Not all record-breaking results in the creative community are ones to celebrate.
Record investment? Absolutely. Record attendance? Definitely.
Record speed of funding opportunities for struggling creatives to close? That’s about as unwelcome as Cyclone Gabrielle.
At 8am on Friday morning, it was announced that the latest Creative New Zealand (CNZ) Arts Grants round closed - not even 24 hours after it opened.
The process of capping the Arts Grants funding rounds at the first 250 completed submissions has been a fraught one for artists for some time, particularly given how time consuming many find the process. In October 2022, there was outrage when the window closed after four days.
Now here we are in February 2023 - with a literal case of the Fast and the Furious.
It must be noted, CNZ themselves have already acknowledged their current funding system isn’t working.
In a social media post on Friday afternoon, CNZ stated “we know this will be disappointing to those of you who missed out on getting your applications in. We also want to acknowledge the time and effort that goes into preparing an application for submission.
“We are currently working through the details, including the best pathways, for utilising these very welcome additional one-off funds from the government ($22 million as announced last week).
“We expect to have more information for you shortly about how this extra investment will impact Arts Grants for the remainder of this year, including the current 250 cap.
“Longer term change is also underway, but we have to do this right and that means working with experts – that’s you, artists and the arts sector – to make sure our funding system is fit for purpose.”
It backs up what Chief Executive Stephen Wainwright blogged in December - “we’ve heard your call for a different approach to arts funding and agree that it’s time to do things differently.”
It came with a promise to release details in February - and then beginning in March to seek the creative community’s input in “co-designing a better approach to funding for 2023/24.”
If CNZ’s looking for a heads-up on what to expect from the sector’s input - they only need to look at reaction on The Big Idea’s social media platforms to see the sentiment.
There’s too many of them to include everyone’s whakaaro - but here are some that encapsulate the emotions that have been circulating.
Creative performance powerhouse Hannah Tasker-Poland spoke for many when she stated “that was absolutely cooked. No one should have to participate in a funding system that plays out like a game, that leaves them shaking and crying while scrambling to get an application in against the clock THE DAY OF IT OPENING.
“Days and weeks and months of work and planning that go into all the logistics beforehand between applicants and the many organisations and venues that they are partnering with and the reason why they are compiling a funding submission in the first place.
“People's livelihoods are at stake, and their funding accessibility (is) down to a game of speed and pressure, where likely the big orgs have salaried people whose job it is to work on these apps full time.
“I was prepared to be fast, given what happened (over) other rounds with the cut off. I was prepped and ready as I could be, and I was struggling to keep up with the submission rate and was an absolute wreck of nerves by the end.
“One day. What about people whose first application it is? Those who had to work their other job during the day, who by the time they got home to start it was already over 200. This system is broken. Extremely disappointed and disheartened. How do we solve this CNZ?”
Tasker-Poland’s contemporary and outspoken arts advocate Amber Liberté added “the current setup is ableist & elitist. You gotta talk to the artists who are on the ground - barely making ends meet - if you wanna do proper research/find out what actually works for us financially.”
Renowned author Pip Adam took to Twitter to declare “there has to be a better way to do this. This is heartbreaking.”
The account of gallery Vunilagi Vou - run by curator and artist Ema Tavola - tweeted “it used to be that there was a timeframe that an arts grant round would be open, a couple of weeks, a clear deadline... now, it's a 24 hour window and a race to the 250 application limit, an absolute administrational hunger games. My nervous system is still in recovery.”
Well known artist Carole Shepheard added “totally inequitable, insane and extremely poorly thought through. Really CNZ!!!!”
Anusha Bhana muses “it's a pretty clear indication how much need there is in the arts vs how little funding there is to go around. It's sad and very much needs to be reviewed and rectified!”
The concept of ‘first in, first served’ does not sit well with any in the creative community. CNZ has previously explained the 250 cap on applications was created after feedback demanded that the responses to the funding rounds were taking too long - so a cap was put on to lighten the workload of assessors.
If it was suitable at the time - it clearly is not any longer.
Amy Tarleton notes “there will still be a huge amount of work done to cut down the 250 apps to the ones that get funded. The cap (and I’m not defending it here) is probably intended to place a limit on the amount of work the CNZ assessors will have to do. I’m guessing the number of applications to each round has been surpassing 250 in the past.”
James Wenley, Lecturer in Theatre at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and editor of TheatreScenes tweeted “this will surely be a big talking point in the upcoming redesign of CNZ funding services. Staff & assessors can't manage unlimited apps, but this current process is antithetical to practitioner wellbeing. This shows the arts sector is still doing it tough with huge demand for money.”
Feeonaa Clifton, a multi-discipline creative force from Pacific Sisters and the SaVĀge K’lub replied to our Instagram post “Please STOP this unnecessary madness of pitting us against a submission clock! We are not buying tickets to a concert!!
“This is not the first time you have received feedback about this system either. Everyone deserves an opportunity to submit an application to a tangible/ KNOWN deadline, the assessors then choosing the 'top' applications from that pool for funding consideration. I agree with others who say it adds a layer of distress to an already pressured process of ensuring we meet a range of criteria to be fund worthy - especially for those new to the whole application process.
“So disappointing, flawed and unfair to artists, producers and their team of creatives, when in the Oct 22 funding round a significant number of applications were found to be INELIGIBLE due to other criteria, yet had made it past the submission clock.”
Leading photographer and voice of Pasifika creatives Raymond Sagapolutele replied “insanity, it was bad enough when you managed to submit and had to wait to find out if you were successful. Now you race a clock and a counter - the Ticketeck of it all.”
Freelance curator and writer Ariane Craig-Smith wrote “time to rethink this application model. This is ridiculous.
“So truly, you need to be planning an application six months/ two rounds ahead because of the lottery of whether you’ll even get a chance to apply…
“It’s absolutely cruel and completely privileges people with greater digital access and skills, time and fund-writing expertise. If you aren’t able to be hovering over your computer at that minute on that day, with everything pre-written ready to copy/paste, then forget it.
“I think we all need to be costing up what it takes to prepare an application to make it really clear. This only furthers the privilege of those who can afford to pay a professional grant writer.”
Cushla Donaldson, an artist with a strong record for advocating for equity, added “it is also deeply discriminatory, when alternative ways of submission (video, interview etc) are not currently accepted. Those applying with written word disabilities or English as a second language are clearly discriminated against in this process, with the applications taking significantly more time for those disadvantaged groups. As are those artists who write and submit the applications themselves, rather than an institution, requiring many unpaid labour hours.”
Lisa West reiterated “so the funding won't necessarily go to the worthiest recipients unless the worthy are also very quick off the mark. That's a fail.”
As Robbie Ellis dryly underlines “2020: New Zealand designs an MIQ system based on fastest finger. Causes immense heartache.
“2023: Creative NZ says ‘Hold my beer..’”
The rage at the system was equally balanced with the heartbreak for those who missed out - especially those navigating the application process for the first time.
Karin McCracken posted “particularly thinking of emerging artists and first time applicants who don’t even have access to the exact questions/format/word-counts until the round opens. How on earth.”
Toipoto artist Julie Moselen posted she was grateful for the likes of Tasker-Poland standing up for artists. “ I was one of those first timers still uploading docs at 8am on Friday as it closed. Spent 2 months working on it.”
Artist Mel Juer described it as “awfully stressful. My first time and I feel like it's a non-starter. How on earth? Individual artists who are struggling with everyday lives, jobs, families and are not professional grant funding people - it's just not a fair system and not meeting the needs of those who need it most.”
The timing of this pressure-filled process arriving at the same time as concerns over the heavy weather warnings hitting the top of the country was beyond unfortunate.
The mothermother Instagram account noted “I wish the number of subs and drafts were in real time though. Major stress and shakes only having the 1pm update… and at the same time my family discussing the news about preparing go-bags and shopping for enough food and water for 3 days due to the coming cyclone. Trauma.”
Deirdra McMenamin had many strong issues on this situation including “this is a mental health issue - our artists are amongst the most sensitive members of our communities and all manage that differently. These processes add to the unreasonable load put on all people since the pandemic.
“They should be simplifying access to arts to aid wellbeing instead of exhausting people further. Who are the people really interested in finding solutions? Who's interested in working on this?”
Eva Trebilco posted “Goddamn, we need the Government to better invest in CNZ! Life is infinitely better with an abundance of art and ARTISTS’ fresh ideas, perspective and expression… Our creatives bring inspiration and beauty and emotion that grips the heart. Art drives us. Arohanui to our artists.”
It would be staggering to think the 250 application cap would stay around (in its current form) for the next Arts Grants round that opens in April.
CNZ are on the record that they’re coming to the creative community for their feedback - there is likely to be no shortage of that. The key will be providing solutions as well as pointing out the problems.