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Show Us the Money: Getting Rid of Art's "Low Pay, No Pay" Culture

Photo: Shutterstock.
What should creatives get paid and who owns what? Two of the biggest topics facing the arts community lead what you need to know in this week's Lowdown.


You never hear the phrase ‘starving scientist’.

It’s not common for structural engineers to be asked to gift their skills and years of training for nothing but told “think of the exposure.”

There are many rewarding aspects to being an artist - too often, financial is not one of them.

This reality isn’t lost on many in the creative community. Even if it’s not where they are at now, they have either been in those shoes before or knows someone who has.

It is arguably the sector’s biggest issue - and certainly among its most dominant stereotypes. 

How many creative minds and potential artists have been put off by the lack of opportunity to make a comfortable living? How many times has “there’s no money in it, you need to focus on a real career” been uttered by parents, teachers or friends?

The answer is too many. 

Creative New Zealand has in the last week put the conversation of changing this perception back on the table. It’s calling for feedback on a remuneration policy for artists and arts practitioners - with a view to completing the policy later this year (in liaison with the sector) and rolling it out in 2022.

Right now, CNZ has remuneration guidelines in place but there’s nothing to hold any employer or casual contractor of creatives to following them. Any organisation who receives funding from CNZ would be expected to work to these guidelines, but there is bound to be some who do not.

This stems from the findings in 2019’s joint CNZ/NZ on Air body of research A Profile of Creative Professionals. Among the more alarming (but sadly not surprising) of stats was the median annual income for creative professionals was $35,800 - comparing unfavourably to the $51,800 for all Kiwis earning a wage/salary. Even more reflective of the issue, that number drops to $15,000 when you remove other income sources. 

How does creativity become more than just a passion project or side hustle with numbers like that?

Elizabeth Beale, CNZ’s Manager of Policy & Performance tells The Lowdown “we heard a lot of stories about artists and arts practitioners being asked to work for no or low pay, or for other forms of recognition. One participant reflected on how common it was to be offered no pay or vouchers for participating in events, noting, ‘I can’t pay my power bill with book tokens’.

“We also heard reports of public entities not fairly remunerating artists.

“The aim of this policy (you can read the current draft of it here) is to establish good practice guidelines, including that all creative work should - by default - be paid work.”

This is about practising what we preach. If those inside the arts don’t ensure artists and those who work in the sector are paid and treated fairly, what hope is there externally?

Much of the issues come down to funding and income - or the lack thereof.

The survey (which is easily completed inside 10 minutes, depending on how much you want to get off your chest in the optional ‘anything else we should know?’ boxes) poses plenty of important questions with predictable answers. But there are also many grey areas that those in the sector may need to stop and consider.

Thoughts on statements like 

  • Artists’ and arts practitioners’ copyright and intellectual property should be protected as both a moral and an economic right

  • Contractual arrangements should allow for artists to benefit appropriately from the future exploitation of their work

  • Artists’ and arts practitioners’ fees should be ring-fenced to ensure they are protected against budget over-runs

  • All work and roles in a project should be covered by a contract

Take that last point, for example. Are those artists who enjoy the ability to plug in and out of projects that take their fancy really willing to sign up to contracts for each engagement of their skills?

“We recognise that current practices are long-entrenched, and it will take time to shift these,” Beale admits. “The aim of the policy is to support change over time in practices for remunerating artists and arts practitioners, and therefore improve the sustainability of arts sector careers. 

“This policy will complement changes we have already made to our Grants programme where we implemented fair pay guidelines stipulating that at a minimum, applications should include pay rates of at least $25 per hour for artists and arts practitioners. We have already seen the impact of this change, with increases in the average grant value since the policy was implemented.

“We believe that setting clear expectations of those we fund will have the effect of improving practice over time.”

As for how this policy is likely to go down within the sector, The Lowdown spoke to Louise Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer of the Performing Arts Network of New Zealand (PANNZ).

“We hosted a number of festival and venue presenters last month, and one of the big topics during our discussions was the role we all play as leading arts organisations and our collective responsibility to ensure that we are paying reasonable and sustainable fees, that per diems are set at a rate of $60 a day minimum and that royalties continue to be paid to protect the artists future income. 

“I believe that everyone who works in our industry is entitled to be able to pay a mortgage and save for their retirement. No one should be expected to work for free or reduced fees to make a project work, artists should not be made responsible to make a budget work by taking a lower fee.

“It is up to all of us who have the privilege to present an artist’s work, to ensure they are fairly and generously paid for this work. We are the ones who make the budgets so the decisions as to what is a priority for us - for us it is always the people, even if that means we need to crib back on other areas.

“It is very timely that CNZ are undertaking the survey of the sector and providing guidelines.”

How it will impact the work practices and exploitation habits of those not under CNZ or Manatū Taonga’s funding banner is less black and white.

Yes, it will give creatives and arts advocates a recognised and established document to use in any contract discussions or debates over the value of the work being sourced. But enforcement for those who don’t receive CNZ or government support is a whole other issue.

Part of the problem around the perception of paying artists also comes with the need - from some sections of society - to justify why money is spent on creative endeavours.

The latest in a monotonous attack on government support for arts funding from agenda-driven lobby group The Taxpayers Union made the mistake of calling out the money invested in documentary-maker David Farrier’s hugely successful Tickled film.

Farrier, never one to miss an opportunity to turn the table on online assaults, launched into a scathing reply on social media. Before things descended into some language we won’t repeat here, Farrier rightfully shot down their questioning of the $270,000 of taxpayer money into the doco, pointing out “it made a profit for the (NZ) film commission, you absolute knuckle dragging dimwits.” 

When his travel expenses to the Sundance Film Festival were challenged, Farrier again returned fire in the simplest terms he could explain. “When you make a film, you market your film so you can sell your film to make the money. In this case, the trip resulted in a sale to HBO and Magnolia which is how you make the money back.” 

Attacks from those with an axe to grind on artists getting paid - especially funded by government - aren’t about to stop. But changing the mindset of those who make the calls on actually paying them needs to start.

Battle for the books

Last week, we looked into the initial reaction to the National Library of New Zealand’s (NLNZ) announced partnership with the Internet Archive (IA).

Fair to say, in the space of a week, passion around this topic has not died down - it’s inflamed if anything.

There’s one important thing to note on this divisive topic. Both sides of the fence are taking stances they believe are in the best interests of the sector.  

The critics are understandably emotional and making noise - they have to, if they wish to see the decision challenged.

Some of those who support the NLNZ move are calling the criticism misguided and ill-informed. One of the people being quoted the most in the defence of the partnership is American copyright lawyer Michael Wolfe.  

In response to Steve Braunias taking the controversial new NLNZ/IA to task on Newsroom, Wolfe supplied the same website with a rebuttal, rebuking the use of the term piracy and explaining why he believes it to be controlled digital lending. 

“Why bother with fussy legal technicalities when a snap moral judgment is so much easier and so much more fun to write?” says Wolfe. “The public conversation would be better served by taking a moment and giving a complicated situation the care and attention to detail it deserves.”

In Wolfe’s opinion, the debate should be less about piracy and digitisation and more about the future of libraries and ownership. “If this whole debate gives you strong feelings favouring either side, I hope you’ll agree that it surfaces important questions that demand to be taken seriously, not glibly. They’re also questions that demand democratic engagement here in New Zealand.”

Wolfe is also quoted in a piece on the Tohatoha Aotearoa Commons website - for which he is a copyright advisor.

For those not familiar with them, Tohatoha describes itself as supporting “New Zealand to become a digital nation with a digitally sophisticated population” and its purpose “to educate New Zealand communities and government about the social impacts of technology.”

Tohatoha CEO Mandy Henk, a librarian herself, is one of several organisations calling the claims the new alliance is essentially internet piracy are unfounded - along with Internet New Zealand and Museums Aotearoa (who, as regular Lowdown readers will know, have been dealing with issues of their own recently). 

In the article, Henk says “This agreement is about overseas works—those written and published overseas. The authors of the works in this collection are not New Zealanders and so long-term access and storage costs don’t need to fall on New Zealand. What’s important is that our researchers and others have access to the works, which this agreement ensures will happen.”

Through a statement, Rachel Esson, Te Pou Huaki National Librarian explains one of the benefits of working with the American digital lending organisation.

National Librarian Rachel Esson. Photo: Libraries Aotearoa website.

“Working with the Internet Archive gives us a balanced solution – these books will still be available to New Zealanders and people around the world – they are being given a new life internationally. Previously, less than 1% of these books were issued each year, digitising them secures their future and means they will become accessible to a wider audience.

“When the project first began mid-2018 it appeared likely that books remaining at the end of the process would face destruction. We are pleased to have secured the future of these titles, even if they are rarely accessed and used.”

These statements are doing little to appease those who have grave concerns about the National Library working with IA, who are accused of currently and historically making available downloads of books by New Zealand authors - as well as those around the world - without having the right to do so, or compensating the writers or publishers. 

New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) CEO Jenny Nagle has expressed to The Lowdown “we would like the Department of Internal Affairs, the National Library and Ministry for Culture and Heritage who authorised the transfer, to point to the point of law that permits this proposed infringement. 

“Claiming library exceptions is disingenuous – copying 600,000 books is not ‘special circumstances only’, and enabling worldwide distribution by a private company is not a valid exception under the Act.”

While the books being removed - culled in the eyes of the detractors, weeded according to the supporters - are of overseas writers, Nagle points that many of the authors are still alive and their books still in print, stating an illegal distribution will impinge on their royalty earnings. “It is intellectual property theft. It will cloud our international reputation.”

Given our earlier subject matter on remuneration, Nagle also has this to say. “It appears to the NZSA that the National Librarian is on a generous salary to tell authors that what we do has no value and to freely take and give away writers’ work and their right to fair reward. The 2021 Horizon Survey into authors' incomes puts the average NZ writers’ income at below the poverty line: $15,800. Actions such as this puts even that meagre return further at risk.”

NZSA's Jenny Nagle. Photo: Jason Dorday/Stuff.

The concerns include author and Book Guardians Aotearoa member Christine Dann, who expresses her views on the organisation’s website.

Copyright Licensing New Zealand’s Paula Browning refutes what is proposed can be called Controlled Digital Lending. She tells the Lowdown “It has been thoroughly dispelled internationally (including in territories with similar copyright law to Aotearoa New Zealand) as illegal and harmful to the creative sector.”

As for what the future holds on this debate - next month will be an important step. Browning states that “NZSA, PANZ and myself will be meeting with Rachel Esson in August to have what I hope will be a positive and productive discussion about both the copyright aspects of the agreement with IA and also a plan to build better understanding in the library community of how the Aotearoa New Zealand publishing ecosystem (which includes libraries) works.”

A face-to-face conversation seems like a crucial step to finding some middle ground.

Opening doors for next generation

After a year where so many opportunities closed like international borders, it’s a joy to see so many opening back up again.

Tautai Pacific Arts Trust has revived its Oceania Internship programme, which provides arts practitioners with professional development opportunities to develop as arts managers and administrators over the course of a 20-week placement.

The five recipients of the 2021 internships are (below, left to right) curator Paulina Bentley, placed at Auckland War Memorial Museum (Pacific Collections); interdisciplinary artist Sophia Coghini, at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space; actress and aspiring filmmaker Lahleina Feaunati, at Script to Screen; multidisciplinary artist Jasmine Tuiā, at Te Tuhi; and actress and writer Rosalind Tui, at Auckland War Memorial Museum (Māori and Pacific Development).

Photo: Supplied.


Funded by CNZ, the internship has been a breeding ground for the new breed of Pasifika leaders, with names like The 312 Hub’s Director and Co-Founder Amiria Puia-Taylor, CNZ’s Pacific Arts Practice Director Paul Lisi and Massey lecturer Sonya Withers among their alumni over the past eight years.

Doors are being opened also for emerging Ngāi Tahu artists, in a new partnership between the Iwi and the Arts Foundation, said to be the first of its kind in Aotearoa.

As covered in Stuff, ​​Ngāi Tahu will fund the $15,000 grant for one artist a year for three years as part of the Springboard scheme, with descendants from the iwi like  Peter Robinson, Ariana Tikao, Fiona Pardington, and Louise Potiki Bryant among the Arts Foundation alumni available as mentors to the successful applicants.

Going like hotcakes

While the All Blacks struggled to sell out stadiums this month, the big names of New Zealand Music continue to draw the crowds.

With Summer Festival already in high demand, tickets for L.A.B.’s supershow at Western Springs Stadium in January went on sale yesterday. They’re following in the footsteps of Six60 as the second Kiwi act to headline the venue and with a capacity of around 55,000, it’s set to be another massive open-air spectacle with the likes of Sir Dave Dobbyn, Ladi6, The Black Seeds, Katchafire, JessB and RIIKI also on the bill.

Their other January dates at Bowl Of Brooklands in New Plymouth and Christchurch’s Hagley Park are also on sale.

Closer on the calendar is the popular Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival in October.

The line up has been announced this week with over 200 artists and performers confirmed to bring Gisborne to life over 10 days.

Photo: Supplied.

A highlight is sure to be the world premiere of te reo Māori opera event HIHĪ - combining “kapa haka, waiata and opera, features a chamber orchestra of New Zealand Symphony Orchestra musicians, and showcases some of the most remarkable Tairāwhiti ‘songbirds’ amidst the exquisite beauty of the natural environment.”

It’s been put together by the creative minds of Tama Waipara, Teina Moetara, Ruth Smith and Mere Boynton.

With new work by Atamira Dance Company Artistic Director Jack Gray and acclaimed shows like Auckland Theatre Company’s The Haka Party Incident,  the third annual East Coast event is already getting people excited.


Written by

The Big Idea Editor

29 Jul 2021

The Big Idea Editor