The Australian arts and entertainment industry have been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 restrictions. 

But for creatives of colour, the loss has been disproportionately greater.  

According to a recent survey by Diversity Arts Australia, ‘Lost Work for Creatives of Colour,’ 92% of 255 respondents (as of October 2020) from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds (CaLD) estimated to lose income due to COVID-19.  

“As soon as all the COVID closures started happening, and cancellations, we just knew that the count the creative Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community was going to be even more strongly impacted,” says Sonia Mehrmand, Assistant Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia.  

“The discrimination they face, and the barriers to entry, the lack of accessibility to education and training, we knew that they’d be exacerbated by all the closures.”

Artists who previously relied on local markets and galleries have had to adapt to online selling as their primary source of revenue. 

People of CaLD backgrounds are consistently more likely to participate in the arts creatively and by attending events. (Graphic: Jarin Hossain)

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, research released by Creatives of Colour found that 31.7% of the 60 people interviewed struggled with money and unpaid labour, and 23.3% found the grant and funding systems inaccessible.

Rani Pramesti, Digital Storyteller, Performance artist and Strategic Advisor at Creatives of  Colour agrees that the strict lockdowns have amplified these issues. 

“There’s less of a safety net,” she says.

“If we start from the premise that we live in a colony, that is white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal, that is going to have real impacts on the people that were designed to be in the lower levels of the racial hierarchy, or economic hierarchy, or gender hierarchy.”

A 2019 performance produced by Rani P Collaborations and inspired by love letters exchanged between lead artist Rani Pramesti’s grandparents.

As a Chinese-Javanese-Indonesian woman who migrated to Australia at age 13, her early experiences with discrimination inspired her to start Creatives of Colour.

“I was part of a startup accelerator program that was intending to introduce creatives to the Lean Startup methodology…but unfortunately, that space, again, was designed, facilitated and delivered by a predominantly white female team,” she said.

“It became quite unsafe, and then I dropped out because it just became too stressful. And then I was really depressed for a number of months.”

Many artists of colour related to her and felt that the findings confirmed their experiences.

“Some of the feedback we’ve received since we went public with this research is how it’s actually quite validating for people…we had a First Nations person say that when they read about that imposter syndrome, made worse by isolation from other creatives of colour was a problem that was quite validating for that person,” she said.

While the pandemic has revealed opportunities to engage with arts and culture online, it has yet to become a key source of revenue for many creatives.   

People in the performing arts sector, like Ms Pramesti, have particularly suffered as they struggled to translate live experiences into a virtual format.

Rani Pramesti on how COVID-19 has affected her work in the performing arts

 87% of participants of the ‘Lost Work for Creatives of Colour’ survey also reported feeling negatively about their financial situation over the next six months compared to 46% feeling positively at the start of 2020.

Despite this, the recent announcement of the 2020 Federal budget primarily neglected the arts sector.

“The Arts are a $111.7 billion-dollar industry…it employs 600,000 people, and it’s connected to tourism. People come from all over the world, and I can say this, as someone who moved to Sydney from the US, that the first thing that came to my mind was that I need to go to the Opera House. They are quite important to Australian culture and the economy,” said Ms Mehrmand.

She says that equity is key to the recovery process.

“Diversity Arts Australia have been consistently advocating for government to begin championing equity.”

“One of the recommendations that we made to that in our parliamentary submission was expanding the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments to include people on Temporary Protection visas, people on Bridging visas, and student visas. 

The changes have forced many to reconsider what it means to collaborate and network, a common source of jobs for many creatives.

“It was always about proactively going to industry events, such as the Australian Theatre Forum, and meeting people there, and then inviting people to showings, which is basically where you show a draft of your work…and that’s how people can get to know you and the stories that you’re trying to tell. Also how you work, your team so it kind of grows from there,” said Ms Pramesti.

However, Ms Mehrmand believes that this will not discourage people from CaLD backgrounds from creating and participating in the arts.

“I know enough creatives and artists and even myself that, if anything, we’re just they’re itching to be making and to be doing, and a lot of them still are…I actually think they’re getting more material.”

“The world is in chaos. And oftentimes, chaos breeds creativity, that’s how you make sense of it. That’s how a lot of people make sense of the world, just processing it in a creative way that allows them to interpret what’s going on. So I definitely don’t think art is going,” she says.

“If anything, there’s going to be more.”

Eb Shrimpton’s latest commission piece almost complete (Photo: Supplied, Eb Shrimpton)

Homemade mask by Britta Hodge (Photo: Jarin Hossain)