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Calls For "Artists' Wage" Revived

05 May 2022
One of the creative community's most impassioned issues is back in conversation, the Lowdown gets the latest from Government and from those advocating for its introduction.

Some things are just inevitable.




Death, taxes and calls for an artists’ wage to be introduced in Aotearoa.


As New Zealand prepares for another Budget to be detailed by the Government, a think piece on website The Conversation outlining how it can work in Australia has rekindled the spark of advocacy here as well.


Author of the article - Jo Caust, an Associate Professor at The University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication - says when she spoke to artists during the pandemic, ”it became evident they needed four conditions in place to be able to practice successfully as artists: a regular income, a place to do their work, capacity to do their work and validation of their work.”


As a point of reference, Caust cited last month’s introduction of the Basic Income for the Arts pilot scheme by the Irish Government, where 2000 eligible artists and creative arts workers over a period of three years are being pledged $532 NZD a week - and can earn their own money on top of that without that basic income being affected.


That works out to be $40 million over the course of the pilot.


These are the words released by the Irish Government - words that would be the wind in the sails of many a creative.


“It is recognition, at Government level, of the important role of the arts in Irish society. It also places a value on the time spent developing a creative practice and producing art. The main objective of the scheme is to address the financial instability faced by many working in the arts.”


Irish Minister Catherin Martin calls it an “unprecedented level of support” with the hope it can be broadened to all practising Irish artists, stating “I want the arts not just to recover, but to flourish.”


A basic income for the arts was the number one recommendation of Ireland’s Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce’s Life Worth Living Report which examined how the sector could adapt and recover from the unprecedented damage arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Those findings were reported in October 2020 and have just come to life in April 2022.


Irish artists will be expected to meet at least two out of three qualifying terms to apply for the scheme: have earned an income from the arts, have an existing body of work and/or be members of a recognised arts body, such as a trade union.


Other examples were cited in The Conversation article including New York, San Francisco and Minnesota, Caust declaring “We need to stop patronising our artists by giving them tiny grants and making them go through endless hoops and form filling to gratefully receive them.


“Artists are essential to our community. It is time to demonstrate – like Ireland and New York – the success of our artists reflects our healthy and vibrant nation, and pay them accordingly.”


It’s not hard to imagine a standing ovation if such a sentence was uttered in an auditorium of Aotearoa creatives - or indeed anywhere in the world.


But the Government has underlined to The Lowdown that it is not considering a specific Universal Basic Income (UBI) for artists.


Minister Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: Supplied.


Approached by The Lowdown for comment, Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni responded:


“Fair remuneration and sustainable careers for artists has always been a priority for this government, and a number of initiatives have been established in support of this priority.


“This includes the Creative Careers Service pilot, which is a collaboration between Manatū Taonga and the Ministry for Social Development that provides participants with opportunities to upskill in the areas of business management, contract negotiation, marketing, networking, applying for funding and linking people to employment opportunities; and initiatives led by Creative NZ, including their Remuneration Policy for Artists and Arts Practitioners, which supports advocacy for fair payment for all aspects of employment in the sector by central and local government and the private sector.


“The Ministry is also currently progressing work on an Artist Resale Royalty scheme, which will allow artists to benefit from the future financial success of their works and support career sustainability."


Sepuloni continues “we know that COVID has significantly impacted our cultural sector’s ability to effectively and sustainably operate and thrive, highlighting the precarious financial position of many of our valued artists, performers, and creators.


“This is why our COVID-19 financial supports have included targeted support to the cultural sector beyond the wider wage subsidies that have been made available to support businesses and self-employed people. This included a one-off $5,000 grant for self-employed people in the cultural sector who had lost income or an opportunity for income under the ‘Red’ setting of the COVID Protection Framework.


“In addition, within the Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme there are initiatives like the Cultural Sector Capability Fund and the Cultural Sector Innovation Fund that are supporting sector-led projects that will improve sustainability and resilience for the arts and culture sector, and build capacity for those who work in this sector.”


It does have to be pointed out that the current Government cannot be accused of sitting on its hands when it comes to pandemic driven support for the arts. Whether you agree with their choices or not, it has unquestionably been a level of directed support that this country has never seen before.


A CNZ spokesperson told The Lowdown that the response to date to the Remuneration Policy for Artists and Arts Practitioners referred to by Sepuloni has been positive and that it has started work implementing it including setting out its expectations of multi-year funded organisations coming in for this year's Toi Uru Kahikatea Investment programme.


As the sector emerges from the pressures of COVID-19, CNZ states it will be more actively promoting the policy and advocating for its uptake - as well as supporting artists and arts practitioners to use the policy when it comes to remuneration and contracting practices.


These are all positive steps - but that doesn’t satiate the appetite of those at the coalface for an Artist’s Wage.


Dina Jezdic, the lead mentor for Toipoto - part of the Creative Careers Service pilot - told The Lowdown “I think that overall we agree that artists have a specific role - no, a job - that they play in our society.


Dina Jezdic. Photo: Supplied.


“The expectation that art should be free is something that we need to change…especially in the age of internet which has created access to so many artists, but has little or no conversion into sales and income for their content. In the end this whole topic is all about inequality.


“Given the opportunity to have access to an artist wage would mean so much to artists and to all of us that consume it.


“It would also mean the end to the current competing for slices of a shrinking pie and an introduction to the rarely seen model of building and sustaining a career. Being one of the lucky few successful grant recipients is not the same as having an income.


“If Australia follows Ireland in the offer of a three year universal basic income for artists, we will see a lot of talent leave the shores of Aotearoa. At the moment, artists are being left out of the economic equation.


“One thing is for sure, people don’t become artists for the money, but they do deserve to be paid.”


Choreographer, performer and creative Amber Liberté is an outspoken advocate for change in how artists are paid, treated and valued when it comes to remuneration. She speaks passionately about its impacts across society, and has put in extensive amounts of research internationally - and has penned her own Rates and Pay Guideline for Movement Artists and Choreographers.


Amber Liberté. Photo: Supplied.


She told The Lowdown “The act of going out to earn money can be an absolute soul-suck & stressor while simultaneously being a dangled-carrot promise of a means to have: survival, freedom, autonomy and comfort.


In Aotearoa, we often see the reification of artists by organisations and corporates who hold power over who gets to earn money/make a living in the arts, and who doesn't. Art is mostly treated like a business instead of a vital element of humanity and well-being, and other key factors to living a more fulfilling life.


“Arthur C. Brooks wrote a great article about this in The Atlantic, which sums up why art should be funded and, by extension, encouraged at a systematic level into everybody's lives: ‘Engaging with art after worrying over the minutiae of your routine is like looking at the horizon after you’ve spent too long staring intently at a particular object: Your perception of the outside world expands.’


“An artist wage is a start of a great, radical shift to help not just artists but humans. Whether through art influencing culture to make more time to look at the aforementioned horizon, or engaging in creating that horizon, or simply helping people realise that it is a basic living right to have equity across all sectors and job types.”


Amber Liberté in performance. Photo: Jocelen Janon.


Momentum is a curious thing. If Ireland’s move can start an avalanche that reaches Australia, then the conversation changes here too.


Wanted: your opinion


Topics like these are important for the creative community to discuss - no matter which side of the conversation you fall on.

Knowing what the creative sector wants covered and the issues that concern those involved is something that matters greatly to The Big Idea. Stories and features like The Lowdown exist to inform, inspire and educate those with a passion for the sector.

If you’ve missed it, our audience survey is receiving strong responses - and we want to hear your thoughts on what the creative community needs to be successful and what you want from TBI.

It’s not just artists and performers who we want to hear from - it’s anyone with skin in the game in the creative sector. Administrators, interns, teachers, writers, technical staff, producers, publicists - if you’re reading this, you are someone who should be heard.

The information we receive will help drive the issues we seek answers to. Like the Artists Wage debate, something that’s on your mind may end up being taken to the highest offices in the sector for answers.

You’ve got an opinion - it's up to you to use it.

You can find the survey through this link. As well as a chance to get your thoughts across, those who complete the survey by 5pm Monday 9 May go in the draw for $2000 worth of promotion here on TBI.


Auction houses have their say


The International Art Centre. Photo: International Art Centre website.

In last week’s Lowdown, we looked into the uptake - or lack thereof - for the Copyright Licensing New Zealand-driven Auction House Licensing Scheme.


While discussing why auction houses outside of Art+Object haven’t agreed to a scheme that allows visual artists (who need to be signed up to the scheme) to receive payment for the commercial reproduction of their work in auction house promotional material - we thought it fair to give said auction houses a right of reply.


Andrew Grigg of Cordy’s Auctioneers told The Lowdown that they’re “still looking at this” and that “​​our dominant business is not contemporary New Zealand art.”


International Art Centre Director Richard Thomson described it to The Lowdown as “simply not what it seems or is what has been portrayed.”


He continues “the fairytale narrative painted by CLNZ is that artists are set to get paid for their images when auction houses offer their work. Of the list supplied by CLNZ, most of the artists who have signed up needn’t have bothered, given their work doesn’t appear in our auctions anyway.


“It is these artists that collectors should be supporting by engaging with their work, encouraging them in different ways, purchasing their art directly from them or their dealers, not worrying about ensuring they get their share of a $15 copyright fee after all the admin costs are deducted - it’s just nonsense.


“However, there are a select group of artists signed up to the scheme whose works have entered the secondary market and do have works that appear at auction and their work may be subject to a copyright fee which International Art Centre has not challenged. We have asked CLNZ to invoice us accordingly on a case by case basis.”


Considering the scheme is still in its infancy, it’s fair to believe that for many of those signed up are yet to have their work featured at auctions. Others may have joined it aspirationally or in solidarity because they believe in what it’s trying to achieve.


The scheme has also - to The Lowdown’s knowledge - not been sold as a big payday for artists, rather the opportunity to have the copyright of your creations respected when it is reused, especially for the purpose of profit.


It can be viewed like royalties cheques for musicians - when your song is played on radio or a streaming service, you get paid a small fee. Individually, the payments are nothing to write home about -  it’s about the cumulative effect. Obscure songs written in the ‘80s still see those who penned them get irregular payments for their use all over the globe.


Representatives of Dunbar Sloane and Webb’s had not taken up the offer to have their thoughts heard at the time of publication.


Rock 'n' Scroll


Fittingly with New Zealand Music Month upon us, there will be plenty of opportunity for recognition for our singers and songwriters.


Nothing says Aotearoa music like the APRA Silver Scrolls - and entries have just opened for the 2022 edition.


It’s free to enter any of the categories - the overall Silver Scroll Award, the Maioha Award, SOUNZ Contemporary Award, Best Original Music in a Feature Film Award and Best Original Music in a Series Award.


Artists hold these awards in high regard because it's largely determined by their peers. After a panel narrows down each category to a top 20, it’s then thrown over to APRA’s 10,000 plus members to vote for the winner.


The eligibility dates for entries for all awards are original songs released or broadcast between 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022. With the closing date for entries actually the end of this month (31 May), you can technically enter music that hasn’t even been made public yet.


The reigning Silver Scrolls winner, Troy Kingi, has had another accolade placed on his growing mantle.


Troy Kingi and Delaney Davidson. Photo: Supplied.


He’s been awarded the 2022 Te Kaipuoro Taketake Toa Best Folk Artist Tūī for his album Black Sea Golden Ladder, a collaboration with award-winning singer/songwriter/producer Delaney Davidson.


Not bad for someone making his first folk album.


It continues his incredible run of critical acclaim for the varied entries into his 10:10:10 series of 10 albums, in 10 different genres, over 10 years.


The other finalists for the 2022 Best Folk Artist Tūī were Miles Calder for his album Autopilot Life and folk duo We Mavericks for their album Grief’s a Gardener.


Unfortunately, the award is another that’s had its moment in the sun dulled somewhat by COVID restrictions. Its presentation is a fixture of the Auckland Folk Festival but it was instead delivered on RNZ’s excellent Music 101 last weekend.




Amanaki Lelei Prescott-Faletau. Photo: Supplied.


The remaining two FAME (Fund for Acting and Musical Endeavours) mid-career award recipients are cause for celebration for the Pasifika community.


Actor, writer, dancer, choreographer, producer and director of Tongan descent Amanaki Lelei Prescott-Faletau and Samoan dancer, choreographer, actor, theatre-maker and Toi Whakaari teacher Tupe Lualua were both announced for 2022’s newest recognition for the performing arts.  It comes with a cash prize of $1500 each, with both artists planning to use to help bring their work to new audiences.


For Prescott-Faletau, that means helping to fund a national tour of Fever: Return of the Ula.   The co-founder of performing arts collective Fine Fatale that amplifies the voices of Māori and Pasifika Trans and Queer artists told The Lowdown “This award highlights the importance of having my community seated at the table to collaborate in storytelling. especially when it comes to our communities' narrative.


“It not only impacts my community but the industry itself. as it offers authentic and truthful storytelling that Aotearoa has been yearning for.”


The inaugural recipient of the FAME award earlier this year was Rodney Bell.


Art crime time


Say ‘art crime’ to most of the population, and you’re likely to trigger thoughts of Netflix documentaries or Hollywood blockbusters like The Monuments Men or some Pierce Brosnan heist caper.


The reality is far less flashy and much more devastating to those impacted by it.


The New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust is calling for submissions for it’s annual symposium, held at City Gallery Wellington in November.


This year’s theme is Collection Challenges: returning, de-accessioning and repatriation - something that will be areas of expertise or interest for those in the GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum) sector.


If you have a paper you’d like to present or feel you’ve got something to contribute, you can find the details here.