ADVOCACY AND ACTION: GRASS ROOTS ACTIVISM FOR CHANGE IN THE CREATIVE SECTOR



Peace posters workshop based on Nigel Brown’s peace painting

 

These days advocates outnumber activists and nowhere is this more evident than in the current creative sector. Academics, bureaucrats, politicians and other self-ascribed experts jostle for a place as harbingers of change but doing does not seem part of their change vocabulary. Hence, the wheels of progress move exceedingly slow. The plethora of reports produced over many years, decades even, about the same identified issues attest to this. As grassroots activists we advocate for a recalibration of the  bureaucratic machine.

A couple of treadmills Depot Artspace finds itself returning to are creative internships and artists’ resale royalties. In both instances 12 years have ticked by since they featured on the political radar.

Artists Resale Royalties Aotearoa: In 2007 Judith Tizard, Associate Minister for Arts and Culture in the Labour Government, produced a discussion paper on artists resale royalties, https://mch.govt.nz/sites/default/files/ResaleRoyaltyPublicDiscussionPaper.pdf which was hotly debated and subsequently shelved despite quite a few submissions from the arts community. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/wanganui-chronicle/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503426&objectid=10954660

As the secondary art market began to build momentum and became a major source of arts sales Depot Artspace revisited the resale royalties idea and in 2014 produced a publication, Artist Resale Royalties Aotearoa (ARRA) advocating for the introduction of a scheme along the lines of those currently operating internationally (1). To give form to its advocacy the Depot ran a Pre-loved Re-loved exhibition where 5% of the sale price of rehomed artworks went to the artist or their estate. With government and ministry interest in the scheme remaining dormant, we revised our publication in 2017 and have recently organised another exhibition, once again drawing to attention the value of ARRA legislation. Impetus was drawn from the sale of a Colin McCahon work for $1.35million, and the benefit that this may have been to the McCahon estate, especially since while he was alive, McCahon’s family were largely impecunious.

Now, 12 years after the previous discussion paper, another has been produced, this time by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise, as part of the review of the Copyright Act. This issues paper raises artists’ resale rights in paragraphs 153-155, a single paragraph in an otherwise robust discussion document. (2)

As another review, and call for submissions, is undertaken, more than 70 countries around the world have resale royalty schemes, from Austria and Azerbaijan to the Ukraine and Venezuela.


Above: Jean-Louis Forian, Un Tableau de Papa! (One of Father’s Paintings!), lithograph. The popularisation of this artwork drew sympathy to public campaigning for artist resale royalties eventually leading to France becoming the first country to introduce Artists Resale Royalties in 1920. In the image a visibly dishevelled man (hair in face, head hung low, collar upturned against the cold) and a young girl (a street seller as indicated by the basket) gaze into a window from the street and as the title suggest the young girl proclaims ‘one of father’s paintings!’. The title and the image working together to clearly illustrate the plight of impoverished artists and their families.


 

 

Creative apprenticeships and internships: This is also the story with Creative Internships and Apprenticeships. In 2007, Tom Bewick of Creative and Cultural Skills UK was invited by MCH to visit NZ to discuss with various arts and culture organisations the introduction of apprenticeship schemes for the creative industries. While enthusiasm abounded in the sector and research was commissioned in 2008 which “highlighted the extent of the challenge facing the sector in terms of addressing both skills shortages and skills gaps” (3) the issue went AWOL.

It surfaced again ten years later, when in 2018, MCH initiated research with a view to writing a report on needs in the creative sector. We suggested they get their skates on as a report based on a survey of professional practising artists initiated by CNZ in 1999, took 4 years to process with the results published in 2003. http://www.creativenz.govt.nz/assets/paperclip/publication_documents/documents/205/original/portrait-of-the-artist.pdf?1335144486

So, as you see, action is not the forte of bureaucracy, which, given its increasing size, is ironic rather than surprising. The bigger something gets the harder it is to move around or make change.The nature of bureaucracy is to exist for its own sake. The people it was set up to serve become superfluous to its existence. Advocacy, let alone action, is counter to its sustainability. Hence the continuing experience of stasis, disguised as action in the form of report writing whose recommendations, to be taken up by other agencies, generally go nowhere.

As a grassroots creative enterprise in touch with its community and with an ethos of service Depot Artspace continually finds opportunities, and remains tenacious in its endeavours to meet identified needs. Advocacy coexists with a commitment to action; in the face of lethargy, action often escalates to activism.

Depot Artspace therefore initiates necessary services even when they fly in the face of caution or initial under-funding. We believe that quality of service and delivery eventually results in support. Especially when we back it up with robust research. For example, while creative apprenticeships have languished in Aotearoa since our meetings with Tom Bewick, Helen Clark, Maryan Street and other MPs, the UK has powered ahead with tens of thousands of apprenticeships for 18-24 year olds now in place since 2008.

We have new plans to activate this initiative as part of our goal to not just put our creative sector on the map, but to make a new map. We agree with influential designer and futurist, Buckminster Fuller, that to really change something, we need to “build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” He also stated in the 60’s – and it’s yet to come – that the world needs a new vision of what is possible.

That’s why we’re passionate about the change that a fully activated creative sector can bring about. It can facilitate a new way of seeing the world and making resources accessible to everyone. That’s why we’re passionate about creative apprenticeships, about PACE and all other initiatives able to fortify and grow the creative sector.

So, when you come along to Depot Artspace you can get stuck into what you believe in and advocate for, and be a part of real and meaningful change; grassroots is where it starts and grows from.


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