Comedian Penny Ashton writes on the necessity of the arts, especially during lockdown.
On March 22, everyone’s favourite fiscal bloodhounds, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, sent out a tweet in response to Creative New Zealand’s announcement that it will dedicate an emergency response package to helping New Zealand’s artists, in the face of all our work disappearing like specials from the Countdown website.
I could go on about the words “taxpayers’ money” being two of the most useless words put together, just ahead of “ratepayers’ money”. That in fact they are all just synonyms for the operational expenditure that keeps New Zealand in hospitals, schools and America’s Cup bases. That isn’t it funny that supporting solo mothers is “taxpayers’ money” whereas the Covid-19 response is a “government-backed wage subsidy”.
I could even go on about how in the face of a global pandemic, capitalism is about as useful as a crocheted face mask, whereas socialism, also known as taxpayers’ money, is literally saving lives by paying for everyday essentials. (But not from The Warehouse.)
But I shan’t do that. I shall rise above.
Instead, with the whole nation in isolation – which I assume the TPU is doing too, as, you know, I don’t think they’re an essential service – I shall pose a question. A provocation if you will, because I am an art wanker after all.
Imagine these next few weeks in lockdown without the arts.
Terrifying, isn’t it?
You wake up in your bedroom that is painted the colour of boredom. No jaunty hues designed by Karen Walker, just the colour of dirt mixed with lint. Your duvet cover was once the same colour, but it is now the colour of urine from repeated washing.
There are no uplifting artworks on your walls, just framed A3 posters written in comic sans with sayings like “Personal responsibility is my boyfriend” and “Bootstraps are the lever to happiness”.
You pour your cereal from a cardboard box that simply says “carbohydrate of limited sustenance with excessive added sugar” and brew yourself a coffee as you contemplate just what the fuck you are going to do today.
You get dressed into your day pyjamas.
You flick through the NZ Herald, which is just a sea of bullet points. Endless facts and figures punctuated by columns braying about petrol taxes, bludgers and someone called Cindy.
You walk over to your bookshelf. No books are able to be judged as none have covers. They all just have their names written on their spines and are an array of self-help books, and one pile of utter bilge called The Art of the Deal.
You look at your CD collection, which is just all audio books of The Art of the Deal read by TikTokers.
Spotify is now all just podcasts. So many fucking podcasts called Hey Hey Hey, I’m Recording This in a Toilet, Comedy Guy has Opinions and Millennials! We’re Old Now!
You flick on the television and it’s just four wild-eyed presenters who have been locked in isolation. They have no make-up, their regrowth is appalling and they are all wearing bedsheets the colour of boredom/urine. They take turns desperately reading lists of “essential services” over and over and over again and cut to videos of Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Dr Siouxsie Wiles repeating the answers to the same questions over and over and over again.
Netflix, Lightbox, Amazon, Neon and Disney Plus have all been replaced with a live stream of Parliament TV. Which is adjourned, in isolated Zoom calls.
You run wildly to your Playstation controller, but the only game available is a silent black and white version of Pac-Man where the ghosts are all the shape of a Covid-19 virus and the magic pill doesn’t exist.
As a last resort, you dash to your DVD shelf then remember that you sold them all for $10 at your garage sale because they’re obsolete technology!
And then you wake.
Happily, this nightmarish hellscape doesn’t exist because this government has put measures in place to keep its artists alive. Using money that was already allocated to the arts to keep the practitioners afloat. Because arts aren’t just nice to have. They are as intrinsically entwined into everyday life as breathing.
From the moment you wake up you are surrounded by art, be it in the form of interior design, advertising copy, the clothes you wear, the songs your kid butchers on a recorder, the hilarious memoir you read at lunchtime or the terrible jokes your co-worker tells you by the photocopier. Art is not just opera, ballet or experimental sound poetry. It is woven through the fabric of society and turned into a nice jumper that looks good on everyone.
It simultaneously uplifts, entertains, inspires, bores, provokes, enriches, delights, enrages and moves us. Some of it is good. Some of it is shit. But without it, everything is shit.
So in these Covidious times let’s remember: our vocations are not in a competition. We have a government with empathy at its core that is not afraid to reveal its beating socialist heart to protect us all. Whatever job you do, whatever industry you’re in, you’re ALL important. Including libertarian lawyers and pollsters.
Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air invests in all levels of the arts in Aotearoa and it pays dividends. From giant free events in the Auckland Festival, to funding fringe festivals where some of our great names on the world stage began. Without grassroots, no tall Taikas can grow.
And right now we all need watering to keep us alive.