industries.
  • Review best practice around the world for developing the creative and cultural industries, including integrating the digital and tech industries, and in responding to the impact of COVID-19 disruptions.
  • Identify the region by region strengths and weaknesses of the creative and cultural sectors in Australia (this might have the character of an audit to identify the spatial spread of competitive advantage and emerging strengths).
  • Review the blockages and challenges for creative and cultural industry sector development in Australia.
  • Develop a national vision for the development of the creative and cultural industries at the heart of the economy in Australia post COVID-19, with associated measures for growth (based on the measurement of direct and indirect economic benefits).
  • Develop a strategy for expanding the creative and cultural industries with a particular focus on 1) supporting region by region-specific approaches but in the context of cooperation and delivery of policy between layers of government 2) increasing access and opportunities for Australia's creative and cultural industries through innovation and the digital environment.
SGS Economics and Planning digital creatives

2. Understand the value of the creative industries

To truly assist the creative and cultural industries sector, the public benefits of art production and art consumption need to be more clearly understood and articulated – especially now that COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in a loss of employment, lost audiences, and programs for venues.

The public value of art and culture is often taken for granted in Australia. Outside of the many quantifiable economic benefits of employment, productivity and tourism, arts and culture have a high intrinsic value to the community. This is reflected in the results of the Australia Council’s 2020 participation survey, which demonstrated the 'role of arts as a public good, infused and embedded in the fabric of our daily lives’. Furthermore, the snapshot suggests:

  • 98 per cent of Australians engage with the arts
  • 45 per cent creatively participate
  • 68 per cent attend live music
SGS Economics and Planning Australias Arts Engagement 2019 Diagram
SOURCE: Creating Our Future Results of the National Arts Participation Survey August 2020, Australia Council for the Arts

Improved social cohesion and inclusion

In policy settings, the link between arts participation and social cohesion and improved resilience for communities is well established. Policy makers understand the importance of ensuring equitable access to opportunities to participate in arts and culture. Associations such as Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) are committed to the art and artists that shape the narratives that define Australia as a multicultural nation and acknowledge that ‘work is still needed to future proof our identity as a society that deeply values its diversity’. In a recent project, we engaged with members of MAV's Emerge Program who highlighted the importance of arts and cultural institutions to reflect the rich culture of our migrant and refugee communities. Diverse creative communities shape and enrich our national identity.

Reconciliation and a platform for sharing First Nations art and culture

Creativity and culture through institutions and programming are beginning to play a role in reconciliation and supporting a future Australian in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is both valued and recognised. Nationally museums and cultural institutions are looking to decolonise their collections and institutions, for some this includes important repatriation processes.

Programming is also becoming more inclusive and important steps include the appointment of First Nations curators to nationally significant institutions. Key festivals, such as the Art Gallery of South Australia led Tarnanthi are providing platforms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to share important stories. The same festival has an overwhelming economic impact, having delivered nearly $63 million in economic benefits since 2015.

However, it is important to recognise that First Nations art and culture is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID, due to the potential loss of vulnerable elders, plus many First Nations communities have a greater reliance on art revenue than non Indigenous communities.

Arts in health impacts

In some settings, arts and culture are actively combating social isolation. There is emerging evidence that arts in health integration can result in improved staff and patient wellbeing and satisfaction as well as clinical improvements in hospital settings. The potential of arts in health integration to deliver significant benefits is evident in the first World Health Organisation report on the evidence base for arts and health interventions. In NSW, notable arts in health programs include Arterie at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Royal Prince Alfred in NSW. The program is part of a ‘holistic approach to healthcare which aims to ease the side effects of illness and hospitalisation, such as stress, pain, fatigue, isolation and depression’.

In 2019, we assisted Health Infrastructure NSW with a benefits framework for arts in health integration. The purpose of the work was to develop an accurate and reliable method for identifying and measuring the benefits of arts in health infrastructure in public hospitals. The framework identified five aggregate categories of benefit, including:

  • patient health outcomes
  • patient experience
  • staff experience
  • visitor experience, and
  • preventative health savings.

A future-ready workforce

The creative and cultural industries are also providing our next generation of innovators and our future workforce with the higher-order skills required. Arts education and STEAM initiatives can socialise students with creative problem solving and design thinking.

In a recent example, the Victorian Government committed to investing $8.6 million to put creative professionals – such as performers, artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and writers – in government schools next year. The investment aims to support artists who had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, as well as students who had endured months of learning at home and the loss of many fun activities.

SGS Economics and Planning creative arts painter

3. Promote the connection between art and other sectors

Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the creative and cultural industries sector has rapidly transformed the way it reaches audience members – including online performances, and online educational content from peak bodies. Online commissions by key institutions and local governments have supported the local creative workforce over the last six months of uncertainty. These efforts need to be bolstered.

Now is the time to encourage other growing industry sectors such as health, education, and technology to collaborate with artists and creatives and commission creative content. We need to explore and promote the connection between art and science in Australia and engage artists and creatives to work on key issues such as public health, climate change, and urbanisation. We can learn from existing initiatives such as Climarte – arts for a safe climate and Lucy Mcrae – exploring the intersection between science and technology and the body.

In another recent example, we completed multi-award-winning work that pioneered this integrated approach to embed creative thinking into other industries for a more competitive local economy and a healthier community in the regional city of Ballarat, Victoria. Ballarat City included several actions in the strategy to ensure it strives to be the city of the sustainable creative practitioner. This model could be used in a range of places, especially towns and regional cities across Australia as they seek to grow their local economies and improve liveability to attract new residents.

4. Reactivate public spaces

Creative and cultural industries sector can lead the recovery of Australia’s metropolitan cities and regional destinations and local economies by:

  • embedding arts and culture into local recovery plans and strategies
  • activating public spaces through performances and other cultural experiences (place and space activations also are flexible, low-cost solutions that have major benefits)
  • reducing commercial and retail vacancy rates, in line with Renew Newcastle style programs and other temporary urbanism projects that are focussed on arts and culture
  • boosting cultural infrastructure projects, such as investing in gallery and performance space expansions and improvements which will lead to greater participation
  • uniting the community in recovering from the social and psychological impacts COVID-19 through public artworks, installations and cultural events.

This approach will not only foster greater participation in arts and culture but support local creative enterprises (small businesses), which will assist local economies to recover.

Importantly, it will also improve community health and wellbeing which has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and lead to greater levels of productivity and economic resilience for local economies.

SGS Economics and Planning shared creative workspace

5. Create integrated and more affordable creative spaces

It is important to provide access to affordable workspaces and think creatively about commissioning artists in new and interesting ways.

Appropriate planning controls and reusing industrial sites for creative use would be beneficial to creative industries. In a post-COVID-19 era, where rents in city and suburban centres may be depressed, there is an opportunity to revitalise and renew creative industry tenancies and activity.

Creative uses are drawn to urban character, affordability, and the presence of other creatives. Attracting and retaining creative uses requires not only land use controls, but also land ownership, market conditions and governance.

Here are five ways governments can promote more creative uses and affordable creative spaces using existing mechanisms:

  1. control through permissible uses in the LEP (in NSW) and planning schemes (VIC)
  2. introduce built form controls within Development Control Plans (DCPs)
  3. add a requirement in master planning of specific precincts
  4. value capture including a requirement for providing affordable floorspace for creative uses
  5. establish creative uses within government-owned land/buildings.

Looking beyond affordable space, one emerging international trend is the increase in co-operative models for independent workers. As an example, Smart Coop is a co-operative with offices in eight European countries that offers members access to administrative, legal, fiscal and financial advice, along with training and tools to simplify and legalise professional activities in the creative industry. It is important that all levels of government stay abreast of different and innovative models and the role they might play in the financial viability and ongoing sustainability of the sector.

Also important is paying artists and creatives fair rates in line with industry codes of practice -- for example, those set by National Association of Visual Arts (NAVA) for visual artists. This is a fundamental, minimum benchmark in addition to the immediate support required for the sector to lead an economic recovery. Paying artists fair rates is an essential step in recognising the value the sector brings to Australia's economies, communities, cities and regions.

[1] SGS (2017) Economic Value of Creative & Cultural Economy in Victoria (unpublished)

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Experts in this area:
  • Local government
  • State government
  • Federal Government
  • Business