A | Background
Western Sydney is a vibrant region of New South Wales that houses an estimated 2.5 million people, which is approximately 30% of the state’s population and 10% of the Australian population (.id, n.d.). It is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is expected to surpass the rest of the Sydney area by 2031, with an exceptionally rapid growing white collar population (Deloitte, 2015, p. 25). Western Sydney is incredibly culturally diverse, with over 290 ancestral ethnicities put forward by residents in the 2016 Census and more than 230 languages spoken in homes across the region (SGS Economics and Planning 2018, p. 34). It also has the largest concentration of Aboriginal people out of any region in the country (2018, p. viii). The rest of Greater Sydney will be referred to as Eastern Sydney that encompasses the remaining 20 LGAs and stretches to the Eastern coast, as far south as the Sutherland Shire and as far north as Hornsby Shire. This area encompasses approximately 1,620 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 2.8 million (Deloitte, 2015, p. 4; City of Sydney, 2020).
Challenges Facing Western Sydney
All art forms across Western Sydney, from visual art to music, are faced with the challenge of underfunded and undersupplied infrastructure. In particular, the areas of literature, dance, and film have little to no infrastructure designed specifically for the intended practice of these arts (SGS Economics and Planning, 2018, p. vii). This poses a massive issue for Western Sydney creatives who need spaces to train, collaborate, create and exhibit their work. Furthermore, while the region has five Creative and Performing Arts High Schools, there is no dedicated tertiary art school, which hinders the ability of young artists to continue to learn and develop their skills after secondary school (Deloitte, 2015, p. 51; Stevenson et al., 2017, p. 4). The Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury regions have the largest proportion of visual arts spaces, which are predominantly privately-owned galleries and studios, and Parramatta has the highest number of heritage spaces. Libraries comprise the majority of arts and culture spaces in most of the other LGAs. Wollondilly is particularly undersupplied, having no visual arts, multi purpose, film, or literature spaces as well as no leading arts organisations (SGS Economics and Planning, 2018, p. iii).
Overall, Western Sydney’s gross regional product (GRP) is expected to drop by between 5% (Parramatta, the Hills Shire and Hawkesbury) to 10% per annum (Fairfield and Cumberland) (Duke & Wright, 2020). For the region, arts and culture comprises 1% of its GRP compared to the state at 2.6% of the gross state product. Funding for this sector is provided predominantly through the Australian Council for the Arts (federal), Create NSW and NSW Historic Houses Trust (state). Western Sydney received 1% and 5% from federal and state sources respectively between 2008 to 2014 compared to 36% and 87% respectively for Eastern Sydney (Deloitte, 2015, p. 14) with the majority for institutions in the City of Sydney. In addition, the focus in public discourse on Western Sydney’s arts and culture is predominantly focused on Parramatta diminishing the artistic and cultural landscape of the rest of the region (SGS Economics and Planning, 2018, p. 109).
The NSW government recently released a $50 million stimulus package called ‘Rescue and Restart’ aimed at supporting arts and culture organisations across the state. The funding package will be rolled out in two stages: stage 1 immediately to support organisations to ‘hibernate’, and stage 2 expected in the next several months that will allow organisations to re-open as the pandemic eases up (Create NSW, 2020). A further $6.34 million was allocated as specific COVID-19 relief for small- to medium-sized businesses in the cultural sector, totalling around $56.3 million from the state government (Eltham, 2020). On a federal level, Australia Council announced a $5 million Resilience Fund to help support artists and cultural organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic and an additional $27 million Relief and Recovery Fund aimed at providing assistance to areas of the arts and culture sector most affected by COVID-19, specifically regional arts, Indigenous arts and live music (Australia Council for the Arts, 2020; Australian Government, 2020). The JobKeeper Payment Scheme for businesses has been noted as having little relief for the arts sector with many artists and creatives work on short term contracts or relying on royalties or advances compromising their eligibility for the scheme (Morrow & Long, 2020). Local councils are also releasing funding packages such as Parramatta City Council rolling out a $3 million relief and recovery package to support local businesses, including small business grants of up to $2,000 (Fulloon, 2020).
Where to from here?
Western Sydney’s arts and creative community can work together to secure as much funding as possible from local, state and federal coronavirus relief packages. The Relief and Recovery fund is aimed at supporting disadvantaged groups within the arts and culture sector. As the region has the highest proportion of Indigenous people out of any region in Australia, it would be beneficial to capitalise on the Commonwealth’s interest in Aboriginal art.
The industry can move to different forms of offerings to cater to the current climate by making online offerings and virtual tours. This has already started to occur with the Bankstown Poetry Slam, a huge monthly event that hosts international talent and draws an audience from all over Sydney, has moved to online virtual slams (Bankstown Poetry Slam, 2020). Additionally, areas such as the Blue Mountains that have a high number of private art spaces but rely heavily on tourism for income were hit hard by recent bushfires and have not been able to recover due to severe drops in travel resulting from COVID-19 (Carruthers, 2020; Patterson, 2020; Hennessy, 2020). Expanding into digital offerings would increase interest in the spaces, exhibitions, and artists, potentially driving up attendance when travel bans are lifted.
For a list of references, email The Q&A Portal
Dr Kathy Tannous
Senior Lecturer | Economics, Finance and Property, School of Business
Senior Research Fellow | Translational Health Research Institute
Western Sydney University