A reflection on the Art Work series, and what we learnt from the artists we met.
For Art Work, we interviewed 10 artists across the motu. Our current poet laureate, choreographers, crocheters, multi-disciplinary artists and musicians shared their stories of what it takes to make work in Aotearoa in the current day. They gave us a rare insight into the process, and a rare look into their living and workspaces to demystify what it is to make art.
Those ten artists taught us many things about the way they work, and the wells they draw from to create that work. From the beauty of “cloaking” to the pleasure of taking a morning swim, the roads that these artists travel to bring their creations to us are as varied as their art. All of them, however, mentioned the importance of structure. Whether that is a regimented schedule, a job that allows them scope to create, or the whanau around them, that structure is more than just a frame. It’s support.
They also shared what would make it easier for them to make their art. That’s not to say that the mahi needs to be easier, but the barriers between them and getting to actually create could be lessened. A high trust model from funding bodies, a less metrocentric lens from those same funding bodies, a more robust investment in arts education at all levels were all mentioned.
Policy change, however, is also vital. We all live under the spectre of government policies, and artists are no different. In this election, only three parties – Act, Greens, and Labour – had visible arts policies. There are a number of artist-led groups advocating and campaigning for arts policies at this time, including Arts Makers Aotearoa, Arts Action Now, D.A.M.N, Artists Make Auckland, Te Taumata Toi Iwi, and Action Station Aotearoa.
“We are just one group amongst a number of arts groups who are advocating and campaigning for arts rights at this time,” says Judy Darragh on behalf of Arts Makers Aotearoa. “We’re all very aware of the potential dangers we faced through this election, but it’s really heartening to see that there is action and solidarity from these groups.”
Arts Makers Aotearoa in particular have been working with the Regional Arts Network Aotearoa and Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi on the Arts Action Now platform, holding wānanga with the arts community in order to dream up an Aotearoa Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy. These discussions will play a crucial role in shaping a sector briefing for the next minister for arts and culture and any other relevant ministry.
The systems that are currently in place overseas are not out of reach for New Zealand. We can see Ireland’s basic income scheme for artists, New York’s project to rebuild the city for artists, and closer to home, the new Australian cultural policy that centres the rights of artists. Similar pathways can be built here (and the recent passing of the Resale Royalty Bill shows that it’s nowhere close to impossible), but it takes more than just artists to advocate for themselves. Audiences have to as well.
“It’s wonderful to see Australia establishing an agency to look after artists’ rights. There is much in the Revive policy we can look to”, says Stephen Wainwright, chief executive of Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa. “Our government has made steps towards artists protections too – including the artist resale royalty scheme – but as a country we need to go further than this. Our research shows that artists continue to earn much less than the median salary for their creative work, meaning career sustainability is incredibly challenging.
New Zealanders support arts, culture and creativity more than ever. They see the positive impacts in their communities every day – on health and wellbeing, building vibrant and connected places to live, supporting their identity, and so much more. Creative New Zealand supports moving away from an idea of artists being resilient and trying to get on with things and shifting towards valuing artists’ intellectual property and supporting them in more meaningful and sustainable ways, so that we make steps towards an Aotearoa where arts, culture and creativity truly thrives.”
The stories these artists shared with us backs up, for better and for worse, the research carried out by Kantar Public on behalf of Creative New Zealand and NZ on Air. Although most of the interviewees work exclusively in the creative sector, many of them are juggling multiple jobs within that sector to make ends meet. Some worked far more than the standard 40 hour week, and others found their domestic responsibilities were barriers to their ability to carve out time to create.
Throughout Art Work, however, the big takeaway has been how important it is to value art, and the artists who make it. Value is an action, one that can be taken in many ways. To pay someone fairly for their mahi is valuing them. To engage with a piece of art honestly, and openly, is to value it. To share love for an art form, in an educational or social context, is to value it. To advocate to local MPs, politicians and decision makers about why art is important to you, is to value it. There is no time more important than the present, in the first 100 days after the election, to do this. Elected officials know that art matters to artists. They need to know its value to audiences.
Put simply: When you value something, you show how important it is to you. If we, as a country, value art, we show how important it is to us.
Since the series started, the 10 artists profiled for the series have exhibited work nationally and internationally, toured their work to festivals across the world, won awards and, in general, made work happen. They are just a drop in the bucket of what our artists are achieving. With more government support and investment, that bucket could be an ocean.
An Aotearoa with a flourishing arts sector is an Aotearoa that is flourishing, full stop. When our people have access to arts, culture and creativity, it doesn’t just widen their lens and their ability to comprehend what is possible, it fills that lens with beauty, with richness, and with complexity. When the arts are present in the education system not as an optional, not a hobby, but a core part of life that can turn into a lifelong passion, or even a career, the country as a whole flourishes.
The arts sector is not an organ in the body, performing one function singularly. The arts sector is the lifeblood, flowing through everything we do. Our mental wellbeing, our economic vitality, our social connectivity – the arts play a crucial part in all of them.
This series started off by asking the reader to think about a painting in a gallery, and to consider all the steps it took to get that painting there. We’ll end it in a similar place. Whenever you listen to a piece of music, watch a piece of choreography, or see a piece of public art on your commute, think of all the work that went into creating it – and how much more beautiful, and vibrant, our country could be if we had more of it.
Our artists are already world-leading. Our arts sector can be too.