It’s now over a year since the Labour led government was voted in, with an agenda for the arts and culture which created a lot of optimism. At Depot Artspace we were particularly enthusiastic about the reintroduction of PACE and the initiation of creative apprenticeships/internships, especially after the drought in support for the creative sector over the previous decade.
Depot has offered PACE since early 2002, although in 2010 we were unable to apply the acronym to our programme, changing the name to ArtsLab. Before that, we ran our own creative industries mentoring scheme for 3 years, funded by J. R. McKenzie Trust (Arts Incubator Mentoring Scheme, AIMS) for which we won a Civic Award.
When Labour set up PACE in late 2001 it was hailed as the first time a government had invested in a career path for creatives. Initially it ran in 13 regions throughout Aotearoa, from Whangarei to Dunedin, and the Depot was amongst the first committed providers to deliver a programme that responded to both the general needs and regional demographics of creatives.
Over the years, some programmes dropped away and others strengthened as they developed a greater understanding of their creative milieu and provided robust services accordingly. Another factor in their success was the support of their regional W&I offices, which included adequate resourcing and referrals.
I believe these programmes could have survived had they received more structured support, rather than floating in an ether of ignorance, both public and institutional, about the value of the creative sector. We heard from some of our creatives that W&I staffers regarded PACE as a luxury option for an over-indulged and unproductive part of the working population, and would often fail to refer them to the programme. Here in his article on PACE Adam Goodall, quotes in his introduction the experience described by award-winning actor Nisha Madhan.
‘Nisha Madhan graduated from Unitec’s Performing Arts School in 2003 and was told to go straight to Work and Income. She’d been receiving an unemployment benefit for two years when friends started whispering, there’s this Work and Income scheme, but it’s for artists and it’s called PACE. An actual artist’s benefit. You had to do battle with your case manager to get on it, but this dragon’s hoard existed
“I had to fight pretty hard,” Nisha remembers. “I had to show lots of evidence that I’d been to auditions, that I’m a working actor, that I had independently produced shows myself and I’d informally set up a theatre company. I remember it being a pretty dirty fight with my case manager.”’ (The Difficult History and Precarious Future of PACE, Adam Goodall, 2018)
Nisha fought the dragon and won and subsequently arrived at our PACE programme. She describes below her encounter with the Depot’s PACE Coordinator. ‘She got a PACE supervisor, a man named Lynn Lawton. “This guy was fucking amazing,” Nisha continues. At their first meeting, she’d laid out the evidence of her grind yet again and then told him, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna go and do a trial at a café.” Lynn did a double take. “WHAT? Why are you doing that?” “Oh, you know, because I’ve gotta have a job.”“No no no,” Lynn replied. “You’re already doing a full-time job. That’s what this money is for. This isn’t an unemployment benefit.”
Nisha’s career has continued to flourish. ‘The former Shortland Street actor claimed the Community Spirit Award as recognition of her mentoring work throughout the community. As well as crafting her own award-winning show at the Fringe Festival, Madhan helped five others develop their own works as well as directing and producing multiple other works throughout the year.’
Creatives across all disciplines have been introduced to this programme, and their collective experiences are of support, of being valued and of feeling they have a creative turangawaewae, a sense of place where their practice is acknowledged. Isolation, fragmentation and lack of confidence are the significant issues in the lives of creatives we have committed to addressing; you could say this part of our own Wellbeing Index identified through our work in this sector over 20 years.
“It’s hard after you graduate from art school. It almost feels like you are left alone. When I graduated, I didn’t know exactly what to do and where to start. It’s easy to get depressed and lose belief in your own work. As I attended meetings and workshops I gained confidence. Artslab taught me how to get in the real world and encouraged me and helped me believe in what I was doing. ArtsLab is the transition between art school and the real world. Things you should know but are not taught at arts school are covered by ArtsLab.” Past ArtsLab artist – painter. https://www.depotartspace.co.nz/artslab/
In seventeen years of offering PACE/ArtsLab the Depot has supported more than 2500 creatives into employment, career development and further training, with many making their way sustainably in their field, and some becoming internationally recognised. Two celebrated bands from these shores are now based in Los Angeles and the UK and before Christmas one of their group called in to the Depot to say hullo and since PACE they haven’t looked back. Success they achieved is due to their passion and hard work and the support they received from a programme that believed in them.
We worked out over these years our PACE programme has saved and earnt the government more than $28,000,000 in taxes and revenue, not to mention the immeasurable benefits to our cultural identity. Not a bad return on an investment of around $3,000,000 over seventeen years.
The 2017 Labour Party Manifesto states:
We have a shared responsibility to ensure all NZers can participate in the arts. A strong cultural and creative sector is vital to our national identity and economic development.
PACE ticks a lot of boxes. In fact there’s nothing else in the creative industries to date that has made such an impact on the lives of so many creatives.
Keeping PACE under these circumstances is imperative.