Australia

The Sydney venues that you know and love are dying

As we get used to living with a pandemic, much of what we enjoy in this city, that enriches our lives and entertains us, is at risk of disappearing.

If we don't act fast, the places where you found love, saw the best gig of your life and watched actors, musicians and artists perform before they were global stars will be gone.

Live performance venues are about to go to the wall.

Live performance venues are about to go to the wall.

We now have a choice. We can choose to keep Sydney's rich cultural life, or we can let it silently disappear if urgent calls for SOS go unanswered.

The bulk of cultural activity on any given night is presented and produced in independently owned, and non-subsidised venues. NSW has just one Sydney Opera House, but there are hundreds of small live music venues, theatres, bars or larger commercial venues across the state.They are the lifeblood of the industry, and the ecosystem that drives the development and presentation of world-class art.

They exist without government support, against a framework of red tape.

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Funding programs commonly exclude this part of the cultural economy. The long-standing approach of the NSW government is to only invest in not-for-profit cultural organisations. But this has created an environment that does not support innovation and business acumen.

This perpetuates a funding cycle that disproportionally distributes government arts and cultural funding to a small percentage of companies. Pre-COVID-19, we acknowledged these realities and continued to do what we did out of passion and a driving need to contribute to our cities.

But cultural venues are now accruing levels of debt never seen before, are unable to open viably and facing complete destruction.

Data from our industry indicates that more than 85 per cent of these venues will close permanently within six months without government support. This is not only an economic problem, it is a social and cultural one.

Think of venues like the Enmore Theatre, or my own live music venue 505. Think of the artists honing their skills on these stages, the workers who earn a living from this activity - and the audiences having the time of their lives.

The goals of the government's new 24-hour Economy Strategy are on point, but they will not be achieved if we do not support our venues and creative industries through the COVID-19 crisis.

Our sector invests to make life better. We run on passion not profits. We can no longer bolster the cultural capital of this city alone, and we certainly can't get through the COVID crisis unassisted.

Kerri Glasscock is co-founder of Venue 505 and the Old 505 Theatre, chief executive and festival director of the Sydney Fringe, deputy chair of the Night Time Industries Association and co-chair of the City of Sydney's nightlife and creative sector advisory committee.

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