Performers record impassioned plea for a COVID lifeline amid ‘alarming’ research into their plight

 In Home News Section, Uncategorized

From people committed to entertaining, it’s tough viewing. A powerful series of video portraits of quiet desperation, anger and tears that makes plain the anguish of performing artists hit hard by COVID-19 lockdowns.

This week, Sydney entertainer James Bustar released a video on social media, drawing attention to the plight of about 30 performing arts workers from regional areas and capital cities.

It came as university research revealed artists and entertainers were unemployed at twice the national jobless rate, with the industry shutdown having “alarming” effects on their mental health.

In the video, artists — from Albury-Wodonga, Henty in regional NSW, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Wollongong, Sydney, Newcastle and the NSW Central Coast — detail the emotional and financial impact of the lockdowns.

Circus performer Marcela Scheuner, 26, breaks down as she tells how she relies on support from her parents.

“I’ve never had to do that,” she says. “I’ve never been that person and I, like, cry every time I ask my mum for money because they worked super hard.”

Mr Bustar said he made the video “because it was clear to me the arts community and the people who make it so vital were being overlooked, even though entertainment is one of the hardest-hit sectors”.

“The video is an impassioned plea from the arts community for a lifeline to get them to the other side of the pandemic,” he said.

‘Horribly stressful time’

In the video, Central Coast musician Chris Atkinson says that, before the Greater Sydney lockdown “other industries seemed to be opening up, [whereas] ours was very much not”.

“It was a horribly stressful time, just the uncertainty,” Mr Atkinson says.

Comedian Jarred Fell says he is convinced every entertainer’s mental health has been affected, whether that is “minimal depression or severe depression”.

“Everyone would have heard that we’ve lost a few people from depression, people that couldn’t handle it. and that’s a pretty tough thing to go through,” he says.

“Every time there’s a lockdown people are like, ‘Oh no, the restaurants and the retail stores’. Have you heard of Uber Eats?” circus performer Felicity Lannan tells the camera.

“The restaurants will be fine. The retail stores? That sucks but the online ordering of things can still be done. There are other industries that will suffer more.”

On Thursday, the ABC’s 7.30 program reported that accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers had estimated the Australian music industry had shrunk by 39 per cent, a loss of about $700 million.

Artists in Mr Bustar’s video — many of them musicians and actors who rely on touring — say they feel forgotten and left behind, ineligible for support like JobKeeper or JobSeeker because most are freelancers.

“Artists are the last to be thought of. We are not [seen as] important. We don’t do ‘important’ things,” said Melbourne jazz vocalist and violinist Fem Belling.

“I want to challenge every single person out there to go through a lockdown or some harrowing time in their life without music, without Netflix, without newspapers, without books. It is artists who create those things.

“And they’re the first to donate their services.

“The government needs to look after the people that they go home to every night and put on when they turn on their televisions and radios.”

Local artists struggle

Meanwhile, in April, when large swathes of NSW were relatively free of the pandemic’s restrictions, artists from the Hunter region were being surveyed by researchers.

Rosemarie Milsom — who chairs the Hunter Creative Alliance (HCA), which commissioned the research — said researchers found 11 per cent of the artists surveyed were without work.

That was more than twice the unemployment rate elsewhere in the region.

“We knew things weren’t great,” Ms Milsom said.

“Within our organisations and across our network we knew people were being impacted, but we just wanted some solid data.”

The report — the Impact of COVID-19 on the Hunter Region’s Arts and Culture Sector — was prepared by the Hunter Research Foundation Centre at the University of Newcastle.

Researchers interviewed visual artists, writers, curators, artistic directors, teachers, actors, performers, directors, musicians and singers.

These participants told a story backed up by hard data and echoed anecdotally by people in regional towns and capital cities in Mr Bustar’s video.

Mental health a worry

The HCA report found the pandemic “had an immediate effect on employment and income” of the artists surveyed.

“Especially for younger people [COVID-19 has brought] associated social and psychological impacts of social isolation [as well as] challenges reaching audiences and creative expression.”

“It’s pretty alarming,” Ms Milsom said.

“Eighty per cent of young artists in the Hunter, aged 18 to 35, have experienced increased stress and or anxiety and or depression as a result of [COVID-19].”

The sector had “already been under great strain prior to COVID-19”, she said, with “ongoing cuts to funding and lack of investment at all levels”.

And while 70 per cent of artists had used “technology or new ways of promoting or sharing their art” during the pandemic, “almost 60 per cent found it was difficult to pivot their creative/artistic practice online”.

“Many found it challenging to understand the funding and income support available and to then access this,” the report said.

The HCA has sent copies of its report to the City of Newcastle, as well as state and federal arts ministers.

“We will use this research to advocate for better support, and that includes for mental health as well,” Ms Milsom said.

By Anthony Scully (Original ABC Article)