Listen: Entertainer James Bustar talks to Laura Bennett about the 'Save the Arts' campaign
The arts and entertainment industry has been one of the hardest hit during this pandemic, with extended lockdowns continuing to destabilise an already “gig-based” environment.
In early August, industry publication The Music Network (TMN) reported that Australia’s live music economy had lost up to $64 million in revenue, in July alone, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Referencing a survey from I Lost My Gig – a “quick response data capture project” that was launched to track the effect of the pandemic on the entertainment workforce – TMN said, “23,100 live events had been cancelled since July 1, 2021, with the cancellations directly impacting 23,657 employees and equating to a reported loss of $16 million per week for the sector”.
“A staggering 99 per cent of events impacted had no income protection or were ineligible for event cancellation insurance, with a mere 7 per cent of respondents answering that they had been able to operate as normal since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020,” TMN stated.
“Furthermore, a significant portion of workers surveyed said that they were ineligible for Government support, with 67 per cent unable to receive the Federal Disaster payment and 25 per cent ineligible for state funding.”
Now 18 months into this pandemic, with no certainty as to when live events will be able to return as normal, shutdowns are taking their toll on entertainers both financially and emotionally.
Australian comedian and juggler James Bustar has been performing for over 15 years around the world, performing for audiences on cruises, theatre stages and becoming a finalist on Australia’s Got Talent.
Seeing his livelihood and mental wellbeing continue to face strain, and that of his friends, James launched a Save the Arts campaign. It’s a movement centred around the stories of performers and behind-the-scenes contributors to the sector, asking for the essential nature of the industry to be recognised and for the government to provide tailored support to its workforce.
Arts and entertainment “seems to be the forgotten industry,” James told Hope 103.2. “We’re being left behind.”
When the first lockdown hit in 2020, James initially pivoted to online performances and video collaborations with other entertainers, but soon realised that “as much as the [work] was entertaining” it missed the point “that this was our lives and careers being played around with”.
“As an entertainer, we live off the reaction that we get from the audience, and it’s what gives us the adrenaline and the drive to do what we do,” James said.
“For entertainers, the stage is home. When that stage was taken off us, it [created] a real loss of identity, loss of purpose and loss of worth.”
According to Create NSW, the NSW Government has offered over $130 million in various grants and schemes to support creative industries, but the struggle James sees is that if workers don’t meet the eligibility requirements it won’t help them.
“The biggest thing that we need, is to get our art portfolio back in the government (it was dissolved in 2019), so that we have proper representation and so that we’ve got someone who is fighting for us like we’ve got people fighting for sports [and] other sectors,” James said.
The longer the lockdown continues, the more imperative James believes this support will be.
“It’s goes back to us being a gig-to-gig society,” James said.
“We’ve had gigs, for instance, cancelled during the current lockdown but gigs are now being cancelled months beyond the lockdown because of market confidence and consumer confidence.
“The venues aren’t going to put money into something that may or may not happen.
“As soon as lockdown ends, lots of businesses – not all – can just go and turn the ‘open’ sign on the door and hopefully start making money again. We can’t do that, because we’ve lost all of the work for the rest of the year basically.”
Listen to James’ full interview with Laura Bennett in the player above.