exclusive Features September 2, 2021

Revealed: The cold, hard data on just how much the arts has suffered in lockdown & the jobs that have been lost

Revealed: The cold, hard data on just how much the arts has suffered in lockdown & the jobs that have been lost

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

We’ve all heard the cries for JobKeeper to come back. Seen the devastation , lockdowns and a lack of Government support has had on live music, the and entertainment. Felt the loss as people are forced to give up and leave the industry – out of hope, out of options, out of time. Now, however, TMN can reveal the extent of the damage to jobs in the arts sector. Here, Caleb Triscari takes you through the numbers. 


By now, it’s no secret the arts sector has suffered greatly over the past year and a half.

Whenever a is announced, there’s a sea of reports, opinions and hot takes. What can be lost in all this, is a cold, hard, quantitative look at just how much harder the arts sector is impacted compared to most other industries.

Payroll jobs data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics can provide a greater look at what happens to each sector when a lockdown is announced, tracking the growth and decline of industry jobs each week.

To do this, the ABS indexed the number of jobs per industry at 100% from the week ending March 14 2020, also known as the week Australia recorded its 100th case of COVID-19. For these purposes, the arts and recreation sector includes workers in the heritage, creative and performance areas, but also those in sports, amusement and gambling.

First, a quick look at the state of arts and recreation jobs in each state or territory. While data since January last year is available, the scope of the interactive graphs below has been narrowed to the past six months to focus on jobs in the post-JobKeeper era.

Following the end of March 2021, and the end of JobKeeper, each state and territory saw a decline in arts and recreation jobs to varying degrees. This comes as no surprise; industry bodies and other figures were calling on some kind of extension to the wage subsidy scheme given venues had not yet returned to full capacity in most jurisdictions nationwide and festivals were often out of the question.

Looking further along the timeline, Victoria and New South Wales, the two states affected the most by lockdowns, record some rather alarming drops.

Melbourne recently marked its 200th day of lockdown, with harsh currently in place for September. Prior to the state’s fourth lockdown, arts and recreation jobs were roughly at the same level they were when data started being collected in March 2020. However, over the course of three weeks, things took a sharp turn.

The graph below illustrates how each industry fared when Victoria’s fourth lockdown took place. It’s unsurprising that a number of industries experienced a decline, but the payroll jobs dataset shows how much the arts and recreation sector (as well as the closely related accommodation and food services sector) disproportionately took a hit compared to the state-wide average.

More specifically, jobs in the Victorian arts and recreation sector declined by 10% over the two week-long lockdown. The decline across all industries over the same period was just 1.3%.

A similar phenomenon can be found in New South Wales, which has broken the record for the highest number of locally acquired COVID-19 cases within 24 hours in the country on a number of occasions. After the Greater Sydney lockdown began on June 26, payroll jobs in the state declined by 5.5% within a month. Jobs in the arts and recreation sector, however, fell by 24% within the same period. The accommodation and food services sector experienced a similar tumble at 22.2%.

It is important to note that the payroll jobs data is sourced, as the name suggests, from figures acquired through company payrolls around the country. This means sole traders, including many musicians and event suppliers, are outside the scope of this data.

Sole trader data has, however, been included in the survey results from I Lost My Gig, coordinated by the Australian Festivals Association (AFA) and Industry Network (AMIN). In its latest survey snapshot from August 5, more than 2,500 arts professionals recorded a cumulative 28,000 lost gigs since July 1, amounting to over $84.4 million in lost income with 29,700 employees affected. Two thirds of respondents also said they were ineligible for disaster relief.

Speaking to TMN, AMIN chair Emily Collins says there are a range of issues why workers have been unable to access relief payments, depending on their background.

“One of the issues that musicians in particular have is not being able to quantify a loss of hours to meet the threshold. If you had three gigs cancelled, those gigs might only be an hour each, and so how to quantify the loss of regular hour-based income has been really difficult for musicians who are not paid hourly,” Collins says.

Collins commends the Morrison Government’s $200 million RISE funding scheme in supporting the sector, however the fund is only effective when businesses are open in the first place, allowing for the funding to trickle down to workers.

“I think the context in which RISE was created is different to the context we’re currently living in,” she says.

“It’s my understanding that RISE was a jobs creation program, it was about employment, and making sure that creative people had certainty to plan events so that people could be employed and have some sort of sense of security.

“And in that way it’s a great program. It’s just that this year of lockdowns has meant that there’s a small percentage of events that have actually gone ahead, which means the money is not trickling out to the right people.”

Collins also echoes the call for some kind of Government-backed interruption insurance scheme, arguing it would provide organisers with the security to start planning major events again.

“I would say it’s safe to assume that JobKeeper is not coming back, and therefore you need to provide confidence for people to plan. Particularly those big events and promoters, they need time to organise,” she says.

“Look at what happened with Bluesfest or any of those festivals or major events – how can they give anyone employment if they have no guarantee that they’ll be able to happen?”

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