Art for Arts Sake?

The wordsmiths of the French renaissance coined the phrase 'l'art pour l'art' and it sounds so right in a romantic language. Our humanity, our culture, our understanding of ourselves and each other is fed by the arts. The arts can be a joy, they embody our sorrow, our questioning, our frustration, our complexity. They can be our solace and our source of inspiration.


However, when times get tough we tend to worry about our basic needs - how will we pay the rent and put food on the table? There is nothing romantic about being broke and, like everyone else, artists and arts workers need to pay the bills.


The pandemic has hurt the creative Australian creative arts sector more than most parts of the economy;

  • The sale of arts and recreation goods and services were down 37 percent between March and June and GVA fell by 23 percent.

  • The number of people employed full time in the creative and performing arts fell by 34 percent between February and August

  • During this period wages and salaries fell by 14 percent in arts and recreation services (well below the 3 percent fall for all industry average)

Financial recovery from the impacts of COVID19 is likely to take a long time. One reason is because creative arts organisation's depend upon earned revenue, which makes up 40% of their income on average.

In September, Patternmakers research found that cultural audiences’ levels of comfort participating in public events vary markedly around Australia, based on rates of community transmission.


Less than one in three past attendees were ready to attend as soon as permitted (29%). Eight in ten (78%) expect to attend the same or more long term.


Depending upon social distancing requirements the economics of some performance venues may be impossible in the long term without additional support. Full House Socially Distanced QPAC , Sept 2020

Even before the pandemic Australian professional artists were low paid, and freelance or self-employed. Most are more ‘at risk’ during a recession and because of the pandemic some may be forced to leave their artistic practice. At the best of times the prospect of becoming a self supporting professional artist has been described by experts a 'Lottery'. As in you have a miniscule chance of making it - but if you do you will be set for life. Professor Throsby's latest research showed that Australian practicing professional artists earned average gross incomes of $48,400, including just $18,800 in creative income. Most artists (60 percent) make less than $10 thousand per year on average from their creative work.


The current Parliamentary enquiry into Culture and the Creative Industries is focusing upon the economic and the "non-economic" benefits of the arts. So, I did some reading of the latest research and here are the best pre-COVID economic numbers;

  • Eight in ten Australians attend cultural venues, with household expenditure on culture and creativity reaching $25 billion per annum.

  • Many agree that the arts bring customers to local businesses, and Australian cultural tourists alone spent $16 billion during trips per annum.

  • The creative arts employ four times the number of people employed in the coal mining industry - 194,000 people.

  • Arts and culture are an important part of the livelihoods of remote indigenous communities with almost one in ten earning income from the arts.

  • One in two Australians believe the arts build creative skills that will be necessary for the future workforce.

The value of the creative arts exceeds the sum of their parts - so while I found some great evidence of "non economic" benefits there is much more than we cannot quantify. But if you would like to read my attempt please read my submission to the enquiry.


Not everything that is important can be counted. What we need are credible narratives from those with the lived experience. I will give the last word to a national literary treasure, Helen Garner, who wrote in her submission to the enquiry about the value of Government support, "Without the help I was given, my work would have been hasty and shallow, and my working life harder and more painfully fragmented."








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