Systems change - Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi

Systems change
in the creative ecosystem

Building a better future for the creative sector
- an introduction to the change we need

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.

What is ‘systems change’ and why does it matter to artists?

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.

How can ‘systems change’ happen?

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.

What might a better future look like?

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

What might move us towards this future state?

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:


What’s needed

How can we get there?

Collective visioning

  • Central and local government valuing the contribution of the creative sector and recognising the need for a bold and long-term strategy
  • A shared vision for the sector, based on the aspirations of its creative communities
  • Aligned national and regional strategy that clearly map out pathways towards this vision and ways that different stakeholders across the creative ecosystem can contribute
  • Developing evidence that demonstrates the value of the creative sector to generate greater political will to invest in and prioritise the arts
  • Authentic and inclusive engagement with the creative sector by central and local government, to inform the design of strategy and policy
  • Sector visioning processes being led by the sector, bringing forward diverse and underrepresented voices

Mana motuhake and mātauranga Māori

  • Māori self-determination to strengthen Toi Māori and ensure the intergenerational transfer of mātauranga Māori
  • Te Ao Māori at the heart of policy, strategy and practice
  • Investing in Māori to determine and develop Toi Māori infrastructure, lead decision-making, and control resources for Toi Māori
  • Recognising and resourcing Māori governance structures and leadership models that draw on mātauranga Māori
  • Government, arts funders, institutions, organisations and practitioners developing a nuanced understanding of Te Ao Māori and building competencies to decolonise their practices

Equity and inclusion

  • A structural focus on equity and inclusion within institutions, on boards, in government policy, in funding policy
  • Equitable access to funding and opportunities
  • Policies, systems and practices that include diverse knowledge systems and cultural understandings of ‘art’
  • Government, arts funders, institutions, organisations and practitioners:
  • Asking critical questions about who is around the table, whose voice is being privileged, who is participating, who has access
  • Building competencies for inclusion and transforming their practices
  • Growing diversity of thought around their leadership tables

Leadership and decision-making power

  • Sector self-determination whereby the people and communities in the creative sector are the ones making key decisions about the sector and are in control of sector resources
  • Decolonised leadership spaces and practices
  • Representation and diversity of thought around decision-making tables
  • Regenerative leadership pathways that enable succession
  • Ensuring that the voices that matter to a kaupapa are part of the decision-making process
  • Investing in leadership and governance capacity and capability
  • Creating more connected pathways into leadership and governance roles, particularly for underrepresented voices and rangatahi and between sectors/industries
  • Deliberate sharing of decision-making power and resources with creative communities
  • Sector co-design to reimagine and test new models of governance and decision-making

Funding practice

  • Equitable access to funding and other resourcing
  • New models of funding that move away from competition towards more artist-centred and relational processes
  • More strategic alignment between funders
  • Funders investing in purpose rather than specific projects or outputs
  • Growing the total level of investment into the creative sector
  • Strategic and collaborative effort across funders to increase equity of access to existing funding channels and address funding gaps
  • Common funding processes across funders, reduced reporting and compliance; as well as pooled resources that enable more centralised relationships between creatives and their funders
  • Building the infrastructure needed to enable more community control over resources, with workable forms of devolved funding tested and scaled up
  • Authentic co-design with Māori to develop models of devolved funding
  • Collaboration between government, philanthropy and the private sector creating new models of funding/ commissioning, and opening up potential new sources of investment for the sector

Sector infrastructure

  • Creative spaces and venues that are sustainable
  • Arts administration and production
  • Long-term capability development
  • Brokering of creative opportunities
  • Enabling collaboration through communities of practice
  • Investing in accessible and inclusive spaces for creative practice
  • Investing in leaders, brokers and anchor organisations that can provide backbone support to creative communities including:
  • Networking, collaboration and peer support
  • Brokering engagement in vital decision-making processes
  • Growing capacity and capability development,
  • Open IP sharing of mātauranga, knowledge, practice, resources
  • Brokering access to funding, commissions and other opportunities