It's been 18 months since the pandemic ushered in a months-long statewide shutdown of live music venues, clubs, bars and restaurants. And ongoing restrictions continue to have a severe impact on the industry.
Under current restrictions, dancing is only permitted at private functions – not in clubs or bars or public events – and capped at 50 people on the floor at once. Standing up to drink is allowed at 50 per cent capacity (while sit-down consumption is back up to 75 per cent).
This week, a collective of Adelaide DJs, musicians, operators and event organisers released a petition calling on the state government to end the restrictions on their sector. Specifically, an immediate easing of restrictions on dancing and standing consumption for public activities while also allowing 75 per cent capacity indoors and 100 per cent capacity outdoors. At the time of publishing, it’s received 3500 signatures in just three days.
“The entertainment industry of South Australia is currently decimated, and on its knees – both mentally and financially,” the petition reads. “We’re crying out for the government to grant us fair and responsible management of, what is now, a dying industry, in a state that prophesies its place as ‘The Festival State’, and as a city that boasts its designation as a UNESCO City of Music.
“As most of the state’s residents have returned to a COVID-normal, we as an industry are still in a ‘lockdown’.
“We can’t wait months until the vaccination rollout is complete, we need action now as we come into our statistically busiest three months of the year from October to December.”
“Europe and America, after the fast roll out of their vaccinations, are basically back to normal but because our government was so slow to roll out our vaccines we are paying the price for their mistake,” Cope tells Broadsheet.
“You can dance in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania, but here because we are such a nanny state, you can’t.
“The government just see dancing as a hobby that people do, the same with live music, and they don’t realise people’s careers depend on this stuff. It’s hurting the economy, jobs and people’s mental health.”
In an industry suffering blow after blow from rolling lockdowns, event organisers are unable to book interstate or overseas acts due to travel restrictions. And crowd capacity limits mean even if they could get here, they won’t sell tickets like they used to.
Cope, who jokingly refers to his job as “cancelling and postponing agent”, has considered moving interstate or overseas so he can do his job.
“Everyone working in the industry is leaving … because the government has left us so stranded. Bands don’t want to play to seated shows with fewer people because it’s harder to sell tickets.”
While Cope fights for changes to restrictions, his employers, Craig Lock and Ross Osmon, are calling on the state government to save their businesses – music venue Lion Arts Factory, and promoters Five Four Entertainment (behind St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and Spin Off Festival) and Plus One Co – with a five-year lease extension and a grant of $500,000 to help pay wages and absorb ongoing financial losses. Their online petition, released on Thursday, had already received 9385 of a desired 10,000 signatures 24 hours in.
“At this moment in time, two of these businesses, Five Four Entertainment and Lion Arts Factory, are six months or less away from bankruptcy and closing,” the petition reads. “Plus One Co has managed to survive by running events in other states that have more favourable restrictions in place such as WA, TAS and QLD.
“Had funding levels and/or restrictions been adequate and in line with our interstate counterparts, we would not be calling for support at this time.”
Cope points to a distinct lack of federal government support for the music and events industry. The federal government has spent $4.5 billion propping up airlines during the pandemic. Another round of airline assistance, costing $100 million, was announced in August.
By comparison, the federal government earmarked $195 million for its Rise program, which provides grants to artists, tour promoters and festivals to help stage events.
On a state level, the NSW government threw the industry a $75 million lifeline, while the SA government managed $3 million.
SA chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier explained the reasoning behind the public health advice back in February. “If I stood here and did a bit of dancing, I’m at no more risk to you than standing here and talking. It’s when you get a large number of people in a poorly ventilated small room and they are all dancing together. We know this is the set-up for super spreading.”