FEATURE STORY JULY/AUGUST EDITION 2020: Picking up the pieces post Covid-19

As we step into an unknown future how can the visual arts move forward after the decimation caused by Covid-19? One thing is certain – the arts are vitally important for society’s recovery.


♦Photo peshkov, iStock by Getty Images.
Can we have an arts-led recovery post-Covid-19? Do the arts have a crucial role to play in the process of coming out of this crisis? The answer is ‘Yes! Of course!’ Many of us are busting to go out, be entertained, look at beautiful things, experience what creative culture has to offer and the social spaces it enables. There is a thirst for this because such things are meaningful to us in different ways to ever-sobering news. But, as the arts are taking small steps to re-emerge, how are they placed?
The pandemic has had a shattering impact on the arts. The cultural community – from individual artists, to small organisations, to larger venues – has been left reeling. Many jobs have been lost: events, exhibitions and performances cancelled and the future highly uncertain. Some relief has come in the recent announcement of a $250 million package from the Morrison government. This package will roll out as a series of grants and loans, with a focus on the performing arts. Great! However, many artists are rightfully complaining because there is little relief for small companies on the brink of insolvency who can not possibly pay back loans, or freelance, independent, remote community-based and casual workers, who originally fell through the gaps of other relief schemes.
The arts reportedly contributes $111 billion annually to the national economy. What is lacking in the approach to the arts by the powers that be is an understanding of not only their value, but also, significantly, the complexity and interconnected nature of the arts industry. This is seen in the absence of support for smaller but crucial elements – the wheat that makes up the bread, so to speak. For example, there is so much work behind the scenes of the magic of art making, so many roles involved in putting together an art exhibition, a theatre, film or dance piece. To add to this, there is immeasurable value in supporting artists whose creative output contributes to the wellbeing and mental health of so many and especially emerging artists, who will one day be the defining artists of our times. It is also crucial to support First Nations artists who are the caretakers of the cultural knowledge of this place.
Coming out of this pandemic, we are offered a moment to pause and think about what is valuable going forward. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, it is well overdue to value the unique culture we have right here, including the inestimable worth of ancient First Nations people’s sites which are much older than the caves of Lascaux in France. This is our legacy. The pandemic had a debilitating impact on remote community-based artists who are hugely reliant on the sale of art for their livelihood. Going forward there needs to be more in place: ongoing protection of sacred sites, and opportunities and support for the creation of artwork.
We need to listen to Elders and their cultural knowledge, and their knowledge about the land and how to care for the environment. This could be twinned with a green recovery, where rather than continuing destructive practices against the land, we could look towards nurturing our precious environment, not only for ourselves, but for future generations and the health of the planet. In these terms, recovery is seen as re-futuring with an awareness of the value of ancient knowledge, and lessons learnt from past mistakes. This is like when a piece of land is re-wilded and animals are re-introduced. Instead, we rewrite the future and move it away from a dystopian path of destruction and devastation.
Taking steps towards a different future, one positive outcome of the pandemic, and specifically the closure of the WA borders, is that it has forced us to look more closely within our own cultural backyard; to nurture and appreciate the brilliance of local talent. We have so much to offer here. The Perth Festival for 2021, for example, is looking local for next year’s program, yet to be revealed. 
Across the arts more broadly then, many previously scheduled international artists and performers have had to be re-scheduled or cancelled altogether because of the financial impact. Once again, this makes us turn to the local and hopefully this will provide some relief for WA creatives.
In the urban context, programs like the Percent for Art Scheme (currently under threat) are also crucial to working towards a vibrant and distinctive urban environment and supporting the livelihood of artists. 

If we value our culture, we need more schemes like this one, across the arts, as state and national funding for the arts is perpetually slashed to devastating degrees.

Realistically, we may not be able to assess the degree of damage to the arts community for a long time. So for now, we need to work towards recovery in whatever ways possible. Arts can pave the way back into engaging with society, to re-connecting with others, strengthening communities and interpreting the times in which we live. In the coming months we may well see some surprising creative outcomes coming out of the period of isolation. 

As uncertain as the future may be, we still need art.

Laetitia Wilson is Exhibitions Manager at 
Janet Holmes à Court Collection. 


Thank you for registering

Get complete access by subscribing