COVID-19 sparks creative change for Helpmann Academy

Life as an emerging artist is often hard. In many ways the challenges of 2020 aren't new. Yet, as the dark clouds of 2020 came rolling in, Helpmann Academy dug deep into its innovative soul to create a suite of grants, and other bridges to ensure our best and brightest artists survive and ultimately thrive.

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Along with the tourism industry, the creative industries has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. For South Australian-based Helpmann Academy, the pandemic drives the organisations need for creative change.

Helpmann Academy’s Olivia Power says the organisation working to support emerging South Australian creatives had difficulty offering their regular line-up of programs in a COVID-safe way. 

“Very early on in the year it became apparent that a lot of the things that we support people to do, weren’t going to be possible,” Olivia says.

“We provide opportunities such as grants, fellowships, residencies, mentorship, and a series of professional development seminars.

“Some of the impactful things we do is we send creatives overseas, in all these amazing residences and that’s popular.

“Of course, none of the overseas residencies could happen this year.”

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Considering what they couldn’t do, in the chaos of 2020, Helpmann Academy saw the need for creative change.

Olivia says the organisation’s success this year is a result of a vital redirection of funds into more pandemic-specific opportunities.

“We had some funding from a very generous donor to offer a film award this year – but obviously that couldn’t go as planned,” Olivia says.

“Working with that donor, we then created the Home Alone Film Fest and basically we asked filmmakers to respond to the theme “Creativity in Isolation”.

“It was really successful, and everybody loved it,” Olivia says. 

The Home Alone Film Fest entries now collectively have more than 50,000 views on social media.

For Helpmann Academy, Olivia says pandemic-driven innovation continues to be a driving factor in the organisation’s success in supporting creatives.

“This year we took our normal funding program and we created the creative stimulus grant scheme,” Olivia says. 

“We also introduced the creative innovator program, which is a six-month program that starts next year.

“It’s an incubator program providing small business skills such as strategic planning, budgeting, marketing with business mentors and creative mentors.

“These are all things we’ve never done before.”

However, this isn’t the first time Helpmann shows just how far innovation can go, as the organisation enables universities across South Australia to work in cohesion rather than competition, ensuring positive career outcomes for emerging creatives.

“We want to support artists to not only realise their creative visons, but also support them to turn that into a viable practice.”

Helpmann Academy’s innovation as a result of COVID-19 is something which Olivia believes highlights how varying the creative industry is in general.

“The needs of creatives change all the time,” Olivia says.

“They’re always are going to need funding, but we’re always listening and trying to adapt and trying to service the needs of the creatives that we support.

“We need to do that, so we remain relevant and so that we’re really helping artists achieve what they want to do.”

In a bid to further understand the needs of the creatives they support, Helpmann continued to work with Square Holes, a research partnership starting back in 2016, to gain insight into the attitudes and career outcomes of their graduates.

Square Holes also found 88 per-cent of Helpmann Academy’s financially-backed creatives found the organisation to be either extremely helpful or helpful in furthering their career in the creative industries.

The research found although the creative industries has earnt itself a reputation of being lonely and otherwise difficult to navigate, Helpmann Academy provides creatives with the confidence they need to succeed.

Steven Bellosguardo (recipient of the Hilton Adelaide Emerging Artist Commission) at his home studio. (Photo by Olivia Power)

Square Holes Founder and Managing Director, Jason Dunstone, sees the importance in supporting and sponsoring Helpmann Academy due to the unique services it offers to South Australian creatives.

“Our research working with Helpmann over the past few years has been quite fascinating,” Jason says.

“It reveals the creative and entrepreneurial complexity emerging artists need to navigate in order to survive – creating a product, collaboration and money.

“Without the unique support of Helpmann many of our best and brightest artists likely would not survive or achieve the level of national and international success we have observed in the research.”

Olivia believes such insights from Square Holes– including findings indicating the importance of creatives being given the confidence to be more entrepreneurial – is vital in measuring the value in the Helpmann Academy’s support to emerging creatives.

Research for Helpmann Academy found 88% of graduates found the organisation helpful.(Square Holes, 2019)

“Not only has it given us insight into the people that we’re helping, but it also helps us to measure the value of our services.

“We’ve now taken inspiration from start-up programs so the people who are successful in applying with us work closely every six months on how to build a creative business.

“The Square Holes research really enabled us to articulate our value using some really great statistics about who’s received funding, who’s employed, who started their own business and the effects on their confidence that the support they’ve received from us and had.

“It’s just invaluable.”

As a way to further its impact on the creative industries, Helpmann Academy also actions much of the criteria in the Department of innovation and Skills’ Creative Industry Strategy.

“We need to do that, so we remain relevant and so that we’re really helping artists achieve what they want to do.”

The strategy sets out three priority action areas: accelerating industry growth, forging a collective identity and strengthening skills, and career pathways.

Olivia says the Helpmann Academy achieves this through support programs, innovation and its drive to build creative businesses.

“We know that creative pathways graduates know what they want to do creatively, but they don’t really know how to make it sustainable financially.

“We want to support artists to not only realise their creative visons, but also support them to turn that into a viable practice.”

“Our vision is that, that artists will be valued and celebrated as essential contributors to the state and to not only the culture of the state, but also the economy of the state,” Olivia says.

Olivia says the role the Helpmann Academy plays in improving the creative industries, most importantly through their response to the challenges of 2020, calls for more recognition.

“We’re addressing those critical needs regarding the skills you don’t learn at uni, plus things like mental wellbeing,” Olivia says.

“We’re really supporting people to do creative practices and there’s only four of us.”

Lachlan Barnett (received a Creative Development Fund grant to develop his puppet led web-series ‘Flora’s Fauna’) with his puppet, Flora. (Photo by Olivia Power)

Despite a lack of recognition, Olivia outlines the importance creative industries play in society, especially when people have found themselves at home and unintentionally immersing in the products of creatives throughout the pandemic.

“Particularly this year, it’s been really apparent that people need the arts to feel good,” Olivia says.  

“What people have been doing this year is listening to music or, even watching movies, or, you know, enjoying art in the comfort of their own home.

“I think sometimes people take it for granted what it takes to actually create things.”

Olivia says in an ideal world, success for Helpmann Academy would mean there is less need for the organisation, as they hope to see creative practitioners thrive without assistance – much like workers in other industries.

“Our vision is that, that artists will be valued and celebrated as essential contributors to the state and to not only the culture of the state, but also the economy of the state,” Olivia says.

“They’re so important for so many reasons and we feel that they’re essential to a functioning society.”

You can find more about The Helpmann Academy and how you can help here …

You may also enjoy this interview Jason did with Helpmann supported artist Olivia Dryden.

Olivia Dryden, Beautiful life after death

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