Feeling the COVID-19 Pinch

Artists everywhere are feeling the effects of COVID-19 cancellations. Photo: Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez
Kiwi singer Tami Neilson. Photo: Ashley Church
Fat Freddy's Drop.
So many artists having their livelihoods impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. One of them opens up on what it’s like and what help - if any - he’s found.

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On Saturday, I received the news that my Australian tour was cancelled due COVID-19. 

On Monday morning, I woke up to an email from the community centre where I hold my writing classes saying they aren’t hosting groups larger than five. Then a few minutes before starting this article I got news that the Auckland Writers Festival, where I had three events, is also not going ahead. 

Like a lot of people who work in the arts the world over I’m living week to week, so this was a pretty big blow. Luckily I have enough work (for the time being) that I can do remotely, but a lot of people don’t have that luxury. 

Naively I held some hope that the government's economic package would have something specifically for artists. After a quick look through the MSD site, it seems unless you're a registered business, which most artists I know aren’t, you’re out of luck. Also the unpredictable nature of income as an artist makes it hard to forecast earnings. On my tour, for example, I might have made 10k or lost money, depending on how many people turned up to the shows and the amount of books sold each night. 

NZers Caught in Coronavirus Crisis

Around the world, events are being canned as people try to stop the spread of the virus and naturally that’s impacting New Zealand artists. Fat Freddy’s Drop, Nadia Reid and Tami Neilson have all had European tours canceled, 13 acts from Aotearoa were meant to play SXSW this year and Homegrown has just pulled the plug. 

 Kiwi singer Tami Neilson. Photo: Ashley Church

unless you're a registered business, which most artists I know aren’t, you’re out of luck.

But it’s also the smaller acts and people behind the scenes that have been hit hard. A friend of mine who runs events lost $5K this weekend alone. It’s looking like the shutdown of events could last for months, so I had a look at what options there are for artists. 

Looking for Answers

Here in New Zealand, Creative NZ has a page on what to do if you need to travel overseas for your arts grant, and what protocols they’re putting in place to keep their staff safe. The Music Commission barely mentions it other than saying if you’re going to tour overseas check in with the Safe Travel Website. 

Fat Freddy’s Drop.

Tour and production manager (and part of the backbone of live events in this country for years) Sarin Moddle, has put together this really helpful Google Doc, which is filled with info for artists and people working in the entertainment industry. The doc features everything from contacts for legal advice to mental health resources. 

Aotearoa Arts and Events during the Covid 19 Crisis is a Facebook page that’s sprung up for artists across genes to come together and discuss how they’re handling the crisis. 

It looks like the next few months will be tough. Without proper support, a lot of people are looking at losing everything. 

Some other helpful advice comes from composer and Director of APRA AMCOS, Victoria Kelly. She recently spoke to RNZ about what the general public could do to support people in the arts at this time. 

She made a couple of great suggestions, number one being to buy merchandise. Now that playing shows is no longer an option for most artists, it’s the only way to keep the lights on. The other was to not ask for a refund for tickets to cancelled shows. Obviously this is a financial hit many can’t afford, but if you can spare it, it’d go a long way to helping out both venues and artists.  

It looks like the next few months will be tough. Without proper support, a lot of people are looking at losing everything. 

It was only a couple of months ago that artists were putting on benefit shows and selling their wares to raise money to help fight the fires in Australia. Let's hope those acts of kindness haven’t been forgotten.

Written by

Dominic Hoey

18 Mar 2020

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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