Tough road ahead for state’s arts operators
THE Queensland arts industry is fearful it won't make a full recovery for years due to COVID-19 as musicians, actors, and artists face the challenge of how to reopen.
With shows and performances cancelled due to the government enforced shutdown, art venue operators are now looking at social distancing measures like second seating and even temperature testing in a bid to increase audience confidence.
The sector is calling on the government to consider how arts venues can operate safely while saying they are often a forgotten industry amid COVID-19 talks.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra chief executive Craig Whitehead, who has seen the cancellation of two to three concerts per month and an estimated revenue loss of up to $3.5 million, said social distancing within a concert hall would not be financially viable but options needed to be considered.
Going to the bar and even the bathroom would also remain big questions of safety, with Mr Whitehead suggesting temperature testing could instil confidence in the audience.
"Looking at QPAC … if someone gets into their seat later than someone else and you have to walk past them, there goes the social distancing," he said.
"How do you then get everyone to social distance when they leave? There are bottlenecks in the stairs and lifts, so it would be a real challenge to do that. I would like for us to look at what the options are to return to normality safely and at the appropriate time and whether that's temperature testing to allow people to have the confidence to return."
But the silver lining from the pandemic has seen innovative new performance ideas and companies pivot to the digital realm in a bid to keep their audience engaged on multiple platforms.
Queensland Theatre artistic director Lee Lewis said the company was working with the council to consider outdoor shows at venues previously unavailable to theatre in addition to the possibility of a drive in theatre.
"Families can come in their cars and we'll figure out the technology of how to get the audio in their cars"," she said.
However Ms Lewis said the industry would not recover possibly until 2023 or 2024, and likened theatres reopening to the struggle restaurants were facing with high numbers of people in small areas.
"How can we financially operate with social distancing … how do we make sure it doesn't become so expensive that people can't afford to see it?" she said.
"I can run a theatre when only a quarter of the seats are available but they become really expensive seats and we want theatre to be accessible to everyone.
"We've got 50,000 employees than the coal mining industry. We're a huge part of the national economy … for some strange reason, politicians don't seem to acknowledge the importance of arts in the way they could."
Peter Sourris, who owns several cinemas around the southeast, said reopening was entirely dependent on the public and whether they felt safe returning to cinemas, whether that was with or without a vaccine for the virus.
It follows calls from state arts minister Leeanne Enoch who last week said the federal government should improve eligibility for Job Keeper payments to address the exclusion of many arts sector workers.
The State Government will begin talks this week with the hospitality industry and tourism sector as it works towards developing a road map to recovery, after the Premier described June as an "ambitious target" to reopen cafes.
LNP small business spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said a road map needed to be urgently unveiled, calling on the Government to give great clarity about how and when businesses could operate.
"The Premier is vaguely saying that sometime in June businesses that are restricted may be able to reopen, but that's not giving people hope," she said.
"It's giving them uncertainty when they need clarity about the reopening rules and timing."
When asked when businesses would be given firmer dates, Ms Palaszczuk said the National Cabinet would be looking at details this week.
But she insisted that work was "absolutely" under way.
"It is really important that once we have settled our plan for schools that now we can focus on our plan for Queensland's economic recovery," the Premier said.
"What I would be hoping that they (cafes and restaurants) would start formulating is COVID-safe plans."