we need the arts to live, but artists have to make a living
The arts seem unlikely to be a priority in the government’s May 20 budget. With housing affordability, climate change and child poverty all being pressing issues, funding for the arts might not be considered as important.
I argue that it does – for two main reasons: it makes economic sense, and it is also essential to our health and well-being in myriad ways. The two are, of course, interdependent.
Although the arts sector as a whole accounts for up to 7% of the total workforce, it receives a disproportionately low proportion of overall government spending.
Last year arts, culture and heritage received just 0.33% of the total Budget 2020 and COVID-19 recovery package (NZ $ 374 million out of $ 112.1 billion). This was an increase from previous years, but still minimal compared to other sectors.
And yet the performing arts alone contributed $ 2.3 billion to the economy in 2018. According to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the sector “has equaled or surpassed other sectors of the economy in terms of income, employment and added value”.
In addition, New Zealanders participate in cultural activities at least as much as in sports and other hobbies. For Maori, arts and culture overshadow sports and other recreational pursuits.
The myth of suffering for your art
Yet the arts struggle to secure continued long-term funding. For example, a diagram such as Path to arts and culture, abolished in 2011 by the national government, has not been reintroduced. But it could ensure a viable income for many creative arts workers.
According to a 2019 survey per Creative New Zealand, the average annual income of independent creators was only $ 15,000. Without increased support and investment, artists will continue to be among the lowest earners in the country.
Read more: If New Zealand can radically reform its healthcare system, why not do the same for wellness?
Some people will be unfriendly. There are lingering myths about the creative arts – that it is not ‘real work’ and that artists have to ‘suffer for their art’ – which contribute to negative perceptions of the sector.
But these notions are just that – myths. There is no evidence that creativity forces practitioners to suffer, that it is an integral part of creativity. We know the arts can improve mental health, but working in poverty as an artist can do it all The opposite.
Understanding the place of art in society
In my role as a parent, educator and practitioner of the arts, however, I often hear these myths expressed – that those who work in the sector do not contribute to society in any meaningful or useful way, that they should “find out.” a real job ”.
These views are reinforced in several ways. The creative arts are not compulsory in all high schools, and anecdotal evidence suggests that guidance counselors often steer students away from artistic careers.
All of this suggests that too narrow definitions are at work. I define the creative arts as including any discipline – from writing and fine arts to film and television production – that exists in community, educational and professional contexts.
Read more: Did the government save the arts in this budget? There are winners but not much has changed
We could learn from Te Ao Māori (the Maori world) where everything is interconnected and the creative arts are an integral part, not just a “cultural relief” to ease our daily efforts as workers or be part of a temporary recovery program. of COVID.
In Te Ao Māori, the arts help communicate who we are, our spirituality, our well-being and our whakapapa. They are an essential part of our tikanga which we use to navigate existing together as whanau, communities, iwi and hapū.
We need the arts more than ever
It is not that the government does not recognize the role of the arts in the health and well-being of the nation. Prime Minister and Associate Minister of the Arts Jacinda Ardern spoke and written publicly about it on several occasions.
The government has also used temporary support programs to help arts organizations and professionals weather the pandemic. However, there has not been a significant increase in long-term funding for arts practitioners, or arts education, and most COVID grants are limited to business capacity building.
What to do? The government must consult with practitioners, researchers and experts from all types of artistic practice to determine how and where to invest for the best returns and how to build a lasting artistic life.
Read more: Well-being of artists: why it’s time to act
For too long, arts practitioners have been told what they need by central and local government and arts officials, or have been repeatedly asked to prove the value of what they do. As my colleague Molly Mullen has it argued:
What Aotearoa needs is not another blunt impact assessment tool, but an informed and critical conversation about the resources, support, tools and knowledge needed.
With current existential crises such as COVID-19, climate change, growing inequalities, housing security and populist politics, we need the creative arts more than ever to make sense of the world and how to live in it.
The time has come for our government to show the value it places on this vital function.