“Many of our smaller- to medium-sized companies simply do not have the financial resources to survive an extended shutdown period,” said chief executive Evelyn Richardson. “They may be lost to the industry forever.”
Esther Anatolitis, director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, said some artists would lose the equivalent of years of income.
NAVA has re-established the Artists’ Benevolent Fund and called on governments and philanthropists to pay out on all promised money even if the virus shutdown meant an artist could not complete or exhibit their work.
Anatolitis included insurers in that call. But communicable diseases and pandemics have long been excluded from standard cancellation insurance, said James Schubach, client manager for entertainment and leisure at Aon, a leading broker for event insurance in Australia.
“The insurers put in blanket exclusions to prevent massive losses,” Schubach said.
Until recently clients could buy an ‘extension’ to write disease cover back into their insurance.
“But it was reasonably hard to get and now it’s impossible,” he said. As coronavirus is a known risk insurers would not cover against it.
“Unfortunately a lot of our clients are looking at ways to figure out how to go forward, without jobs coming in,” he said.
Another broker, Simon Calabrese from Marsh insurance, said only “Olympics sized” events would normally bother buying back communicable disease cover, with most considering the extra peace of mind not worth the extra cost.
“Now [coronavirus] is a known risk it’s not covered,” he said. “We are getting a lot of inquiries from all over the country asking can we get cover… but it’s not coverable under a new policy.”
Cancellation insurance cover has already been in crisis around the world, with premiums rising quickly in recent years due to bushfires, flooding and haze.
Robyn Ayres, CEO of the Arts Law Centre of Australia, said the usefulness of insurance in the face of coronavirus came down to fine print in policies, and encouraged smaller performing arts organisations to contact them for pro bono legal assistance.
Similarly, the obligation on a company to offer a refund on a purchased ticket was also a matter of the fine print on a ticket – the terms and conditions that people rarely read.
But Ayres said most companies were offering patrons three options: a refund, a postponement with a promise the ticket could be used at a rescheduled event, or the option to donate the ticket price to the company to help cover its losses.
She said some small companies were “sticking to the letter of the law” and refusing to shut their doors, and in that case it might require a doctor’s certificate to require them to provide a refund.
Ayres added that arts workers were “really vulnerable”, with many working as casuals or on short-term contracts, with little or no sickness benefits.
In the case of being laid off they will end up relying on unemployment and welfare benefits, she said.
Anatolitis said there was an urgent need for a big government stimulus to the sector, supporting artists and arts workers who have lost work, or who need paid sick leave if they are victims of the virus.
The call was echoed by Live Performance Australia, which called for an “immediate and targeted package” to support the hundreds of performing arts and production companies and tens of thousands of people who will be impacted by the shutdown of events.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.