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How did the cards shake out at the arts election forum? (Image: Tina Tiller)
How did the cards shake out at the arts election forum? (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsSeptember 26, 2020

Creative differences: Labour, National and the Greens debate 2020 arts policy

How did the cards shake out at the arts election forum? (Image: Tina Tiller)
How did the cards shake out at the arts election forum? (Image: Tina Tiller)

On Thursday night, arts trust Te Taumata Toi-A-Iwi, in association with The Spinoff, hosted a pre-election forum on arts policy. Sam Brooks picks out the best moments.

A conversation about arts policy is never going to get quite the same number of eyeballs as, say, an episode of The Chase, but it can still be pretty riveting. Thursday night’s livestreamed conversation between Carmel Sepuloni (Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage), Jonathan Young (National’s spokesperson for ACH) and Chlöe Swarbrick (the Greens spokesperson for ACH) encompassed issues facing the arts community that I’d barely heard brought up by politicians before. As a result, it was more revealing of each party’s commitment to the arts than I expected.

Massive kudos to facilitator Mirama Kamo for holding the panelists to account whenever the panelists ran long, didn’t answer the question, or didn’t have any specific plans or policy, and for graciously handling Young’s dodgy internet connection. I’ve rounded up the key moments from the conversation, and what they revealed about where our political approach to the arts sector.

Labour’s arts policy is a Covid-19 response policy

One of the most notable omissions from our recent piece on arts policy, and a glaring omission on the Policy tool, is Labour’s arts policy for the election. Kamo questioned Sepuloni about Labour’s lack of policy, and Sepuloni’s response was simple: Labour’s arts policy for the upcoming election is their admittedly robust $175 million Covid-19 response package.

“The money has been invested and the sector told us what they needed for the next two, three or four years.”

Sepuloni also said there would no u-turn from this funding, and Young indicated that National would support the package if it won the election. If you want to know more about that $175 million response package for the arts sector, you can read all about it here.

A dirty open secret: lottery funding

A major focus of the conversation, initially raised by Swarbrick, was the reliance of the arts sector on lotteries funding. According to Swarbrick, the sector needs to have “deep and quite controversial discussions about extricating the inextricable links between lotteries funding and that which goes into other communities and into our arts”.

To explain a bit: The Department of Internal Affairs administers (read: gives) nearly half of all lottery profits to three statutory bodies: Creative New Zealand, Sport New Zealand, and the New Zealand Film Commission, under which comes Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

That a huge amount of our arts funding comes directly from gambling, be it from Lotto or the pokies, is a big issue. It means that communities that rely on lottery grants for creative projects are funded by an activity that causes a huge amount of harm to those same communities.

On Thursday, there Swarbrick argued that it wouldn’t be hard to de-aggregate that funding – and that this sort of ring fencing is something of an anomaly. Using lotteries profits as arts funding is no less arbitrary than, say, deciding profits from all apple sales will fund next year’s arts budget, she said. If that funding was de-aggregated, it’d go back into the general ‘pot’ of money, and erase the troubling link between the two. (Which wouldn’t solve the issue, of course, but it’s a start.)

There was general agreement that the lotteries/arts relationship was problematic. “We need to extricate the arts from funding models that create harm,” said Young.

However, Sepuloni pushed back a bit, arguing that while she was glad Swarbrick had brought the issue up, the Labour Party “wasn’t in a place to shift from that now and I’m not going to pretend we are”. She added that she doubted the issue was at the forefront of creatives’ minds during Covid-19. “They’re looking to survive through this period, put food on their tables for their families, practise what they are passionate about and live for.”

Installation view with works by Lisa Reihana and Rachael Rakena, Māori Moving Image, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Māoridom in the arts

Kamo referenced the TVNZ leaders debate and their utter lack of acknowledgment of Māori, and asked how each party would incorporate Māoridom into the arts.

Young said that National would put Māoridom at the centre of their arts policy. “It’s incredibly important, not just because of the uniqueness of Māoridom in our country and in the world but essentially because it is a very powerful form of expression that ought to be more acknowledged, celebrated and liberated. I think that it does give us an international point of difference but we ought o be incredibly centred and careful about how this acknowledged and celebrated and released in our country and particularly internationally.”

When pushed for a specific plan by Kamo, he referenced an announcement next week, so look out for that I guess!

Swarbrick and Sepuloni largely aligned, with Swarbrick arguing for a tikanga-based te ao Māori strategy within arts policy, and Sepuloni calling for ring fenced arts funding for Māori, so that Māori artists and organisations have better access to the opportunities created by funding bodies like Creative NZ and the NZ Film Commission.

It’s about long-term strategy, ultimately

Where all three spokespeople agreed is that there need to be long-term strategy for the arts sector. Not just a review, where recommendations can be implemented or ignored depending on who is in government, but a strategy that has buy-in from both the sector and the government, and then commitment to apply to it.

When asked if they would commit to establish an all-government taskforce on the arts, Sepuloni was “committed to exploring it”, Swarbrick was an enthusiastic yes, and Young hedged his bets, emphasising that it would be reliant on what ministries were considered relevant.

And their best arts experience?

A mixed bag!

Young chose Chosen and Beloved, a performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ at the NZ Festival.

Swarbrick, typically verbose, mentioned youth theatre festival Young and Hungry (inside scoop: she played a mute photographer in Jo Randerson’s Cow, part of the 2011 festival), and Auckland festivals The Other’s Way and Art in the Dark. But she settled on First Thursdays, a creative festival held monthly on Auckland’s K’ Rd.

Sepuloni chose the opening of the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, with her favourite moments including marching alongside Māori and Pacific leaders through London, and seeing each group bless the works in the exhibition before it opened to the public.

Shaping the Future of the Arts, Culture and Creative Sector: a pre-election forum with Carmel Sepuloni, Jonathan Young and Chlöe Swarbrick. Watch here.

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