“Back to square one”: Why this Melbourne art startup is shifting its focus elsewhere amid second COVID-19 lockdown

book an artist

book an artist founder Gaurav Kawar. Source: supplied.

Gaurav Kawar’s street art platform, Book an Artist, has been responsible for murals and installations across Melbourne in recent years, but it’s going to be a while before his team makes any further creative contributions to Australia’s cultural capital.

After Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a second COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne on Tuesday, Kawar has had clients putting jobs on hold and cancelling projects across metropolitan Melbourne.

For the next six weeks very little will happen across Melbourne’s once vibrant cityscape, with thousands of businesses plunged back into the darkest days of the coronavirus crisis in March and April.

“Last month, our bookings started picking back up to pre-COVID levels and now we are back to square one,” Kawar tells SmartCompany.

“Painting murals is not something that our artists can do from home, unlike a lot of other occupations.”

Founders like Kawar are already getting busy to mitigate the downsides and make the most of whatever opportunities they can find.

Book an Artist helps connect local artists around Australia with those looking to commission various forms of street art for their businesses or construction projects. Its previous clients include WeWork and Netflix.

But for Kawar’s five employees, two of whom are based out of the country, Melbourne’s latest health developments have necessitated some quick thinking.

With Melbourne now in lockdown, the company is having to shift its investment to other markets.

“[We’re] quickly reinvesting marketing budget — Google ads and email marketing — from Melbourne to Sydney, Brisbane and Perth,” Kawar says.

“As the rest of Australia, excluding Melbourne, is now opening up, we will be trying to make up sales in other states.”

Industry focus is changing too. The pandemic has decimated Australia’s hospitality industry, and cafes and restaurants across the country are now much less viable prospects for the startup.

Instead, the construction sector is filling the gaps.

“[The] construction industry is less impacted by COVID-19, as compared to hospitality, and there is a massive potential for us to provide mural artwork in large infrastructure projects like upcoming apartment buildings,” Kawar says.

“Another sales alternative we are looking to validate is partnering with wallpaper companies and supplying designs for wallpaper in return for royalty for our artists.”

Amid ongoing debate about the type of financial support that will be offered to Melbourne businesses from the federal and state governments over the next few months, Kawar says it would help his business if JobKeeper was extended to temporary residents he employs.

“It has been difficult trying to support full-time employees with no government assistance in these difficult times. We would love to see the state government taking steps to help support businesses who hire non-resident employees who pay their fair share of taxes,” he says.

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