Pandemic that has devastated many
people’s lives in a heartbeat. More
than 250,000 people have died worldwide
and countless others have been dealt such a massive blow economically that they may never recover.
No money, no job and no future.
It’s the latter that can affect us most emotionally and which ultimately plays havoc with our state of mind.
Depression is a serious illness at any time, but COVID-19 has had an impact on an uncounted number of people which is extremely disturbing.
Artists are emotional beings and they create work which affects the human condition. Sometimes they elevate us to a state of euphoria but at the same time the work they create can be extremely confronting.
Consequently artist’s lives are reactions to these extremes of mood and emotion.
Artists live their lives through their work and when that work is taken away it has a devastating effect on their state of mind.
This is most damaging to mid-career artists and to young and emerging artists.
Older artists suffer too, but they have usually grown a skin thick enough over time, to cope with any form of adversity….but it is still extraordinarily difficult.
The news that Carriageworks has gone into voluntary liquidation is of course distressing but for many emerging and mid-career artists whose livelihood hangs by a thread at the best of times, the issue is not about a venue; it is about the art that they feel compelled to make.
The art that they make can be difficult and often unpopular; it’s the art of young people and it’s important for it to be seen and heard.…its experimental art, but in a democratic society every voice has the right to be heard.
Opera Australia is a very different organization. It’s a flagship company that had 662,000 attendees in 2019 and sold 540,000 tickets.
OA is the only major opera company in the world where more than 50% of its budget comes from the box office; that’s $73.6 million in 2019 and that needs to be earned every year.
That success enabled OA to employ 1,323 artists and arts workers in 2019 and it does so every year.
However, even this extremely successful organisation cannot continue to employ so many artists and arts workers without income from a large number of paying customers.
We are at a point in our history where we are loading up our children and more than likely, our children’s children, with massive amounts of debt.
The consequences of this massive debt mean that governments, apparently, seem to not have the financial resources to support new generations of artists who will be at the forefront of our cultural life, in our future nation.
We are denying our children the right to see and hear the art that speaks to their generation, and that speaks to their time.
Many young and emerging artists will have no possibility of earning a living from their art.
They are naturally talented and they have spent most of their lives practicing and developing their art.
Their training has been more intensive and difficult than virtually any other profession; but now, sadly, they see no future.
They have devoted their lives to their chosen profession and now most of them will need to retrain.
They will need to forget their dream; the dream that they have lived with for most of their lives.
They have individual artistic and cultural voices that are important to who we are as Australians in 2020 and beyond…but their voices are being silenced by the economic devastation of COVID-19.
I have said on many occasions that at Opera Australia we will not play some parts of the operatic repertoire because there is a limited audience for it; and that is true.
Some of those pieces should, and have been, played by young artists whose passion and zeal surpasses any other limitations, and I’ve seen them at Carriageworks but also at other smaller venues, including a mechanic’s workshop in Marrickville.
This is the world of young art and artists pushing perceived boundaries.
The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 provide the ideal scenario for depression to develop into a far more dangerous state of mind which can have tragic consequences.
The life of an artist is difficult at any time, but the effect of this pandemic is imposing a sometimes unbearable weight on already brittle and exhausted minds and bodies.
Consequently, it is of the utmost importance during these darkest of times, for us to defend and protect our cultural future with everything we have, and to embrace, and reach out, to all of our colleagues; to all of our brothers and sisters.
Consequently, the continued closure of theatres will have a severe and devastating effect on Opera Australia.
But every industry needs flagship organizations… without them it cannot function, and every industry needs grass roots organizations and experimental “pointy end” activity.
This is what keeps the ecosystem, and in this case, the artistic and cultural life of the nation, healthy ,open, democratic ,provocative and progressive.
This experimental, ”pointy end R&D” will not have box office success. It will not have 540,000 paying customers, but it is important in a civilized society for it to be seen and heard and for the
diverse sections of our society to hear these voices.
We are now in serious danger of losing our cultural and artistic democracy, which includes the cultural and artistic voices of our young people.
They are confused, disillusioned and struggling to comprehend the enormity of what is happening.
Coupled with this is the terrifying realization of what I referred to earlier; the presence of the Black Dog.
It is a very common illness amongst artists and it is vitally important for all of us to make sure we do not enter the “dark hall.”