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Lowdown: Creatives Income Research Paints "Grim" Picture

25 May 2023

Not even keeping up with cost-of-living - the details of what creative professionals get paid is compulsory reading. All your arts news like more concerns with budget cuts, long-awaited tours, big awards and lost creative legends.

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Image: Shutterstock.

If the creative industry is really thriving, then it's time to take a good look at where exactly that money is going.

Because it's not to those creating the mahi - according to Creative New Zealand's (CNZ) latest, sobering research.

CNZ and NZ On Air have combined for a second time on this body of work to produce A Profile of Creative Professionals 2023 and the reading - while important - isn't pretty.

The quick take: creatives still are nowhere near the average wage earners in Aotearoa.

The research underlines that New Zealand’s creative professionals’ median income is $37,000, compared to the median of $61,800 for salary and wage earners in this country. But that's even an inaccurate view - given that 44% of creative professionals supplement their income with 'other work'; the median income from creative pursuits alone is $19,500 a year. 

Creative New Zealand CEO, Stephen Wainwright states “The research continues to paint a bleak picture of remuneration in some parts of the arts sector and the sustainability of creative careers. Income growth is very low, and it continues to be a struggle for the majority of creative professionals to plan financially and to secure important loans such as mortgages.

“It’s not surprising seeing the stats to understand why 68% of creative professionals believe their income is not fair and over half report experiencing burnout in the last year.” 

As Wainwright suggests, there has been little shock in the announcement - artists underpaid? who knew?? - but there's a growing frustration that the gap isn't just not closing, it's widening.  Only a quarter of creative professionals are living comfortably on their present income.

The Big Idea fielded some strong reactions to Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage's (MCH) recent report touting that arts and creative is now a $12.9 billion sector in Aotearoa. There's been plenty to suggest that's not the reality for those on the ground.  

At the start of the year, The Lowdown covered The Income and Housing Security Amongst Creatives in Aotearoa Report, which highlighted unstable income and housing options are having a hugely detrimental impact on the creative community. Couple this with the CNZ/NZ On Air findings and you can see why many are asking where exactly that $12.9b is going.

Artist and advocate Judy Darragh's reaction pretty much sums up the room - "Pretty grim parents were right to be worried!!!"

James Wenley, theatre lecturer at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University in Wellington, took to Twitter with his views.

"The headline for me is that the incomes of creatives has barely moved in the past 4 years, and doesn't reflect the value of what creatives offer to our communities.

Since 2019-2023, the median income for salaried/waged NZers increased by $10,000 from $51,800 to $61,800. Meanwhile the TOTAL median income for creative professionals went from $35,800 to $37,000 in 4 years. Add cost of living increases and this is a tough picture."

The more detailed breakdown offers some more valuable insights - including the fact that there are still some very clear and unacceptable income disparities.

  • Female creative professionals earn 32% less than their male peers; earning an average of $16,500 a year from creative work.  
  • The median hourly rate for creative professionals is $25. A craft artist typically earns $23.20, a writer $21.20 and a performing artist $21.40. (Minimum wage in NZ is currently $22.70, raising from $21.20 last month)
  • A Deaf or disabled artist will earn, on average, $15,000 a year from creative income and a total annual income of $28,000 from combined sources.


NZ On Air’s Chief Executive, Cameron Harland mentions another stand-out feature of the research. 

“71% of practitioners consider themselves part of the gig economy and of these, four out of five say it’s difficult to predict how much they will earn. However, it is uplifting to see that 80% of creative professionals are committed to their work – so it’s positive for New Zealand’s cultural life to see that most artists intend to still be practicing in five years’ time.” 

The profile also states more than half believe there are not enough opportunities in New Zealand to sustain their careers while support for the introduction of a Universal Basic Income for Creative Professionals stays strong at 55%.

The Lowdown approached Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni for comment on the CNZ/NZ On Air research findings. Her response drew largely from MCH's most recent findings.

"I’m pleased that businesses in the cultural sector grew by 8.2% to March 2022, and employment in the sector grew by 4.2%. This reflects the significant and historic investment the Government has put into the sector, helping to protect people's jobs and livelihoods, and creating new opportunities for artists and creatives to get into a career in the arts. That has been our focus over the course of what has been a turbulent time for the sector.

"To ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the sector, we’re introducing an Artists Resale Royalty Scheme which will put more money into the pockets of artists. This has been a long-time coming, it recognises the contribution of artists in the most tangible way possible."

Among the just-released CNZ/NZ On Air research, More than a third of creative professionals would like more support to develop marketing and business management skills, with 43% saying networking and communication skills are important for building a successful career.

Sepuloni points out "The Cultural Sector Regeneration Programme, is another such initiative, which aims to have an enduring impact, with one of the key outcomes being to increase employment and skill development opportunities.

"In Budget 2023, we committed an additional $2 million for the fourth year of the Creative Careers pilot programme to enable participants to have sustainable careers, increased income, and overall improved satisfaction in their creative profession. The programme aims to support creative professionals to develop the complementary, non-creative skills and knowledge essential to building a sustainable career."

The programmes and funds undertaken through the COVID Recovery support have produced some important results and helped many arts organisations stay afloat.  But it doesn't change the fact that creatives aren't getting paid or treated fairly compared to other industries.

On the depressing wage comparisons, Wenley adds "This ain't sustainable, and while CNZ has developed a remuneration policy, we urgently need a proper Government and sector-led strategy to lift incomes for creative workers. What if we made NZ one of the best places in the world to be a creative?"

One passionate advocate wrote, "Quite frankly, we have had a gutful." 

This research has put the spotlight on the problem - so what happens now?

Threat to Auckland arts not over

The 'significant softening' from Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown to Auckland Council's proposed slashing of arts and culture funding in the upcoming budget has of course been well received - but there is no question there is still some pain coming the sector's way.

If the money isn't coming out of creative funding - it could well be coming at the expense of the organisation that drives a large part of Tāmaki Makaurau's creative identity.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited (TAU) - the Super City's economic and cultural agency - has this week confirmed with its staff that an estimated 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles will be disestablished across the organisation. 

That's a fifth of its workforce in terms of FTEs.

And that's also working towards a savings scenario of $37.5m - lower than the first proposed total of $44.5m.

The work TAU does often goes unnoticed - but not by those whose mahi gets in in front of audiences. The support and championing of Tāmaki's creatives to be showcased and have opportunities to grow should not be underestimated. The staff at Auckland Art Gallery, NZ Maritime Museum, Auckland Lve and Auckland Stadiums are among the TAU umbrella - not to mention the role TAU plays in expanding the city's film industry.

It's not yet known which TAU roles will go - and keep in mind there could be five highly skilled contractors who bring their expertise that make up a single FTE - but there is a danger that trusted relationships and connections could be lost in this process.

The bottom line is that even if arts funding isn't hacked to pieces when the Auckland Council budget is voted on next month, those savings are going to come from somewhere. That 'somewhere' could still hurt the creative community greatly.

The Lowdown understands that right now, there is no forward planning being made. The bustling events calendar that adds so much vibrancy to Tāmaki Makaurau is not being added to beyond NZ Fashion Week next year - there's a freeze until the money is approved. That could cost Auckland by missing out on the long-term bidding options to bring events to the city.

With both the arts and culture funding and the future makeup of TAU, nothing is guaranteed until the final budget is confirmed.

TAU Chief Executive Nick Hill states “As an organisation, we are on track to deliver post-merger efficiencies of well over $16 million. Work is underway on new revenue streams to decrease our reliance on ratepayer funding, greater utilisation of our venues and facilities, integrated programming, greater use of shared services with the council group, and system simplification, standardisation and automation.

“This is no reflection on the high quality of the work our people deliver for Auckland. We have seen through the public consultation process and conversations with our stakeholders that we have many supporters and advocates who value the work we do. Unfortunately, that does not alter the worsening financial situation Auckland Council is facing and we must play our part in adapting to that.”

Wear your heart on your city

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In more welcome Tāmaki news - if you've ever dreamed of bringing the city centre to life with your creative expressions - now is your chance.

The call has gone out for artist proposals for temporary public art to as part of Art in the City 2023 (6-14 October). 

This year's theme is Vitality, with the Heart of the City-driven initiative to bring more people out to explore the hidden gems lost among the towers of the city centre, along with various exhibitions and activations in galleries, venues, and public spaces. 

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Two of the most iconic opportunities - the Freyberg Steps and Changing Lanes (above) - are up for grabs, with deadline for submission set for 7 Juiy. The selected artworks will remain installed for two months, from early October 2023.  
Successful artists will be paid $3,500 + GST for their artwork for the Freyberg Steps and $5,500 + GST for Changing Lanes - brief details are available here. 

Party time

It's taken longer than hoped - but at last, one of the most popular local productions is touring the country.

Award-winning show The Haka Party Incident has impressed audiences with its mix of verbatim theatre and kapa haka, alongside an engaging sound design and musical score - centred on 1979's race relations powderkeg when a group of University of Auckland engineering students rehearsing their annual tradition of a mock haka were confronted by the activist group He Taua.

The Haka Party Incident cast members Nī Dekkers-Reihana and Patrick Tafa. Photo: Andi Crown.

The production was set for a nationwide tour at the end of 2021 before COVID scuppered its plans - the same happened last year for the planned Festivals tour.

But starting with Auckland's Te Pou Theatre (1-11 June) it's finally a reality. Most stops on the original tour plans have been retained, with Wellington (15 June), new addition Rotorua (21 June), New Plymouth (28 June), Gisborne (4-5 July), Tauranga(19-20 October) and Christchurch (25 October -11 November) all set to see what all the fuss is about.

Cast member and Associate Producer Nī Dekkers-Reihana (Ngāpuhi, Ngaituteauru) told The Lowdown "The first round of cancellations was an easier pill to swallow but when the 2022 tour was canned that was really hard to accept. We were scheduled to perform at The Opera House in Wellington for the Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts and I was so excited to haka on the stage of such a colonial structure in the city I call home."

They add "Engari (on the other hand), now we are returning to The Opera House and for Kia Mau Festival this time. And our Wellington show is scheduled for the day before my 30th birthday and it all feels meant to be."

Tee time

Music month is winding down, but there are a few highlights to see it finish with a flourish

This Friday (26 May) is NZ Music T-Shirt Day. It's a day where, as the name suggests, everyone's encouraged to wear their favourite local band/act tee. 

As well as a show of solidarity to the music industry, there's the important kaupapa of raising funds for MusicHelps, which provides crucial support for those in need of counselling within the sector, as well as hundreds of projects across Aotearoa like music therapy, music programs in respite and palliative care, music education programs (particularly in low decile environments), music programs in prisons and rehabilitation and music in aged care.

More than $10,000 has been raised already, a number that would be wonderful to increase.

And for those who want to kōrero on the direction of the industry and learn from some masters of their trade, the return of the NZ Music Month Summit on Saturday (27 May) at Auckland's Tuning Fork is a great initiative. It's also available on live stream on Music Commission's YouTube & Facebook pages).

The theme is all about collaboration - with other art forms, in the studio and as ain industry - including a discussion from Soundcheck Aotearoa on mana-empowering ways to care for yourselves and your community.

Gone but not forgotten

Some wonderful members of the creative community have passed on recently - leaving behind sad hearts but happy memories of both the individuals and the legacy they've left.

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Johnny Penisula. Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.

Renowned master stone carver, Johnny Penisula has been called a trailblazer as the first contemporary Pacific artist to exhibit in Aotearoa in the early 1970s and a key figure since.

Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust Patron and artist Fatu Feu’u remembers Penisula as "One of our great Samoan Master carvers, with a generous heart. He was the type of person who would drop the tools and tell everybody of the origin of his ancestors. His willingness to teach anybody regardless of their ethnicity...I am honoured and privileged to have worked with him for over 40 years.”

Penisula's work seamlessly fused his Sāmoan heritage, influence and upbringing with his fine arts knowledge and being a proud Southlander - having made the big move from Samoa to Invercargill and calling the region home for the last 60 years. 


The loss of admired poet, novelist, short story writer, memoirist and editor Kevin Ireland (above) is being felt in the literary community. 

With more than 20 poetry books to his name, his passion for supporting emerging writers and skill at pushing his own writing boundaries saw him named as the recipient of 2004's Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement for poetry.

And one of the most influential DJs in radio history, Barry Jenkin (below), is being remembered by a whole generation of punk-loving music fans who craved more than the traditional flavours shared on our airwaves back in the 1970s.


You don't earn a nickname like Dr Rock without good cause - not inspire a Facebook fan page named after your catchphrase "Good Evening, Citizens."

All three men made vastly different contributions to the creative community, yet they share the same levels of respect and admiration for those who knew them.

Clay wins the day

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Last year a photo portrait, this year clay work - you can't label the Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award process as predictable.

Stevei Houkāmau (Ngāti Porou, Te Whanau-a-Apanui) has been announced as the $20,000 winner for Kia Whakatōmuri te haere whakamua (above) last night (24 May) in the presence of the King at Pipitea Marae in Wellington. The Awards were created in 2021, with emerging Māori artists tasked with creating an artwork using any visual medium, connecting their portrait to one of their tupuna (ancestors).

Primarily made from uku (clay) and held together with strong wire, the work can be hung in a number of directions but is currently displayed in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery draped in sweeping curves against a wall.

Former NZ Softball rep Houkāmau describes her winning entry. “My work is about my great great grandmother Hinemaurea. She is the daughter of Raramaitai and was married to Te Aotaki and they occupied Wharekahika in the 16th century. She had 5 children and was mother of Ruataupare who Tuwhakairiora (Great Ngati Porou Chief) married to ensure the security of Ngai Tuiti whenua which infused the stock of Porourangi throughout Tairawhiti. Hinemaurea was seen to have great mana and has two existing maraes named after her, including our marae in Wharekahika, Hawkes Bay.”

The runner-up and winner of the $2,500 second prize was awarded to Wellingtonian Ming Ranginui from Wellington for Swept under the rug – a broomstick made from Muka and cotton pearl thread (below).

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The Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award exhibition runs 25 May-20 August at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Shed 11 on Wellington’s waterfront.

And then there were 43...

Competition has never been hotter for the National Contemporary Art Award - and those still in the running have been named.

After a record number of entries from Aotearoa artists based both here and overseas, more than 420 have been whittled down to 43 artworks selected as finalists and being part of an exhibition running from July to November at Waikato Museum.

This year's judge, arts curator and commentator Melanie Oliver from Christchurch Art Gallery explains “The range and ambition of the entries this year was extraordinary, from artists addressing critical issues like climate change to those reflecting on identity and culture.” 

Impressively, from the 43 finalists, four are part of the Toipoto creative careers development programme - Naomi Azoulay, Tori Beeche, Sara (Hera) Tautuku Orme and Siniva Williams.

At stake, a cash prize of $20,000 for the winner and $7,500 for the runner-up, along with two Merit Awards of $1,000 - the results will be revealed at the National Contemporary Art Award opening gala on 28 July.

The write stuff

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Five days - Over 60,000 attendees - it was a big week for the many involved in the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival.

180 writers of all different standing, creeds and cultures were well received, while early survey results indicate 40% of the audience were first-time attendees and 30% were aged 18-34 years. 

The Festival's Artistic Curator Bridget van der Zijpp described the week as having "A definite electric buzz in the atmosphere -- ideas were being shared, writers were making valuable connections with each other, the audiences were very appreciative, books were flying out of the bookshop, and the signing queues were long. Our team are proud to have been part of it, but it was the generosity of the writers and participants sharing such genuine thoughts and stories onstage that made it truly memorable.”

Encouragingly, Book sales were up 15% on last year, with Ockham NZ Award-winner Axeman's Carnival by Catherine Chidgey the top seller, with fellow fiction finalist Monty Soutar's Kāwai: For Such a Time As This and Shehan Karunatilika's The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida edging out Eleanor Catton for the podium places.

Speaking of writing accolades, Lee Murray has won the NZ Society of Authors (NZSA) Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize for her manuscript Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud.

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The prize for new writing of 'unique and original vision' comes with a cash prize of $2000 and a publishing contract with The Cuba Press, set to hit the shelves in early 2024. 

Murray (above) is a multi-award-winning writer and poet and third-generation Chinese New Zealander - and calls this her most challenging work to date.

“I’m thrilled and also humbled to receive this kind acknowledgement of Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, a work which has challenged me both personally and creatively since its conception, partly because I wasn’t convinced that once completed it would fit anywhere, given that it straddles prose and poetry, east and west, heaven and earth, real and surreal."

NZSA has also awarded four mentorships to some promising secondary school students.

Yiyang Cao (Macleans College, Auckland), Callum Love (Nelson College, Nelson), Kaitlyn Mckenzie ( Te Kura, Palmerston North) and Stella Weston (Rotorua Lakes High School, Rotorua) will be paired with professional writers to help them with their development.