Interview: Actors & Entertainers Benevolent Fund of Queensland President Michael Balk on supporting the arts industry; “Right now we need people to help the people that usually help everyone else”

During COVID-19 the Actors & Entertainers Benevolent Fund of Queensland received an unprecedented number of calls for help, with requests for assistance increasing by 720% since March 2020. Despite being the most difficult year in the Fund’s 46 years history, the charity was able to meet each and every single request for assistance from people experiencing crisis.

The majority of the support provided was financial, with most applicants unable to meet the costs associated with basic living; medical bills, food and shelter.  In addition, mental health, legal, financial and medical referrals were sought and the Fund also provided countless Queensland performing arts professionals with food vouchers and access to free influenza immunisation.

The last twelve months also saw a record number of donors line up to support the Fund; audiences and the wider community rallied around the thousands of at risk arts workers, heavily impacted by the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

Michael Balk, previously the Vice-President of the Fund, has been appointed the role of President under new Patron of charity, Tim Fairfax AC.  As the arts industry continues to fight the impacts of the pandemic, our own Peter Gray spoke with Michael about his new role, asking how people can support such a fund as the ABFQLD.

Anything that supports the arts industry is something we absolutely love to get behind.  With the Actors & Entertainers Benevolent Fund of Queensland, you don’t have to just be an actor to be involved, do you?

No.  We are known as the Actors & Entertainers Benevolent Fund, and historically it has been for actors, but we’re very proud in Queensland that we support all arts professionals in a crisis.

The fact that you have an acting background, do you think that has helped in being able to talk about the fund and its benefits?

Yeah, I think being in the industry helps in being able to talk about the importance of the membership.  Quite honestly, I don’t know who people think we support, but if you’re a performing artist, if you work in the performing arts, than you are able to access that help when and if you need it.  Everyone who is in the sector in Queensland should support the Benevolent Fund.  You never know what’s around the corner.  We have supported up-and-coming artists and supported household names who have had exemplary careers, because even they aren’t immune to crisis.

In some ways the pandemic could be seen as “the rainy day” that this Fund would be being saved for?

That’s it, yes.  The Fund was established in 1975 and looking back over the records we have had a couple of abnormal years.  The 2011-2012 floods was a really extreme year, because obviously people in Brisbane were effected by that, but since 1975, COVID-19 has been the biggest, single event in the history of our charity.

Mental health has been a subject that’s become more prevalent lately.  How is the fund helping in that regard?

We offer a lot of referrals for mental health.  We don’t have anyone on staff that specifically helps with that, but something that we’ve learnt throughout the years regarding mental health is having connection to your community.  It’s not always about financial support.  Sometimes it’s just about inviting people and providing access to the community.

I think people are forgetting that they are consuming more media than ever during these lockdowns and they have to remember that in order to be entertained, there has to be a support given to the very people entertaining them.  What can people do to support the fund itself?

Before I answer that question I do want to say how interesting a comment that is, because you are right.  More people than ever before have been consuming digital media and have been feeling the consequences of no live events.  They’ve never experienced that before.  You look at other crises, like the drought, and you have performers who line up on the front line for these fundraisers, often free of charge, and they raise money and awareness for every crisis, whether it’s a bushfire or a flood or AIDS.  Right now we need people to help the people that usually help everyone else.

To your question, what can people do to help? They can donate directly on a weekly basis or a one-off basis.  The other thing they can do is support the arts.  They can become subscribers to any local company.  They can pay – in some way – to employ an artist.  Go see a show, go see a movie (in the cinema), but more specifically, if they wanted to help the Benevolent Fund, they can make a donation which is 100% tax deductible.  We are a volunteer organisation, which means that apart from the necessity bills like phone and internet, 100% of the remaining funds are redirected to the people that need it the most.  We’re very proud of that.

For further information about the fund, you can visit the official ABFQLD website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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