Vital arts industry fights for survival through COVID-19

Zac Tyler has seen his industry “decimated” by the pandemic. Photo supplied.

The Barossa has never been a place short on artistic talent. 

Amongst a prestigious list of successful creatives to have lived their formative years here, former Faith Lutheran College, Tanunda student, Zac Tyler has forged a solid career in the performing arts industry since graduating in 2001, and is currently Executive Producer for internationally renown production company, GWB Entertainment.

But Zac and his wife, Amelia, who is a cabaret performer, have recently had their lives “swept out from under them” as COVID-19 lay waste to an industry that, by its very nature, relies on the gathering of people.

Zac was in the midst of preparing for a world premier production for next year when the pandemic hit in March.

“As soon at the ruling came in that you can’t have gatherings over 500, that was our business gone,” said Zac.

“GWB had just transferred School of Rock from Sydney to Adelaide. It costs over $1 million to transfer a show, and we weren’t able to open.

“The impact came very fast for us… Within days I was down to two days per week work, and really I’m going to be like that for the foreseeable future.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the $112 billion creative arts industry has been swift and brutal, with many workers “falling between the gaps”.

“JobKeeper helped a lot of people, but also there were a lot of gaps, particularly for freelancers or artists or those who were earning quite good money but going contract to contract,” Zac said.

Last week the Federal Government announced a $250 million arts support package, JobMaker, designed to kick-start the creative economy.

Despite being welcomed by industry peak body, Live Performance Australia, the package has faced criticism from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance as not going far enough to immediately assist thousands of arts workers who have been left jobless by the pandemic. 

“Live Performance Australia have been lobbying for months now, and a lot of other industries were bailed out a lot quicker in a really significant way,” said Zac.

“I don’t want to feel like I’m being critical because obviously the Government have come to the party… But thinking from a live performance perspective, (JobMaker) kind of boils down to $110 million, because $90 million is a loan, and $50 million is for screen. 

“$110 million is better than nothing but I think it will go very quick and it will be interesting to see what real effect it has in terms of bringing back the ecology of the industry.”

The pandemic has forced the industry to take creativity to a whole new level as it searches for ways to survive, which Zac says involves refocussing priorities.

“We are creatives, so we need to get through this in a creative, collaborative way. I think that’s about reaching out and focussing on community; we can’t be focussing and thinking internationally at the moment,” he said.

Zac is already activating plans within his own suburb of Brompton to turn a local business into a Fringe venue.

There may even be the possibility of a return to the Barossa, after recent talks with Country Arts SA about regional opportunities.

“We’d love to come up and create some shows and bring them to the Barossa. If there’s the support there locally, then absolutely,” said Zac.

“I think there will be some ingenuity coming out of this, because we have to. And if we don’t think creatively and we don’t create our own opportunities, people won’t do it for us.”

As for large scale productions, Zac thinks it’s likely to be mid next year before shows make a return to the stage, as the industry anxiously awaits a timeline on the ability to fill venues to capacity.

In the meantime, he hopes the public has a refreshed appreciation of just how vital the industry is, both economically and culturally.

“You think of the arts industry and live performance in particular and the amount of cafes, restaurants, bars, Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and everyone that needs those 2,000 people going to eight shows per week to live,” he said. 

“I appreciate that the arts might not seem vital to some people, but you can’t just take a whole element away from our culture and our life and still have a happy society.

“Mental health issues have skyrocketed during isolation without proper human interaction and the arts industry is the exact opposite of isolation, it’s about coming together and having shared experiences, and we can’t underestimate the power of that.”

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