Megan was in Paris on an arts residency when coronavirus hit. Now she’s reimagining her project from home
Artist Megan Walch was just two weeks into a months-long arts residency in the heart of Paris when coronavirus took hold of France.
- The arts sector has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has put a stop to exhibitions, productions and performances
- The Tasmanian Government has released $1.5 million in new funding for the state’s arts sector
- One Tasmanian arts organisation has agreed to pay parity to ensure its viability, meaning it will survive until at least October
“Everything was closing in Paris like a series of dominoes,” she said.
“I got to some of the key places I wanted to go to, and I ended up wandering the empty streets of Paris for two days with a camera, documenting what to me was an extraordinary time in that city.
“It was exhilarating and frightening, and it would oscillate between utter exhilaration and being quite nervous,” she said.
When France announced a nationwide lockdown, including the closure of all non-essential public locations, Walch faced being quarantined in her studio, away from family in a foreign country.
“It wasn’t the Paris I went there to work with and being forcibly removed from my family was not a good idea,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I physically boarded the plane that I thought I would get home.”
Upon her return, the painter spent two weeks in quarantine in her Hobart studio where she used her time to devise how best to continue with her original project — reimagining 18th century murals which depicted the French aristocracy as monkeys as contemporary wallpaper.
Being able to examine the murals in detail was important to the self-described visual learner.
“It is a question as to whether [the project] can be digitally translated or how, if at all,” Walch said.
It is a problem facing artists everywhere in the time of coronavirus: how best to reimagine and display their work.
Coronavirus decimates arts sector
Tasmania’s Government last month announced $1.5 million in new funding for artists and arts organisations whose work was cancelled, postponed or disrupted due to COVID-19.
This included the $500,000 Arts and Screen Digital Production Fund, aimed specifically at artists like Walch.
With a month before submissions close, three artists or arts organisations have already applied for funding under that program, while a further 22 applications are in progress.
State Growth deputy secretary of cultural and tourism industry development Jacqui Allen said the criteria were deliberately flexible to allow for innovation and collaboration.
“I think we needed some good news, to be honest,” Ms Allen said, acknowledging the devastating impact of the coronavirus on Tasmania’s broad arts community.
“We know Tasmania’s creative and cultural profile is really important for people here.
“It’s important for us to be sharing out stories, but it’s also going to be part of our strategy to get people to come back and visit Tasmania.”
Performers welcome much needed funding
Award-winning actress Marta Dusseldorp and acclaimed director husband Ben Winspear imagine a Tasmania where theatre is performed every night of the week.
Archipelago Productions, their stage and screen company, was among three groups scheduled to open Hobart’s new Studio Theatre with Angus Cerini’s play, The Bleeding Tree.
While the coronavirus pandemic has put this on hold, the pair said their company was pressing on with rehearsals by using Zoom to do readings and analysis, while taking time to recalibrate.
“I actually think it’s a really, really good time to inject a whole lots of funds into development because no-one’s shooting at the moment,” Dusseldorp said.
“So a lot of that money can be rerouted until the next financial year and really look to nurturing our writers, our creative minds, and get new works written.
“That’s a positive.”
“A lot of the artists we’ve employed are really part-time, casuals, contract workers. They are very susceptible to falling through the cracks. Funding projects can really help address that,” Winspear a former resident director with the Sydney Theatre Company, said.
Pay parity paves way for company’s survival
Staff at the acclaimed Big hART arts organisation, founded in Tasmania’s north-west and focused on working with disadvantaged communities, have agreed to pay parity to ensure the company’s survival.
All 20 employees are now paid just above the Government’s JobKeeper subsidy of $1,500 per fortnight.
According to co-founder and artistic director Scott Rankin, “it’s brought some people who are part-time up a bit and quite a lot of us down”.
But it means Big hART will survive until at least October, a relief for a group which usually thinks in weeks instead of months when it comes to viability.
“It’s okay maybe with [bigger companies] to [say] ‘OK, we’ll take a bit of a holiday or lay people off’, but if you work in very disadvantaged communities you have to be very careful with the way you treat participants in the projects,” Rankin said.
“In the end we can’t be part of another failure in the life of our constituents or the cohort we work with.”
Coronavirus set to ‘wipe out’ artists
Rankin said Big hART would also look to apply for various grants, but said more action from government was needed.
“If you listen to a podcast for a mental health, if you listen to music, if you get up and listen to Fran Kelly on the radio, if you put your feet on the floor and there’s a handmade rug, if you reach for a ceramic mug … that’s art, that culture is the lifeblood of who we are, it is us,” Rankin said.
“The people we entrust to ensure our children and grandchildren have great experiences and express themselves and have a sense of agency and empowerment, that is the work of the arts.”
Walch described the State Government’s funding as a much-needed “care package” for Tasmania’s arts sector and said she hoped to work with local company MadFinch Productions to tell the story of organisations affected by coronavirus.
“A lot of artists are working on low incomes, no incomes, and it’s going to wipe out a lot of practitioners,” she said.
“Artists are also fantastic at creative problem-solving, so if people can creative problem solve and embed their practices in other forms or function in Australia — easier said than done — that would be an ultimate goal.
“Artists are marginalised as luxury goods in Australia, they’re seen as superfluous, so maybe this is a huge recalibration for all of society.”