arts funding
(Image: Getty/ maksicfoto)

The government’s much-heralded $250 million “JobMaker” package for the arts and creative industries — issued after months of calls for help from a sector completely smashed by the pandemic lockdown — is, by the government’s own numbers, around one-fifth of 1% of the annual value of the sector.

Crikey checked the numbers, and things are actually a little better than the government’s own figures suggest — but still tiny.

The government’s media release claims creative industries are worth $112 billion a year and employ 600,000 people. The value figure is based on a 2018 paper from the Department of Communications, but that number is dominated by design, which primarily relates to IT:

Design is the largest domain … growth is driven mainly by computer system design and related services. Workplaces have increased their use of information technology in their processes which have then required regular upgrades and enhancements over the past decade.

Take design out of the “creative industries” and it’s worth — on those old figures, around $70 billion a year.

As for the 600,000 people, most of those don’t work in the arts sector, but in manufacturing, IT and other areas. Actual creative and performing arts employment is around 45,000 to 50,000, according to ABS data, plus another odd 40,000 for heritage activities.

But even on these more specific figures, the government’s package doesn’t amount to much: 0.35% of annual sector value. And if we dismiss the 600,000 jobs figure — which would amount to just over $400 for each worker in the sector — and use the ABS figure, things don’t improve. The sum of $250 million equates to around $3000 for each employee in the sector, or about four weeks’ worth of Jobkeeper payments.

In short, it’s a token effort for a industry that, especially in the performing and heritage sub-sectors, has been almost completely shut down since March.

It does come on top of state government package: the NSW government announced a $50 million package in May; Victoria a $17 million package; Queensland $11 million, plus another $1.5m each in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia respectively. Totalled up, that means around $330 million in federal and state assistance, or around half a per cent and $3900 per employee.

It’s token in the same way that the recent $700 million construction sector assistance package was token: too little funding spread across too big an industry with too many employees.

At least the arts sub-sector can look forward to the reopening of the economy and the removal of the lockdown restrictions that simply eliminated the income of tens of thousands of people — outside Victoria, that is. That is about the only hope for the sector — it certainly won’t be getting anything else.

What can the government do to save the arts? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Peter Fray

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