Full piece here
Mandy Hager is the author of both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and teens. Her work has won multiple awards and this year she received the Storyline Margaret Mahy Medal for life-time achievement and a distinguished contribution to New Zealand’s literature for young people. Her most recent book, Hindsight: Pivotal moments in New Zealand history, is launched later this month. She has just been appointed as President of the NZ Society of Authors.
A recent Spinoff article (25.9.19) to mark Arts Week headlined a quote from Jacinda Ardern which said: ‘We can’t say we value our art if we don’t value our artists.’ This opinion piece from the PM states that, ‘as someone who is passionate about the arts and the role they play in our communities,’ she believes art is all about wellbeing. ‘Being able to create and access art contributes not only to our individual wellbeing, but is also an important factor in the wellbeing of our communities, and our society as a whole.’
For anyone working in the arts, this sentiment is very welcome, especially from our Prime Minister, whose predecessor, John Key, said at the launch of the Literary heritage Trail in 2012: ‘while our literary heroes may never challenge the glory and respect given to our All Blacks, we still need role models to inspire us’ and who described our most recent Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton, as a ‘fictional writer.’
In the Spinoff article, Ms Ardern points to several good initiatives currently being undertaken to support sustainable careers in the arts, saying ‘creative industries, and the artists that work in them, already make a significant contribution to our economy, and our government is committed to supporting this growth . . . However, we cannot say we value our art if we do not value our artists. We know our artists are often marginalised. Recent data confirms that our artists’ average earnings are well below the New Zealand average, and even the most talented and resilient can find it challenging to establish a sustainable career . . . all New Zealand workers deserve a fair wage, because this government is focused on wellbeing, and because I believe in the power of art to make change.’
It’s refreshing to hear someone championing the arts at such a high level but, unfortunately, on the ground, NZ writers are grappling with several serious issues that may have gained a sympathetic ear but little traction to date. These issues very much affect our wellbeing and our ability to achieve a sustainable career; in fact, I’d go as far as to say they currently breach our human rights under the Berne Convention and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). New Zealand is a signatory to both.
Our sister organisation, Copyright Licensing NZ (CLNZ), recently conducted a survey of writers that discovered, on average, writers earn around $15,200 per annum from their writing — below the minimum wage for a 40 hour week (approx. $20,000) and substantially less than a living wage (approx. $44,000). Just over half cited the need for further support from partners and/or relied on other employment to pay the bills (42% in jobs unrelated to writing.) This information comes at a time when failing youth and adult literacy is a hot topic — and funding for literature through Creative New Zealand appears to be falling. The 2020-2022 CNZ investment client funding for literature equals 2.09% of the total funding pool (3 years of funding at $4.1m from a pool of $198.8m), compared to, say, 4.83% in 2019, or visual arts, at 5.57%.