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Federal insurance scheme needed to revitalise arts sector

A national insurance scheme is key to boosting confidence within the visual arts sector after suffering losses through the pandemic, writes Penelope Benton.

JUST OVER A WEEK AGO, the Australian Government rejected a bill that would provide vital insurance to guard against event cancellations.

The report from an Inquiry into the feasibility of a new insurance scheme made the view that ‘significant funding and support’ has been ‘provided to the sector over the past two years’; any insurance should be a matter for the states and territories ‘making a order which would necessitate the cancellation of an event’ and that ‘in the absence of public health orders such as lockdowns and , the arts and entertainment sector has shown the capacity to recover’.

The visual arts sector is undoubtedly in crisis and “recovery” seems a long way off. Following more than six years of debilitating policy shifts and funding cuts to the arts, the sector was hit by the pandemic, already tired and under-resourced. Australian artists, arts workers and galleries have been significantly impacted by lockdowns across the country with their exhibitions, tours and commissions cancelled.

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Over the weekend, a new wave of uncertainty emerged as global authorities reacted with alarm to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. The Australian Government announced new border security measures as a precaution and health authorities are advising it will take a few weeks to understand the potential impact of this variant.

As we continue to experience regularly changing public health orders, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has been advocating for the creation of an insurance scheme to foster visual arts and craft sector confidence in current and future programming. In particular, NAVA is pressing to ensure artists are paid following the cancellation or closure of exhibitions and events due to COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The need for a federal insurance fund

In August this year, NAVA applauded action for a federal insurance fund introduced in the Senate by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Member for South Australia, and requested that the legislation be broadened to include the visual arts sector.

An event business insurance fund encompassing the visual arts will ensure galleries and organisations can program with improved confidence knowing that when an exhibition or event must be cancelled, they will have the capacity to honour payment commitments to artists and arts workers. This will optimise job opportunities in the visual arts and ensure payments to artists are guaranteed regardless of any cancellations.

Likewise, a national insurance scheme will help the visual arts sector shoulder some of the unexpected costs incurred by business interruptions due to public health orders and border closures such as putting artworks into storage and rerouting travelling exhibitions interstate and internationally.

Without insurance, galleries are currently apprehensive about contracting artists for new work commissions in fear that the event or exhibition may be cancelled or postponed due to further lockdowns, border closures or other public health restrictions. As a result, many galleries are turning to collection-based exhibitions. This forces more experienced and high-profile artists to compete with those earlier in their careers for the limited number of opportunities to create new work, pushing everyone down the career ladder.

Forecasted cuts to the arts pose risk to Australia's cultural life

New commissions are crucial in the career of a visual artist. Securing reviews and discussion, media coverage and networking opportunities with curators are all critical for the creation of future opportunities. The reduced work opportunities in the visual arts mean that NAVA fears a generation of artists and arts workers could be lost as people turn to work in other areas to survive.

Despite lockdowns and border closures predominantly occurring in New South Wales and Victoria, the impact weighs heavily on artists in all states across Australia. For example, an artist in another state may work years to prepare for a show in Sydney only to have it cancelled completely, or for most of its run. Earlier this month, the Committee for Sydney released their Six actions to get Sydney’s events sector back on track with the recommendation for the Federal Government to underwrite a reinsurance scheme covering communicable disease for all events.

State governments lead the way

NAVA commends recent announcements from the Victorian Government of an Australian-first event interruption insurance product which will give organisers of creative festivals, business conferences and sporting and community events the confidence to plan and stage future events.

Similarly, the announcement in New South Wales of an Event Saver Fund will provide immediate support to organisers if events are cancelled or disrupted by any public health orders during the 2021-22 summer. We look forward to more details about these new initiatives yet to be released and await confirmation that independent practitioners and non-ticketed visual arts and craft exhibitions and events will be eligible to apply.

If the Federal Government fails to implement a national scheme, NAVA supports the call for state governments to work together to come up with a nationally consistent approach.

Penelope Benton is NAVA’s Executive Director and is passionate about improving clarity, transparency and equity across the visual arts sector.

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