’Silence’: Festival support goes missing

Festival organisers were promised immediate cash support for cancelled gigs in 2022 – but nobody can say where the money is.

As the festival season descends into another disappointment, furious industry figures have questioned what happened to public funding meant to cushion them from Covid cancellations.

The “Event Saver Fund” was announced by the NSW government last year, with a promise to provide immediate support to organisers if events are cancelled or disrupted by any public health orders during the 2021-22 summer.

Two weeks into the new year, that scenario has become reality for several NSW festivals.

The organisers behind several cancelled events – and promoters of upcoming ones that now hang in the balance – have contacted the government to ask about the money.

But the government still won’t say how much money has been committed to the fund or how much each event could get.

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“Details of our Event Saver Fund will be announced soon,” a government spokeswoman said on Friday.

One of the doomed events, Grapevine Gathering in the Hunter Valley, was supposed to happen on Saturday but was cancelled this week after new restrictions were brought in banning singing and dancing at outdoor events.

The health order signed by chief health officer Kerry Chant said it was specifically designed to curtail music festivals.

Grapevine attendees and bands were given just four days’ notice and the promoters claim the Hunter Valley region is in for a $5.2 million blow.

Other cancelled events include the King Street Carnival and Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Footage of maskless people dancing and singing to pop music at a Hillsong youth camp has infuriated those whose events were cancelled.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Friday he was “incredibly disappointed” by the public health order breach committed by Hillsong.

Mr Perrottet also said he understood the frustrations of those forced to cancel events and promised financial support.

“Over the last 12 months where there’s been a substantial impact on festivals we’ve provided that financial support to help get them through, and we will do the same again,” he said.

“I know the Treasurer and the teams are working very closely on it.”

Hillsong said in a statement it wished to apologise to the community and said it had moved to stop singing and dancing at the camp.

When Event Saver was announced in October, no dollar amount was set, and little information is available on how the fund will work.

Create NSW, which manages the fund, has asked promoters to email the government agency for more information.

“I cannot understand the delay,” opposition music spokesman John Graham told NCA NewsWire.

“Despite the promise of immediate help, we now have radio silence.”

Yolngu surf rockers King Stingray were gearing up to play at Grapevine before the shock cancellation was announced.

Guitarist Roy Kellaway said two years of cancelled gigs and constant uncertainty was exhausting.

“My heart goes out to everyone affected by the ever-changing COVID-19 environment,” he said.

“It's so exhausting. It requires a whole new level of resilience.”

The Australian Festival Association (AFA) says a typical medium-sized event costs about $1 million to organise.

“Up until late last year the types of funding that were being received by festival organisers (around Australia) were $5000 or $10,000 grants,” spokeswoman Julia Robinson said.

“Those grants don‘t go very far to recoup the millions of dollars being lost.”

The AFA has joined other industry bodies calling for a national insurance scheme to be set up to protect organisers from losses caused by pandemic restrictions.

But federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher does not think that would be a good idea.

Mr Fletcher argues that since lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions are imposed by the states, they should be in charge of underwriting events as well.

Victoria has taken on that responsibility, launching an insurance scheme last November that would insure events against coronavirus cancellations or reduced capacity.

The $230 million scheme will run for 12 months.

NSW opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord said it was time for the state government to follow suit and launch its own insurance policy for gigs.

“Why are we still waiting for this? It is time the new arts minister acted,“ he said.

King Stingray’s Kellaway said he expected things to continue to be volatile and that he wasn’t about to quit his day job just yet.

“What a scene – it's almost like if a gig goes ahead it’s a miracle, and it makes you even more grateful that it happened,” he said.

“I'm just so thankful to have another job outside of music, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to survive.

“I have so much to be thankful for and as the world tries to manage this dreadful pandemic, I‘m just so thankful for what I have.”

Originally published as Question marks surround promised fund for cancelled NSW festivals

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