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Arts Voices: Changing Needs of Aotearoa Creatives During Lockdown

06 Sep 2021
The Big Idea speaks to leading arts career mentors to get a gauge on what the creative community is crying out for during these raised alert levels.

Whether you’re struggling with the seclusion, dulled by the monotony of bubble life or basking in the forced slower pace, one thing is certain. Lockdown leaves its mark.

The Big Idea is again turning to our creative community to get a gauge on what matters.

Arts Voices is a series where we canvas creatives of Aotearoa to get their thoughts on the issues that the sector faces.

The question we have posed - What have been the changing needs for Aotearoa creatives during this lockdown?

To find out, we’ve gone directly to the source of those who are specifically focussed on ensuring creatives have the support they need to build thriving careers in the industry.

The Creative Careers Service - dual partnered between Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) - has opened the doors to creatives in Auckland, Waikato and Nelson/Tasman through a series of pilot programmes.

Their work is at the coalface, working with hundreds of creative professionals looking to build skills and networks to ensure their artist practices become viable career options. While the programme is currently geographically restricted, the scope of those who can take part in the programme is broad. Click the link that lines up with your area for more information.  

Here are their responses.


Stephen Broad-Paul - ART/WORK/Nelson Chamber of Commerce Creative Careers Advisor (programme open to Nelson/Tasman residents)

I am getting a strong sense that for some creatives it is business as usual, on steroids, as they now have the time (without the usual outside distractions) to focus on their creative art forms. 

However for some this is a tough time, some are struggling to focus themselves as they become more impacted by COVID and the wider world events, as they have time to ‘think, ponder and ask what if?’

A number of creatives have taken the world events and turned them into visual stories. By playing with the limits and the possibilities of their chosen medium, they are challenging the representations of who we are today and how we are approaching the pandemic. These approaches act as mirrors, reflecting individual trials, experiences, and histories, inviting the viewer to embrace the joys and sorrows of what it means to be human.

At ART/WORK our approach is simple, we create the right space for people to reflect, think, plan, by taking the time to get to know them and to understand their aspirations. We support them to look to the future, not the past. We celebrate where they are and where they want to be, and at the same time encouraging them to be themselves. As a result they gain greater clarity and understanding to deliver on what is really important, what they need to do, to achieve their financial aspirations.

As a result of COVID,  there has been a slight ‘shift’ in the conversations from business planning, financial planning etc to a more holistic approach in supporting creatives to continue to build emotional muscle, ensuring they continue to focus on achieving their aspirations.

Meg Davis - Toipoto/The Big Idea Operations Manager (programme open to East and West Auckland residents)

On news of another Level Four Lockdown, the Toipoto team sprang into action, with our primary focus the wellbeing of our creatives and how we could continue to support from a distance. 

In the normal state of play, we are running regular mentoring and monthly face-to-face learning network workshops. During the first week, we were able to move our support fully to online delivery, kicking off with a check-in zoom to gauge specific needs straight from our community.

We were heartened at the level of candour. Many of our artists had events or work opportunities cancelled, but there was this sense of gratitude for slowing down with all that could bring and a 'trust in the process'. 

We then brought forward a network workshop we had planned for late September, ‘Art and Wellbeing’ with Ramon Narayan of Action Education and South Auckland Poets Collective. Ramon brought a special energy to the 'zui' - a welcome reprieve from the fatigue and lack of connection experienced that lockdown can bring.   

A common theme among our cohort is the difficulty in balancing the art, home life and concern for others in their bubbles. “I want to create but I don't want to work on the things I have planned for myself. But I feel too guilty to experiment and play because I'm struggling with the necessary stuff.”

As we move through the coming weeks of level changes, we will continue to deliver our creatives with tools to thrive and stay connected - online workshops, facilitating 'syndicate group' sessions and providing relevant, useful content through our Toipoto Community Group page, while continuing to welcome new participants into the programme.

Sometimes, these lockdowns can be a catalyst for change and connection. We will listen and respond to our Toipoto community’s needs through our various digital channels, but we can't wait for the time that we can meet again kanohi ki te kanohi.

Dr. Jeremy Mayall, ELEVATE/Creative Waikato CEO (programme open to Waikato residents) 

This lockdown has certainly seemed different to the first one in 2020. 

In some ways, we are more prepared. The shift into the digital space is easier, the awareness of the toll of being in days of Zoom meetings is top of mind, and the processes and support systems are more well-established. 

But in other ways, because the scope is ever-changing and the length of time within each level is hard to predict, it means that we are still uncertain of how long the impacts will last, and what the full extent of it will be for the creative sector. 

It seems that creatives are, by necessity, becoming more risk averse. There are things that have been swiftly postponed to later in the year, or early next year, because it feels safer. 

These are understandable decisions but we still want and need systems and structures in place to support people through in the interim. Perhaps that is digital, perhaps it is in more diverse streams of income, perhaps it is studio-based work, perhaps it is looking for different understandings for how innovation can work, and how we can holistically understand the impact of creative practice more broadly for all people as a coping mechanism. 

It is also important to consider how this impact flows between our professional artists and our flax roots community-led activities, initiatives and programmes.

For Creative Waikato, we have continued to offer the support that we offered previously, strengthening our online resources, and also reflecting the importance of kindness at times like this. Considering how creative practice can be an act of kindness in and of itself - both for the practitioner, and the people around them. Perhaps it is through the sharing of creative work, but perhaps it is also just through the mindset shifts of having found solace in the creative work itself. 

We have continued to run ELEVATE - our version of the Creative Careers pilot programme - supporting creative people looking to strengthen their careers through workshops, mentoring and continuing the community of practice support network that is established when creative individuals are going on a journey together. 

It may be that this time in lockdown is an opportunity to look towards strengthening your own creative careers and look towards the Creative Careers programmes as a pathway towards this.

Amy Saunders, Wayfind Creative/Depot Artspace General Manager (Programme open to Auckland CBD and North Shore Residents) 

Working with our creatives over lockdown has reminded us how resilient and adaptable the creative sector is and for many, lockdown actually presents an opportunity to be more focused and productive. But it can also be a vulnerable and stressful time, and for some, a lonely time too. 

What we’ve been reminded of this lockdown is the value of listening and sharing, and bringing people together and learning from each other. Like everyone, we have turned to digital technology and brought our creatives together online. We’ve worked with our workshop facilitators to deliver their courses online and our mentors are coaching online as well. 

You obviously can’t replace in-person connections and chemistry but since the last lockdown, we’ve all realised the ability to connect through Zoom, for example, is better than not connecting at all. Many of our creatives have actually said they find it easier to participate and connect online than in person. This has been a good reminder that we need to be developing programmes that are responsive and flexible to the needs of the creatives we’re working with. 

We really care for our creatives and want to do as much as we can to support them and help them achieve their goals. We expect this lockdown will see more people re-evaluating their careers and more support will no doubt be needed. We’re here and we’re listening so if you think we can help you develop the skills you need to manage a successful creative career, please get in touch.

Mel Paikea-Tautalanoa, Tukua/Ngahere Foundation Co-Founder (programme open to South Auckland residents)

There is definitely an air of familiarity about this lockdown that wasn't present during the first or even second lockdown.

We have seen a real positive shift in focus and determination from our Tukua Toi crew. They are being resourceful and taking this time to really work on their creative hustle, showing grit and resilience. Through all lockdowns, Tukua, like everyone else, has had to adapt our delivery and we continue to deliver responsive business and creative capability building workshops online.

What has been pleasantly surprising to my team and me is the uptake for online social connection. As well as a weekly "business" workshop, we also organise a weekly online social "gathering" like a kahoot or a lunch date. The attendance to these events proves there is a need for our crew to stay/feel connected.  

The holistic health of our Tukua Toi Crew is a priority for us and an ever-changing need we try to be as responsive to as we can. We are really proud of our South Auckland Creative Community!