Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Arts community calls for more funding to survive level 2 restrictions

Arts organisations are calling for urgent funding from the Government, after changes to alert level 2 restrictions mean many in the industry are preparing for months before they are able to perform to live audiences again.

The Government announced on Monday that events would be able to go ahead under alert level 2, but indoor venues would now have a limit of 50 people, as opposed to 100 when the alert levels were designed last year.

The capacity changes have not come as a surprise to those in the arts community, but it confirmed to many that it will no longer be financially viable for them to stage shows or open venue doors under "Delta Level 2".

Greg Innes, chief executive of Queen Street's Q Theatre, said staging a show on their Rangitira stage would mean opening to just 12.5 per cent capacity, which isn't enough for the venue or artists to cover their costs.

"It is going to be most unlikely that we will be able to present anything under level 2. Essentially to us, level 2 is no different to level 4 in a practical sense."

The Auckland Theatre Company was able to reopen in September 2020 during level 2 with a socially distanced audience separated by plastic barriers. The new rules require the groups of 50 to share an air space, meaning is no longer an option in this outbreak – and the company is at risk of having to cancel its last three shows of the year if the restrictions last.

Auckland Theatre Company chief executive and artistic director Jonathan Bielski. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Chief executive Jonathan Bielski said preview shows for their most recent production "Things That Matter" were due to start on August 17, the same day the country returned to lockdown. There is hope the show can be rescheduled, as the company has already spent all its budget on the show.

"There were no mitigations or savings, we had spent all the money we were going to spend.

"This new level 2 is going to restrict our ability to trade."

The difficulty has sparked calls from across the arts and entertainment industry for the Government to provide more relief funding for artists and venues under level 2.

Representatives of the country's music industry said in a statement that "targeted financial assistance is urgently needed now to support artists and the infrastructure that enables live music, including crew, support staff, workers, production suppliers, venues and promoters".

Auckland Pride has also led the charge, calling for the Government "to provide specific funding for Creative NZ to complement existing financial support, and to fill the gaps in resourcing the creative industries at alert level 2".

Auckland Pride organisers have joined the calls for more funding of the arts. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Auckland Pride director Max Tweedie said many in the arts support the changes to alert levels and want to eliminate Covid from the community.

"The flipside of that is that the artists and the community are supported to do that and we don't lose people who think staying in the industry isn't sustainable as a form of income."

Bielski said the issue with the arts community is that many people don't have fulltime jobs and move between gigs, so the wage subsidy scheme isn't set up to support them.

"Across the board, there are a lot of people who have displaced earnings and there does need to be a resilience grant."

"With not being able to get productions onto the stage, we've still got artists and administrators and technicians who still need to be paid. The wage subsidy is a help, but it doesn't address that as an issue."

Innes backed the calls for more funding, as there is already established funding for levels 3 and 4 and the same restrictions apply for level 2.

"If there is no additional support for the arts sector, there will be some casualties."

In a statement, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni acknowledged the "huge financial and emotional strain our performers, organisers, and everyone involved in the live arts sector is facing as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, which are necessary for keeping all of us safe through the Delta outbreak".

She said $374 million was invested into the sector in Budget 2020, and $146.2 million in support has been delivered so far – and encouraged those in the sector to access all Government support that is currently available.

"Whilst I'm keeping a watchful eye on the situation, I'm also receiving advice and updates on the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on the arts and culture sector, and what other measures might be needed to ensure the sector not only survives, but thrives."

Innes says a solution is needed as soon as possible in order to keep artists employed and motivated to stay in the industry.

"Artists want to perform in front of audiences. There's a limit to how far you can do that without physically being in the same place. The sooner we get through this, the happier we'll all be."

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