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Features/Opinion/Multi-arts

Perth, it’s time to panic buy the arts

1 February 2022

Forget toilet paper. Forget instant noodles. There’s one staple that we’re overlooking in our shopping frenzy, says Claire Coleman.

Toilet paper stocks are again trending upwards. Dealers in such illicit goods as N95 masks and RATs are a closely guarded secret.

I’m not here to advise you to stock up; if anything, I favour the opposite.

But you know what might not be available in a couple of months? Tickets to the theatre. A quiet weeknight gig at your local bar. A spontaneous Saturday afternoon turn around the art gallery. That ballroom dancing class your partner keeps pestering you to take them to.

The time to panic buy the arts is now … because if we don’t, the arts might not make it to the other side of the Omicron wave.

For these, the time to panic buy is now.

And not just because the eventual and inevitable spread of Omicron in Western Australia might force a halt on live arts experiences, albeit briefer than 2020’s long lockdown.

More than simply indulging before possible near-future arts deprivation, we should all be panic buying the arts now to make sure there are any arts at all later.

Eking out a living in the arts is hard. Wages are lower than many other industries. Full-time jobs, with such luxuries as sick pay, are rare. Work is often seasonal or project-based, meaning there are periods of plenty and of famine. Those of us not living paycheck to paycheck usually have some other means of support – a non-arts side hustle, a well-off partner, a little emergency money we inherited and guard as if our lives depend on it (because they might … did I mention no sick pay?).

As a case in point: me. I’m a PhD qualified, experienced arts educator and performer who has been working in the field for 17 years. If I had taken and stayed in a full-time teaching job after my Bachelor qualification, as I originally intended to, I’d be on roughly double my current annual salary.

The purpose of this illustration is not to denigrate the work of teachers, who are also chronically underappreciated and underpaid. Nor is it to incite a pity party, so to any friends and family reading this: please do not offer me money. The point is to highlight that there is no fat with which your favourite local creative or theatre company or dance collective or gallery or music ensemble can weather a cold patch.

To exist, artists rely on audiences. We rely on you to go to the show or take the class or visit the exhibition. We thrive on your presence. We delight in you. Without your participation in the experiences we invent, there is no joy to inspire the next work. And without generating an income from our current works, there is no capacity to outlay the huge amounts of capital that will be required to stage the next show.

Go while you still can. Choose your level of risk; if you’re nervous, pick a short show, or something outdoors or well-ventilated or where you can choose your level of personal space. Just GO.

The time to panic buy the arts is now. Not just because the shows, exhibitions, concerts and classes you love might be scarce soon and that would be sad for you, but because if we don’t, the arts might not make it to the other side of the Omicron wave. And that would be a true community tragedy.

I know it might seem scary out there, and following health directives that keep the community safe is something we should all support. But the WA government has acted cautiously so far, putting restrictions in place to minimise the risk of contagion. They have no problem with Fringe World and Perth Festival proceeding, which means there are myriad shows to choose from virtually all the time for the next month. Bands are still gigging. Circus and dance and theatre are all happening.

Go while you still can. Choose your level of risk; if you’re nervous, pick a short show, or something outdoors or well-ventilated or where you can choose your level of personal space. Just GO.

Arts is the one thing you can panic-buy without having to worry that you are depriving someone else. Quite the opposite; by panic-buying the arts now, you guarantee a future where there is more for everyone.

Pictured top is Elise Wilson in a promotional image for Sian Murphy’s ‘Bite Me’, a comedy about a Steak, an Avocado and a Chilli living in a supermarket. ‘Bite Me’ premiered at Fringe World in 2020. Read Seesaw Mag’s Q&A with Sian Murphy about ‘Bite Me’. Photo: Andrew Mercer

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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