Home  /  Stories  / 

Arts Leaders: COVID-19's Deep Impact

23 Mar 2020
The start of The Big Idea series into hearing the words and opinions of the men and women in leadership positions in the arts.


You've talked, we've listened.

As the arts industry is brought to a shuddering halt by the COVID-19 crisis, many within the community have called to hear more from the sector's leaders.

The Big Idea has reached out to dozens of forerunners within our industry - from Chief Executives to Directors to the New Zealander of the Year - to get their reaction to what's happening - and what should happen in the weeks and days ahead.

The is the first in our Arts Leaders series, to help get a gauge of how some of the most respected names in the industry are feeling, and adding weight to those voices.  

Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Finance and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Grant Robertson were both approached for comment.

At a time where artists are struggling and demanding answers, it's important to hear from those who represent them.


The Opening Question: What impact are you experiencing, either from those around you or personally?

Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira, CNZM  - President, Equity New Zealand

The majority of my work for the next six months has disappeared. Obviously, as a performer, I rely on being in front of large gatherings and that simply isn't possible now. Touring productions around Aotearoa and overseas have been canned, and in many cases, this means months of work down the tube. 

For those TV productions still going ahead, it will only take one person to fall ill for it all to topple over.  We are used to high unemployment in our sector and a lot of performers work in hospitality or teaching - two industries that are being hit hard. 

I'm noticing that it is not just the arts companies themselves but the service staff around these entities that now find themselves without a job.

There is some excellent creative thinking going on with regards to taking the live performing arts online. This kind of enterprise will be a crucial element in maintaining connection and community in a sector that thrives in a group setting. 


Dr Alison Taylor - Chief Executive, Te Taumata Toi-a-iwi/Arts Regional Trust

A sense of rapid anxiety about the impact on the arts sector and the significance of this for so many independently employed in the industry and the short and long term effects of loss of income. 

It highlights starkly the fragility of the arts sector. Currently there is a flurry of activity around cancellations and a rapid social media and news response to this with some great written pieces reflecting the real stories of impact. 

Everyone is feeling it and there is a sense of un-realness both personally and professionally.


Simon Bowden - Musician and Philanthropy Consultant

I'm an admin in the 'AA(e)-C(19)C - Aotearoa Arts and Events during the COVID-19 Crisis' Facebook page, and we are seeing several areas of discussion. People are sharing experiences of lost work and uncertainty and asking for assistance to navigate the various services and packages that are there to help. They are also waiting for any specific announcements from the government and/or CNZ for the arts. 

People are being careful to support each other and there is discussion about the potential for financial and mental stress. On a more positive note, practitioners are looking at ways to connect with audiences so that the arts can play its normal role of providing great experiences for people, while also assisting the nation to come through this challenging time.

It was a real drag to cancel our show "Boat featuring Chime Red" in CubaDupa. Like many others, I felt the pain of losing a creative outlet and opportunity to share with audiences. However, we have determined to apply for a small grant to record the music during the year and we will patiently wait until this time next year to share it with audiences.  


Linda Tyler - Convenor of Museums and Cultural Heritage, University of Auckland

Here at the University of Auckland, students and staff are fearful, and anxious about the future. Teaching has been suspended and we are spending much of our time adapting our courses to online teaching platforms which is a challenge in art history and museums and cultural heritage where gallery and museum visits are part of the curriculum. 

For those who work as artists or in the creative sector, there has been a real downtown in the "gig economy", and they are worried about how to cover their living costs.


Paula Browning - WeCreate Chair

WeCreate is an alliance of the NZ creative industry associations, and we are hearing reports of a devastating impact on many of our industries – particularly those who rely on public gatherings (all but the smallest of which are now banned) for their incomes. 

Festivals of all kinds, touring locally and internationally, promotional events – all are off the table indefinitely, not just for the artists and performers, but the promoters, crew, support staff and venues. 

The business models and revenue streams of our creative economy can differ from conventional industries, and our immediate priority is to ensure that our people and companies are able to access relevant support.


 Yee Yang "Square" Lee - Partner, Artist Management & Creative Producing, SquareSums&Co

My partner and I were working with one of our artists at WOMAD, so we went straight into self-isolation with our young daughter.  This is not the worst thing in the world, as we can work from home, and have our family, health, roof over our heads and food on the table – for now.

More critically due to the social/physical distancing measures necessary to help contain and reduce COVID-19 risks (which I fully support), we have lost 4-5 months of bookings for our artists over a 72-hour period. This is a fairly significant amount of income not just for our firm but also for the artists, crew and collaborators we manage and work with.  

At this stage, there doesn't seem to be much hope to revive any of these cancelled bookings in the next six months. We're going to regroup and re-strategise, ensure that our teams are safe and their basic needs are sussed. We hope that the COVID-19 relief subsidies will help with some of this. We're looking to Creative New Zealand for leadership to keep our industry afloat too. 

There's been an incredible coming-together of arts and events industry professionals and affiliates on the AA(e)–C(19)C Facebook Group, which was initiated by Kane Forbes and has over 2.8k members in a week.  There is a good deal of kōrero, whakaaro and manaaki being held and shared in that forum.  The admin group (including me) is purposely keeping the group organic, lightly-moderated, scrappy and reflexive, taking an ecology-wide approach and being cautious of institutionalising it. We want to ensure that it remains an independent representation of the needs, frustrations and ideas from the sector-at-large while working with key players and agencies like PANNZ, CNZ, etc.  


Neil Ieremia, CEO/Artistic Director, Black Grace

Clearly it's a challenging time for everyone. Our main focus here at BG is to work to limit the impact on our dancers, staff and audiences. 

As a result we've postponed our current Auckland Arts Festival season and are currently reviewing our programme for the next 6 to 24 months. Like everyone else out there in the industry, it's going to impact our bottom line. 

On a more positive note, I think it will force us all to have a decent look at how we do things and what we need to change to survive and ultimately flourish when the dust settles. 

When this is finally over, the world into which we re-emerge will be incredibly different from the one we left behind. 


Who do you want to hear from in our Arts Leaders series? email editor@thebigidea.co.nz with the names of the Aotearoa arts leader you want to hear the opinion of.