The ngā toi arts, culture and creative sector of Aotearoa is rich in talent but our arts practitioners, and the organisations that support them, face a number of challenges. These include issues of equity and inclusion, career sustainability, lack of funding and competitive funding processes. Te Taumata is looking to support transformative change in the creative ecosystem, to address the root causes of these issues, and create the conditions for a sector that is resilient, equitable, inclusive, sustainable and valued.
This paper introduces the concept of systems change and provides an overview of what a better future for the sector would look like. It outlines six major shifts needed to strengthen the creative sector and puts forward some ideas about how these might be enabled.
Since the start of the Covid pandemic, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi has been trying to champion the voices of creative practitioners and organisations – turning up the volume and sharing ideas on ways that we could create a more supportive sector environment where artists can thrive.
We are now clearer than ever of the need to focus our efforts on trying to influence change around some of the big issues that affect all artists – things like the way in which funding is given out, or who gets a seat at the tables where important decisions are being made about things that affect artists.
In other words, we are working on “systems change” – working ‘upstream’ to shift the root causes of issues, so that the experiences of artists downstream are better.
Here is an example:
A young artist applies for funding for a project that she’s been putting together with some collaborators. She finds the process confusing and time consuming. It takes days. She doesn’t feel like she can answer or even understand all the questions on the application form. She tries to represent the work to the best of her ability, but she needs to force things into boxes that don’t quite fit, and it feels culturally unsafe. She makes a go of it, and whilst she is waiting for a decision on the funding, she self-funds some development work on the project, whilst independently working on other stuff to earn a living. A few weeks later she gets a decision and it’s a ‘no’. Some of the other artists involved in the project did secure funding for other work, and they move on to focus on that. Her project gets shelved whilst she juggles three other short-term bits of paid creative work to make ends meet. She feels burnt out and starts looking for secure mahi, which takes her out of the creative sector.
There are a number of ‘systemic’ things at play here ….
…the funding system was set up to operate in ways that inadvertently advantage some artists over others, based on things like their level of experience, art form
…mainstream western understanding of what constitutes ‘art’ mean that non-Pakehā artists don’t have fair access to resourcing or other opportunities
…competitive systems of resourcing are getting in the way of creative practice and collaboration
…unhealthy cultural norms around the ‘starving artist’ perpetuate the gig economy
…unsustainable business models and low incomes contribute to burn out, which also impacts hauora/wellbeing
…the lack of sustainable work prevents creatives from having long-term careers in the arts.
Systems change is organic and can happen in lots of different ways, but it can be helpful to think about change happening in two ways –
The gentle revolution – steady, incremental change, often focused through gradually improving current ways of doing things; or building the skills needed to make more rapid change possible.
Transformational change – immediate big leaps, where things are done differently to show what is possible. This usually involves many people working together to trial a new way of doing things, and then if successful, figuring out how to make that the new normal.
We can’t yet paint an exact picture of what a better future for the sector will look like, but through our conversations with artists, organisations, institutions and funders, we’ve identified what some the core values might look like. These values would shape everything – from government policy, funding models that resource artists, to our day-to-day ways of thinking, being and doing.
The intrinsic value of arts, culture and creativity is recognised
Creativity is well resourced in recognition of this value and contribution to society
Art is valued as an essential part of wellbeing
The hauora/wellbeing of creative practitioners is prioritised, supported and invested in
The creative sector infrastructure recognises, understands, honours and equitably values different knowledge systems and cultural understandings of ‘art’
Te Ao Māori world view, values and frameworks are placed at the heart of the sector
Mātauranga Māori guides the way in which our future sector is shaped
The creative sector values and enables inclusion at all levels – makers, audiences, consumes and decision-makers
Creative practitioners have equitable access to opportunities and resources
We have gathered insights from across our work about the changes needed to strengthen the creative sector and move us towards future state where these values are embedded. We’ve identified six major shifts and some ideas about how these might be enabled: