Funding for the arts

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3rd August, 2020

Australian arts industry: Grants and funding opportunities

If you’re an artist or work in a role that supports the arts industry, here are some of the major areas of funding and stimulus that may be available to you.

As outlined in the first part of this Australian arts industry update, freelancers and small businesses in the sector have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions and related economic fallout.

If you’re one of them, you should learn what funding options are open to you.

This article summarises the major stimulus measures, as well as some specific alternatives that freelance and small business operators in the arts industry may be eligible for.


JobKeeper


You may be able to apply for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper Payment, which was extended to March 2021.

This program is available for, among others, small businesses and sole traders who meet the eligibility requirements.

The payment rate drops down in stages. The current payment of $1,500 per fortnight for eligible participants reduces to $1,200 per fortnight from 28 September this year.

After that, it drops down again, to $1,000 per fortnight from 4 January 2021.

From 28 September, lower payment rates will also apply for those who worked fewer than 20 hours per week before the pandemic hit.

To receive the maximum JobKeeper payment, small business owners and other self-employed people must have been “actively engaged” in their ventures for 20 hours or more per week on average in February and/or March 2020.

From 28 September, people wishing to claim JobKeeper must also demonstrate that they’ve suffered “an ongoing significant decline in turnover”, shown via actual GST turnover.

Also, to be eligible for JobKeeper under the extension period, people have to show that they experienced a decline in turnover of 30 percent.

For more details, see the ATO website and make sure to seek advice from a qualified professional.


JobSeeker


Another Federal Government program you may be eligible for is JobSeeker.
To receive the payment, people must be unemployed and looking for work, or sick or injured, and unable to do usual practises. Being self-employed, you may be able to get the payment if your work situation changed/changes due to COVID-19.

The condition includes sole traders, the self-employed, and contract workers whose income has reduced, as well as those caring for someone affected by COVID-19.

This payment is income tested, though, and eligibility depends on various factors, including the income level of your partner, and if you have any dependents.

While right now, JobSeeker is not assets tested, the removal of the assets test finishes on 24 September.

You won’t be eligible for a JobSeeker payment from 25 September 2020 if your assets are higher than the listed totals. These vary between $268,000 and $616,000.

Check out this link for details on income and asset limits.


JobKeeper and JobSeeker drawbacks


Unfortunately, though, the JobKeeper and JobSeeker rules don’t cover everyone that contributes to the arts sector.

While many people invoice for their work and operate as sole traders with an ABN, this is not how everyone does things.

There is often a less-than-clear-cut way that many people generate an income. For example, some work on short or medium contracts, particularly actors and administrators who move from festival to festival.

The problem with this now is that if people weren’t on contracts when JobKeeper began, they’re not eligible for payments.

Also, many people don’t qualify for JobSeeker because they do a mixture of work.

Within one seven-day period, people might do some core creative work, spend time on an arts-related project, and do non-arts work on a casual basis.

Since this means they have a mix of short-term jobs and contracts across sectors, the income shown on their ABN is likely to show as dropping by less than the required 30 percent.

Their overall income would have reached this marker, but not what they report as a self-employed person.

Also, many self-employed people and freelancers earn much of their income from royalties and advances, particularly in literature and music.

These payments are a form of capital, rather than regular income. As such, this further makes things challenging when trying to claim JobKeeper, as advances and royalties are only paid occasionally, not monthly.

In a May press release from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Chief Executive Paul Murphy highlighted the JobKeeper and JobSeeker restrictions for those in the Arts.

“Thousands of workers in the arts and entertainment are not eligible because they work as freelancers or casuals from gig to gig and production to production,” said Murphy.

The statistics were grim, with Mr Murphy noting that in a “survey of over 1,000 MEAA members, almost one-in-five said they had been declined access to both JobKeeper and JobSeeker.”

Lizzie Vilmanis, a national VP of Ausdance, has also seen how complicated things can get for many working in the dance field who don’t make their income from it.

“By the Government, they’re not considered ’employed’ in the dance industry without making their income from their independent dance business activities.

“Yet many who also work as casuals in either the dance industry or other industries so that they can maintain the flexibility they need to work independently, are then also not eligible for government assistance as casual workers.”


Other early financial assistance programs


You can also access general, Australia-wide support programs.

For instance, small businesses (among others) can receive cash flow assistance up to a maximum of $100,000 with a minimum payment of $20,000, plus the Government may guarantee 50 percent of new unsecured loans.

There has also been a boost to the Instant Asset Write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000.

If you’ve seen your income reduce by 20 percent or more, you can get early tax-free access to your superannuation. This was capped at $10,000 in the now-completed 2019-20 financial year but will be the same for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

READ: What stimulus can sole traders and self-employed workers receive?


Other funding and support opportunities


In April 2020, the Australia Council for the Arts first announced funding to assist the arts community, although in a limited capacity.

The $7 million Resilience Fund was created to provide immediate relief to individual artists, groups, and organisations through three funding streams, administered via grants.

More than 7,000 applications poured in, and the fund closed on 1 June 2020.

But, due to high demand, assessment of the applications will continue longer than initially planned, with support going to more people.

During the same April announcement, the Australia Council for the Arts also committed an additional $10 million of funding for the Regional Arts Fund, which is managed and delivered by different organisations in each state.

Some programs are closed while other grants remain open. Note, too, that only some opportunities were/are available for small business owners and sole traders.

Check out this link for details of where to learn more in your state.

Plus, the Council committed $10 million to the music industry charity Support Act, to enable it to provide financial support to artists and crew.

People can still apply for assistance from Support Act, but businesses are ineligible to apply. Other criteria must be met, too. Check here for more details.

Most of the state and territory governments also announced packages to support people working in the arts, valued at around $150 million combined.

Check your state or territory government’s website for details of current funding or grants you might access.

While welcome, all of the above funding was a mere drop in the ocean, and various organisations and advocates around the country called for more support for the arts industry.

On 25 June, the Federal Government announced a much more comprehensive $250 million package.

The $250 million COVID-19 Creative Economy Support Package is designed to restart the creative economy, address urgent needs within the sector, and complement other measures already in place to support people across the country. It includes:

  • $75 million in competitive grant funding in 2020–21, providing grants of varying sizes, from $75,000 to $2 million, to help production and event businesses put on new festivals, concerts, tours, and events as social distancing restrictions ease.
  • $90 million in concessional Show Starter loans to help businesses fund new productions and events.
  • $50 million in a Temporary Interruption Fund for Screen Australia, to support local film and television producers to secure finance and start filming again.
  • $35 million in direct financial assistance to Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations facing threats to their viability, across various Arts fields.

The problem is that many of the programs will roll out over the next 12 months, which isn’t helping those doing it tough right now.

Also, details on eligibility for and access to many of the grant and loan programs are taking time to filter through.

As such, it remains to be seen how much of the support will be accessible to freelancers and small-business owners.

Olivia Lanchester, the CEO of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), reports, “Our main concern with the arts package is whether there will be any direct support for writers/illustrators who may have fallen through the cracks of JobKeeper support.

“While we acknowledge that the live performing arts have been hardest hit and require urgent assistance, we are waiting to see the criteria for the $35 million funding to determine whether individuals may also apply.”

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In early July, the Government also announced a few other direct investment opportunities, including those supporting touring musicians, the First Nations arts and cultural sector, and literary translations.

Opening and closing dates vary, so check this link for further information.

Most arts organisations feel that much more support is needed to ensure that the industry in Australia doesn’t continue to flounder, and that those in the arts industry have ongoing careers.

We must wait and see if further assistance is forthcoming from the Federal and other governments.

In the meantime, there are some private sector and public donation assistance funds cropping up to help those in creative careers survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The I Lost My Gig website has a good roundup of additional opportunities worth looking into.

This advice is general in nature and not intended to substitute the advice of a qualified professional. MYOB recommends any business owner who’s unsure about their business’s JobKeeper eligibility should first contact an accredited accountant or BAS agent. You can start your search for an advisor near you here.