Innovation key to Helpmann Academy’s COVID-19 response

The creative industries have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. For South Australian-based organisation Helpmann Academy, the pandemic acted as a catalyst to redefine their offerings, so that they remain responsive to the evolving needs of creatives.

Helpmann Academy’s Olivia Power says that the pandemic made it difficult for the organisation to offer some of the regular line-up of programs, such as international residencies.

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 in 2020.”

Olivia says that in response to the necessary but restrictive government directives, Helpmann needed to be agile and innovative in their redirection of funding to 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 ahead as planned,” Olivia says.

“Working with that donor, we then created the online 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 provided over $13,000 in funding for emerging filmmakers and amassed more than 54K views online.

According to Olivia, 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 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.”

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

“They’re always going to need funding, but we’re always listening and trying to adapt and 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 once again enlisted the Square Holes to provide insight into the attitudes and career outcomes of their graduates – in a partnership that has been running since 2006.  

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.

“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.”

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.”

“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.


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)

Olivia says in an ideal world, success for Helpmann Academy would mean there is less need for the organisation, as their ethos centres around creative practitioners thriving 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.

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