The inner west is a proudly creative community. Indeed, Inner West Council reports that creative and cultural industries inject $1.4 billion into the local economy each year. We have some of the highest concentrations of cultural sector employment in the country, with 6,500 people, or one in ten local residents, working in the creative and cultural sectors. We know that our local live music venues draw people from across the city, which drives our local economy and supports cafes, restaurants, small bars and retail stores. As a community, we value public art, we love our festivals and community arts, and we are passionate about supporting our local creatives and creative venues. But our local venues and cultural sector workers have never needed our help more. Grassroots venues are venues run by music or arts experts that take risks in artistic programming and networking with other venues, which is a key generator of night-time economic activity. The inner west is full of them, including the Factory Theatre, Lazybones, the Great Club, Camelot Lounge, Gasoline Pony and Butcher's Brew Bar. They have all been particularly susceptible to the pandemic.
Grassroots venues across the city first struggled under the Government's lockout laws. They have then had to lurch through the past two years of lockdowns, struggling to support staff and artists, while maintaining community safety. They were among the first businesses to close and the last to reopen, with devastating impacts on venues and the artists themselves. To give a sense of the scale of the impact of the lockdowns, the I Lost My Gig survey identifies that over 32,000 gigs were cancelled across Australia between July and November last year alone. That is 32,000 lost opportunities for artists and musicians, promoters, sound and lighting engineers, ticketing and administration staff, hospitality workers and security guards to earn a living.
Then, just as venues were getting back on their feet at the end of last year, Omicron hit, bringing a raft of new challenges. While they were not required to close, many suffered the effects of the "shadow lockdown." Venues had to contend with dwindling audiences, cancellations from acts as band members fell ill or were designated close contacts, staffing pressures as the virus spread, specific restrictions on singing and dancing, and of course, all the regular pressures of running a small business. The usually busy Christmas and summer period should have been a boom for these venues, which desperately needed business following the long periods of lockdown last year. Sadly, it has been a total bust. Earlier this year, Craig Peterson from Lazybones toldThe Sydney Morning Herald that he felt his business was being treated as "collateral damage." He said, "Why would any business say: 'I'm open now, but by the way, I've got no staff. I'm open, but no‑one's coming.' Why would you be in business?"
Craig closed his doors for all of January. Tragically, in the past month alone, we have seen three venues across the inner west shut their doors for good: The Old 505 Theatre in Newtown, the Lansdowne Hotel, and the Giant Dwarf. These were established, beloved and highly reputable venues where countless artists have cut their teeth, shared their work and spellbound their audiences. These were venues run by experienced, resilient operators who had guided their businesses through the worst of the first outbreak and the Delta wave. They had overcome obstacle after obstacle to establish their venues and keep the doors open no matter what was thrown at them. The fact that these venues have closed shows just how critical the crisis has become for grassroots venues across Sydney and New South Wales. It shows just how quickly we need to act. We need targeted financial and regulatory support to carry venues through. The New South Wales Government announced a $43 million package for festivals and the events sector, and its latest business package specifically singled out performing arts companies as needing support.
That is a good start, but more must be done to make sure that funding is getting to the venues that need it most and that financial support is flowing through to workers, artists and musicians themselves. As any grassroots venue operator will tell you, the financial support on offer from the Government to date has not touched the sides. It has only helped them to scrape through the first wave of the pandemic. Our local creative industries and venues need much more than the too‑little, too‑late approach that we have had so far. They need a Government that values them and the contribution they make to our local economies and to the vitality and wellbeing of our communities. They need a Government that will stand up and act with courage in their interests.