Flexible and creative: How the Australian arts sector is tackling the pandemic in 2022
While there was hope that 2021 would bring some stability to the creative sector, arts groups across Australia found themselves again grappling with ever-changing regulations while trying to remain viable.
But along the way, some important lessons about flexibility, finding new revenue streams, and accepting that things aren’t going to return to how they were pre-pandemic, have all helped.
We asked Governance Institute of Australia’s new Arts Support Program collaborators – So Brave and the Museum of Underwater Art – how they have adapted, and their approach for 2022.
Operating in the new normal
So Brave, a breast cancer charity for young women that raises awareness through art, has placed a focus on delivering on their mission within continuously changing parameters.
So Brave’s Managing Director and Founder, Rachelle Panitz said lockdowns and uncertainty have had a detrimental impact on the organisation which relies on fundraising events for a significant portion of its income.
“We operate nationally, which at certain times during the year, saw some of our volunteers running events normally, while others were stuck in strict home lockdown,” Ms Panitz said.
“So, we saw quite significant disparity in how our volunteers could support us.”
The organisation adapted by accepting that things weren’t going to return to the way they were pre-pandemic.
“This means planning, with the mindset that the plans could likely change and having options to shift from in-person to online or hybrid events in the case of changing restrictions,” Ms Panitz said.
Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), located on the Great Barrier Reef, educates visitors about reef conservation. Given their unique location, operating costs are higher. Other challenges have been the reduced visitor numbers – and an anticipated reduction in income.
“We have had to adjust budgets, find new revenue opportunities, adjust milestones in key projects and the Board has been forced to rethink strategic priorities regularly,” MOUA’s Chair Paul Victory said.
But amid the difficulties, new opportunities have emerged for the group, including an opportunity to exhibit artworks in partnership with land-based museums.
A focus on risk management
As a result of the challenges prompted by the pandemic, both groups have boosted their focus on risk management and mitigation.
So Brave’s Ms Panitz said financial sustainability has been a core focus, including assessing new opportunities for income.
“We found new ways to fundraise and continued to provide the support to young women that we had previously delivered in-person, within the realities of changing parameters,” Ms Panitz said.
“Luckily, we have always operated within a very lean framework with low administrative overheads, and our core demographic of young women are tech-savvy, online and high-users of social media.
“We drew on our networks in medicine, research, education and corporate to find ways to find niche, high-impact outcomes for young women and breast cancer. We also have strong relationships with universities, which allowed us to continue to build our education and awareness work in new areas online at a relatively low cost.”
MOUA’s Mr Victory said the organisation has had to mitigate risks around loss of income, and undertake annual inspections and scientific monitoring, with higher maintenance required due to the exhibition being underwater.
“We have reviewed our risk management plan almost quarterly with the challenges of COVID-19,” Mr Victory said.
Tackling the year ahead
Armed with their learnings of adapting and evolving during the challenges of a pandemic, So Brave and MOUA have highlighted some key tips for arts organisations in 2022.
Ms Panitz said collaboration is important, as well as alignment with people truly committed to the mission of the organisation.
“It may sound unoriginal, but collaboration has been core to our operations since the very beginning and continues to stand the test of time. Through collaboration, we have found alignment with other organisations, both within our industry and completely outside it.”
Mr Victory said it is important to believe in the vision of your board, and also to empower the artists to be their best. The organisation has also paid much attention to including traditional owners in their messaging.
“People are the organisations most important asset.”
He also recommends being flexible, creative and willing to change while still remaining focussed on an ultimate objective.
Find out more about the Arts Support Program.
So Brave: www.sobrave.com.au
Museum of Underwater Art: www.moua.com.au