Major festivals and arts companies including Opera Australia, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Ballet, Sydney Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare and the Australian Theatre for Young People are likely to be helped by the package.
Community-based theatre companies, including Flight Path Theatre in Marrickville, are also hoping for “a very small slice” of the fund, the largest of its type offered by any Australian state.
The drama company, based at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west, has negotiated partial rent relief with its landlord to keep its 100-seat theatre space.
“Although we did not receive the full amount of relief we were hoping for at this time, the centre has offered us some of our rent waived and some of our rent deferred,” artistic director Kate Bookallil said. “It is a very challenging time to try and keep an independent theatre space viable.”
The cast and creatives presenting the company’s one-woman show The Stars At Noon, a retelling of the story of the Space Race from the perspective of women, will donate all proceeds of tickets sales from Friday and Saturday night shows to keep the theatre in business.
“We have more shows booked in and are crossing everything we are able to stay open and that the centre agrees to reduce our rent beyond the current date of September,” Ms Bookallil said.
Details of the application rush came as Labor’s art spokesman Tony Burke criticised the federal government for failing to release the eligibility criteria, guidelines, or application forms that would enable arts workers to determine their eligibility for $250 million worth of Commonwealth grants and loans.
The arts and entertainment sector was one of the first to be shut down by regulations put in place to fight COVID-19, and would be one of the last sectors to return to normal, Mr Burke said. The situation had become direr with the second lockdown in Victoria.
A spokesperson for Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said grant and loan guidelines were in development and would be released as soon as practicable, having followed “agreed processes in place relating to spending public money and in consultation with the sector”. The $250 million in arts support was additional to the Jobkeeper program and other cashflow support, the spokesperson said.
In NSW, the first $25 million of the Rescue and Restart lifeline has been set aside to assist with companies’ temporary “hibernation”. The second tranche is expected to become available in the coming months.
Not-for-profit museums, galleries, festivals and organisations funded by Create NSW are eligible to apply along with other arts bodies based on an assessment of their economic and cultural importance. To be successful they must prove they are suffering financial distress triggered by the lockdown.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge questioned how far $50 million would go if 160 arts companies participated in a single webinar about the fund and several hundred more expressed interest.
The Premier’s Deputy Secretary Community Engagement, Kate Foy, earlier this month told a parliamentary committee that not all companies were looking for financial support. Many, including local galleries and museums, were seeking expertise and advice around the health orders.
“The best thing for the art sector is to get people reopening in a safe and sustainable way, getting people back into work whether they are artists, set builders or cleaners of a major place,” Ms Foy said.
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Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald