Australian Artists On The Cost Of Living Crisis

Ginger Taylor is a Melbourne/Naarm-based artist and illustrator who has been working full-time in her practice for the past seven years, although she still finds it difficult to accurately describe it. “One day I’ll be making a Playgirl-style oil painting, and then the next day it’ll be a hot dog riding a hot dog,” she says, laughing. Whatever they are exactly, Taylor’s kitsch 1950s Americana-inspired pieces have drawn attention and earned her steady commercial success, particularly through her online store, She says one Dolly Parton T-shirt she designed in 2017 reliably sold between 50 and 100 units every month — until last year, that is, when the flow of orders dwindled to a trickle and then dried up completely.

Taylor says the current cost-of-living crisis has undeniably taken its toll on artists. “I can’t really put it down to anything else. I think people really do just need to be holding onto their pennies because the cost of living is so high.” Taylor has been forced to reassess her business model and recently made the heart-wrenching decision to close her online store.

She is far from the only artist in the small business community who has found it untenable to continue operating stores. “If you go on Facebook Marketplace and you type in ‘small business setup’ or ‘market stalls’, they come for so cheap. You can just see everybody’s dropping off and deciding to go in different directions. It’s just not possible to keep going if nobody’s spending money on artwork.”

Australia’s arts industry has struggled profoundly in the past four years. The pandemic had an immediate and catastrophic effect on live events and cultural spaces across the country. Within five days of the global pandemic being declared in March 2020, an estimated 20,000 work opportunities were cancelled. In May 2022, The Guardian reported that between February 2020 and November 2021, creative professionals’ income losses totalled $417.2 million.

Australia creatives faced massive losses during the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis has further fractured the industry. Image: Getty

Beyond the decimation of direct sources of income, artists’ struggles were compounded by the loss of casual jobs in the hospitality industry, as well as opportunities to earn money from talks, residencies, royalties and sponsorships.

While 2023 saw some rebuilding of engagement with live events and the arts, the cost-of-living crisis has only brought another wave of misery. Inflation has, of course, had far-reaching effects for most Australians. Rents have increased at the fastest rate since 2007 during the global financial crisis, home ownership has become little more than an abstract dream as median house prices have soared to nine times the average annual income (three times the average income is deemed ‘affordable’ on a global scale), and the costs of basics such as groceries have increased.

You can see everybody’s dropping off and deciding to go in different directions.


But for the arts, a vulnerable industry blighted by the pandemic, the pain has been unending. Audiences and collectors are apprehensive about spending money on the arts, and the raw costs of being an artist — renting spaces and buying materials — have increased. Esther Anatolitis, editor of the Australian literary magazine Meanjin and honorary associate professor at RMIT, says that financial pressures have become a constant conversation, and that many in the community are questioning the viability of their artistic practices. “Artists are already some of our most precarious workers, so this is quite the double-whammy coming out of COVID,” she says.

For some, there have been moments of respite. Tattoo artist Levi actually saw a boom in business for the first six months after lockdowns. Her clients, those lucky enough to continue earning while they were trapped inside for weeks on end, had disposable income and weren’t yet able to spend it travelling. “It was this real sweet spot where we still couldn’t do that much, and tattooing felt like a really normal thing that you could do, that was still safe, and was somewhere to put your money if you had it,” Levi says.

However, it was only a brief flicker of hope for her business, which now seems to be largely extinguished. “Inflation started kicking in. The cost of living started getting quite high and tattooing is a luxury, so it was not really available to many people. It’s been fucking terrible,” she says. Four days of work per week have rapidly diminished to two or three, and there are consistent expenses associated with being a tattoo artist, including studio rent and raw materials. “I’m kind of just going week-by-week,” she says. “I’m putting everything I can into my business to try to make it more sustainable and to try and get more clients through the door. I think I’m kind of just getting by and hoping that works out.”

Across all cities, suburbs and regions, we need all local governments stepping up to make sure artists and audiences can still find one another in the places they call home.


There is a cruel irony in the way that artists have been rocked by these successive crises, considering their value in helping others navigate challenging periods. Taylor says it’s unfortunate that artists aren’t better supported, as she considers art “the first thing that people go to to make them feel better in hard times”. Tallying the destruction the pandemic wrought on the arts industry, the federal government noted the “need for creative experiences and the joy brought by participating in art was critical to people’s ability to endure the economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic”.

There have been some efforts to ensure the survival of Australia’s arts industry, including the federal government’s Revive policy, a five-year plan that aims to renew the sector by celebrating and supporting artists, providing support to institutions that sustain the arts, and recognising the crucial place of First Nations stories at the centre of Australia’s arts and culture. Anatolitis says the release of the plan in January last year was a welcome development, but it’s still early days. She would like to see local leaders stepping up in the same way. “Across all cities, suburbs and regions, we need all local governments stepping up to make sure artists and audiences can still find one another in the places they call home,” she says.

In the meantime, some artists are discovering novel ways to approach the crisis, from altering approaches to work to finding new strategies for budgeting or utilising cheaper recycled materials. Taylor says that in lieu of her store, she is moving to an online subscription model through which subscribers can receive content and pieces of artwork for a monthly payment. This means Taylor’s audience can support her work in a more continuous way, and she can focus on a tightly knit community rather than spending resources chasing a broader audience on social media.

However, Anatolitis notes that we can’t simply leave it up to the artists to overcome these issues, as their primary job is to continue making the work that “invigorates, moves and inspires us”. “It’s up to all of us to find those novel solutions – and support the artists who do so much to support us.”

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