Talk of an arts advisor, a long-term strategy and shifting funding models were discussed at a cross-party kōrero regarding the future of Aotearoa’s arts sector.
Broadcaster Miriama Kamo hosted MPs Carmel Sepuloni, Jonathan Young and Chlöe Swarbrick for a pre-election discussion on the parties’ arts policies on Thursday.
Kamo said it was ironic the industry was suffering in these times, as the arts/creative sector had been estimated to add $11 billion to the country’s GDP per year, in addition to employing 90,000 people.
It suffered despite it creating considerable value. But “it’s used to suffering … to create art in New Zealand is to suffer,” Kamo said.
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More than half of workers had to supplement their income outside the sector, and earned a median income of just $35,000 a year.
Government relief announced earlier this year of a $175 million package was historic, but some commentators noted it had been rolled out in an “unruly” or “botched” manner.
The funding had been allocated to a sector which did not have a robust structure to distribute it, Kamo said.
Sepuloni said the Government’s $175m arts recovery fund, announced a day after a separate $95m fund for the sector, was informed by conversations with the sector itself. It had asked for money to survive, but also sustain itself. There would be no U-turn on that funding, Sepuloni said.
Swarbrick said moving forward, it was important the sector continued to acknowledge te ao Māori, and focussed on developing the country’s cultural identity.
There was an overlap between a thriving arts sector, and a sense of belonging and positive mental wellbeing of the population.
Conversations needed to be had about extricating links between lotteries funding Creative New Zealand, Swarbrick said. About 67 per cent of its funding comes from lotteries. “The fact we are upholding it is a perversity,” she said.
“[During lockdown], a huge number Kiwis turned to film, to music, to podcasts, to books – the same kinds of arts and culture that we so often bag as a waste of money and resource.”
Young said enhancing the sector would help bring vitality back to city centres and communities. So much about the arts was about appreciating people and their creativity, he said.
Kamo, asking about specific arts policies, said the Greens were the only panel party to release a comprehensive policy so far. Young said National’s policy would hopefully be available within the next week or two, whereas Sepuloni was unable to say when a Labour arts policy would be released.
Sepuloni did say that Labour would continue on with its investment in the sector.
Swarbrick wanted a dedicated, long-term arts and culture strategy established – as was made with the Government’s screen sector strategy.
It was important Aotearoa’s regions were included in that mahi, in that it was important for people “regardless of where they’re growing up” to have the opportunity to engage with the arts.
Sepuloni said there was a lack of research outlining the full benefits the sector brought to society, and it was worth exploring the idea of having a specific Government arts advisor, as it had with its science advisor.
Young mentioned a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) in education as being needed, for people to see they could live out their creative passions and have fulfilling careers in the sector.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Te Papa to announce the arts recovery package, saying the cultural sector was among the most damaged by the crisis.
But funding inequity was an issue. Kamo said there were reports from the sector of systemic racism in funding decisions.
Venues were also crying out for a solution to yo-yoing alert levels. Sepuloni said many artists had been innovative in moving to digital platforms, but none of the politicians could say whether a specific fund would be appropriate for hosts for cancelled events.
Kamo said now was the moment to change the future for the sector. “As always with the arts, we will need to be prepared to go off script.”