The Government announces it will throw a few bob in the guitar case of Covid-strapped musicians, events promoters and film-makers – raising hopes of targeted support for other industries too.

When New Zealand went to red light status, the Others Way music festival this weekend was finally cancelled. The Auckland event had already been postponed twice; this was the final straw.

Among the disappointed performers were Don McGlashan, who co-wrote the definitive 1980s political pop anthem, “There is no depression in New Zealand”. 

So too Troy Kingi, just as seminal to a new generation, and another who lost his last chance to sing for his supper. “Not only did we cancel him, but he had a whole bunch of other dates lined up and they’ve all had to be postponed or cancelled and it all kind of falls into one,” says The Others Way organiser Matthew Davis. “He’s definitely someone for whom music makes up a a strong portion of his livelihood. So it’s hard for him. It’s hard for a lot of people.”

Today, Davis is working his way through the accounts of the cancelled festival, after the Government delivered good news to musicians and other performers. Arts and Culture Minister Carmel Sepuloni has boosted a big events support scheme by $70 million, and has trebled the size of the rescue package for individual organisations.

The Others Way can now claim $300,000 funding to pay most of its bills – including full performance fee for musicians like McGlashan and Kingi.

“We support all the health measures that are in place,” Davis told Newsroom. “And it was just was unfortunate we couldn’t go ahead. But also, it was understandable in the circumstances.”

The $70.7m announced this morning boosts the overall Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme to nearly $93m, running through to the end of January, 2023. That gives organisers confidence to push ahead with planning events, assured that the government will bail them out if Covid outbreaks force their cancellation. It’s good news for big events like the Comedy Festival and the Film Festival, later this year.

The Government values the arts and culture sector’s contribution to the economy at about $10.9 billion, or 3.4% of GDP, but that’s been devastated by repeated lockdowns and red light restrictions that limit even Vaccine Pass events to 100 socially-distanced performers, crew and audience – making it nigh-on impossible for music gigs and theatre shows to turn a dime.

“I think the music industry in particular has shown great resilience and ability to adapt to the circumstances, but, you know, there’s also a reality that things are hard for a lot of people,” Davis said. 

Sepuloni is also injecting an additional $35.5m into the Cultural Sector Emergency Relief Fund, including one-off grants of $5000 for eligible self-employed individuals or sole traders in the arts and cultural sector, who have lost income or opportunities to work. That will help musicians and artists who are generally not incorporated as limited liability companies.

Festival of the Arts executive director Meg Williams chairs an advocacy group for Wellington artists. “The fears are it will only get worse, so this may give more security.” Photo: Supplied

Within the sector, approximately 32,675 people are self-employed – that is about a third of workers, officials estimate, and double the national self-employment rate.

Finally, the Screen Production Recovery Fund has been given a further $15m – half to the Film Commission and the rest via NZ on Air.

“It’s important to reassure artists and crew that they will get paid despite their event being cancelled due to Red,” Sepuloni said this morning. “The scheme includes an obligation to make full payment, as if the event had gone ahead.”

“Red is not a lockdown but it does mean some events and venues simply cannot operate. Without the wage subsidy or resurgence payments now, more targeted support like this is needed.”
– Meg Williams, Toi o Taraika Arts Wellington

Internationally, Omicron is having a big impact on the film industry, with cast and crew sickness causing some productions to shut down, resulting in higher costs. “Aotearoa New Zealand’s screen industry will not be immune from these pressures, so we are acting now to provide extra support for this key sector of our economy.”

Most of the funding is less about actually salvaging cancelled events, and more about providing promoters and performers with greater confidence to plan and incur costs, in the face of public health risks from Covid-19.

New Zealand Festival of the Arts executive director Meg Williams welcomed the support package. Some Festival events had already been accepted into the first round of the Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme, but she also chairs Toi o Taraika Arts Wellington, an advocacy organisation representing arts groups and individual freelancers in the region.

“Red is not a lockdown but it does mean some events and venues simply cannot operate,” she said. “Without the wage subsidy or resurgence payments now, more targeted support like this is needed.”

She said the sector was already troubled by skilled arts and events workers leaving to work in more secure industries. “The fears are it will only get worse, so this may give more security,” she said.

“As we’ve learnt from other countries battling Omicron. what we’ll likely be impacted by next is cancellation caused by illness or isolation of artists, cast, crew or the venue staff. So, it’s good to see more flexibility with this scheme and more may be needed.”

Entertainment and Technology NZ president Vicki Cooksley hosts last year’s virtual conference – even the events technology association couldn’t run it’s own event face-to-face. Photo: Supplied

Indeed, the first community case of Omicron in New Zealand was that of Britain’s DJ Dimension, aka Robert Etheridge, who was in New Zealand to perform at the Rhythm & Alps New Year music festival. When he broke isolation rules by going our clubbing, he consigned several other furious performers to close contact status, denying them the opportunity to perform as well.

It’s not just the performers, but also the big support structure of crew, such as riggers and lighting and sound operators, whose income streams are affected by the postponements and cancellations.

Vicki Cooksley, president of industry association Entertainment and Technology NZ, said the support package started to provide a level of reassurance that there was government awareness of the impacts of the pandemic.

“It is great to see the one-off support for sole traders and self employed contractors,” she said. “In the short term it will help to retain our skilled workforce, and we will need them when we come out the other end.

“I’m sure we will still find gaps but hope we can keep plugging those gaps as we move forward in ongoing conversations with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.  We need to continue to work out what these gaps are to assist people, companies, and venues to stay viable and to retain our skilled workforce.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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