COVID-19 Impact on Cultural Industries - Comments Analysis

Jordan Gibbs

Jordan Gibbs, 28 May 2020

On 8 April, 2020 Culture Counts launched the first stage of its research to understand the impact of COVID-19 for cultural industries. We received 399 responses, with 97% of respondents from Australia. Respondents provided free text comments within the survey. We used a topic model to analyse and categorise the comments.

As part of our first organisational survey we asked respondents the following question: Are there any further comments that you would like to add about the adverse impact your organisation has felt due to COVID-19?

The data for this question was analysed to find out which topics were discussed and the proportion of responses that referenced key topics. Five topics that were identified included:

  • Adverse Impact on Staff
  • Major Programming and Events Cancelled
  • Lack of Government Support
  • Uncertainty
  • Pivoting to Online Programming
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The comments are a stark reminder of the effects that the cultural sector has felt during this crisis. We have provided a selection of the comments based on the topics modelled:

Adverse Impact on Staff (24% of Comments)

  • Until the ban is lifted there is no work to do and no income. Staff have been stood down and other staff have limited hours.
  • 96 casual staff out of work. All full and part time staff have reduced hours. Our venue has had to close - uncertainty about when venue can open and when events/productions can be scheduled.
  • Another major impact is the inability to offer consistent employment to staff, particularly technical and production professionals whom are vital for the delivery of shows and events in these venues.
  • Due to event closures and the closure of the borders we have lost the ability to hire artists, contractors, and freelancers to present the event. Over 150 artists will not be contracted due to event cancellation. Over 120 event staff will not be contracted due to event cancellation.
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Major Programming and Events Cancelled (23% of Comments)

  • Since the theatre was closed for the pandemic, our ticket sales have absolutely ground to a halt, even for shows scheduled in the last quarter of the year.
  • While events may be allowed to occur later this year, without the ability to rehearse in groups we will not be able to honour their bookings.
  • As a writer, a large part of my income comes from events. All my future events have been cancelled, including a large conference which would have paid a significant amount of my expected earnings.
  • We need help to cover our fixed costs to survive 2020. These smaller events will not be sufficient. We had no employee on the payroll in March 2020 to be eligible for the JobKeeper and we feel like most of our suppliers will also find it hard to survive the year.
  • Just starting off turning the venue around to be professionally run and build an audience with a program. Has turned into a false start and now the timeline of when it might actually all begin is unclear.
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Lack of Government Support (23% of Comments)

  • I work for local government and in their business continuity plan we are considered a non essential service (as actually most of the community services directorate is deemed..) and therefore our whole team are at risk of being completely stood down in the next month or so.
  • Massive loss of momentum and publicity that will require huge reinvestment to relaunch. No access to government support as project was privately debt funded. Potentially will set our business case back by 2 years.
  • What would really help is for the government to provide marketing grants to assist theatres with their reopening to get patrons back in and encourage them back to the theatre.
  • In our regional area we have been trying to build audiences for live entertainment/theatre, but all the good work will now be undone, compounded with a lack of support from Council.
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Uncertainty (15% of Comments)

  • Sense of despair, uncertainty and loss. With no definitive time frame our overseas tour is in limbo nor can we plan any future tours.
  • By the time things change and [Local Governments] deem us important enough to re-recruit, many of us may likely have moved on to other things in the new economy, or are no longer interested in working for local government. This means that there is likely to be a lack of creative individuals working within local governments all across Australia over the next 6-9 months who are able to support community through this period or plan creative recovery responses for the future and there is the potential for this pandemic to have long term effects on LG role in arts and cultural delivery.
  • The ongoing uncertainty about when the restrictions will be lifted creates a lot of stress when we are trying to reschedule etc. A lot of effort required to keep informed, plan, and then keep all stakeholders in the loop.
  • Programming future seasons are now uncertain and the companies are not planning for 2021 in these uncertain times - how will these artists and producers plan for next year - this will create a downturn in revenue for 2021 also.
  • As a venue - the uncertainty around social distancing and how long it will last is a key impact to our survival.
  • Staff stress, loss of revenue, loss of reserve funding, loss of business continuity, refunds, cancellations, uncertainty.
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Pivoting to Online Programming (15% of Comments)

  • We count online participation in our participation numbers. We have pivoted programs to online and had success in attracting audiences.
  • Our work relies on community interaction - artists from overseas, across Australia and locally, community partners and participants, funders and supporters. Whereas our program is currently on pause we anticipate that there will be a great need people will have to participate in our type of programs in the medium to longer future. We hope to be able to remain intact during this crisis.
  • We have moved from an annual 4 day full programme event (been running for 30+ years) to pivoting quickly to a 2 day online conference to try and offer a selection of education and content for the industry in a much more affordable way.
  • Losing community connections and participation. Library resources are under utilised however there has been a large increase in use of online resources.
  • We are having to completely re-design our in-person workshop program to be delivered remotely online.
  • As an online service supplier to the events industry we are missed in just about all funding opportunities. As we chose to redevelop our systems during the last 12 months we are unable to get grants as our turnover was low as only a few clients stayed with us... and our ability to fund artists is now none.
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Methodology

Topic modelling is used to discover hidden structures within a text source and was applied to the open text responses collected within the COVID-19 impact survey. The modelling drew clusters of words commonly shown within the responses to highlight each of the five topics drawn out here:

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Jordan Gibbs is the Client Director of Culture Counts.

Natasha Mian is a Client Manager at Culture Counts

Culture Counts is an online evaluation platform for measuring impact. You can find out more about Culture Counts or measuring impact at culturecounts.cc.

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