When Barack Obama took office he committed to reading 10 letters a day from the 10,000 he received daily from the American people, becoming the first president to put such a deliberate focus on constituent correspondence. ‘Late each afternoon, around five o’clock, a selection would be sent up from the post room to the Oval Office. The “10 LADs”, as they came to be known – for “10 letters a day” – would circulate among senior staff and the stack would be added to the back of the briefing book the president took with him to the residence each night. He answered some by hand and wrote notes on others for the writing team to answer, and on some he scribbled “save”.’
Starting in 2010, all physical mail was scanned and preserved. From 2011, every word of every email factored into the creation of a daily word cloud, distributed around the White House so policy makers and staff members alike could get a glimpse of the issues and ideas constituents had on their minds.
“I think I understood that if somebody writes a letter and they get any kind of response, that there’s a sense of … being heard,” he said. “And so often, especially back in 2009, 2010, 2011, a lot of people were going through a lot of hardship.
This is an empowering initiative; to know one letter can make a difference, that observations, concerns and sentiments of a citizen, often deeply felt, are not simply by-passed or put in a too-hard basket.
Here is the letter I would send to Jacinda Ardern if Labour took a leaf out of Mr Obama’s book.
MINISTER OF ARTS, CULTURE AND HERITAGE
PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS, WELLINGTON
14 NOVEMBER, 2018
I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, a portfolio you have held for more than a year. Before that, during Labour’s time in opposition you were the spokesperson for that portfolio from 2011.
When Labour won the elections of 2017 it had a strong Arts, Culture and Heritage platform and we were looking forward to PACE (Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment) being reintroduced and creative internships established.
We will ensure the long-term sustainability of the cultural sector through investment in tertiary education and professional development for artists, and a strategic focus on areas of anticipated future growth. Labour will: · Work with education providers, employers, Creative New Zealand, and other invited parties to support the development of measures that support early career cultural workers · Establish ‘Creative Apprenticeships’ as a New Zealand Apprenticeship option for the creative industries This will allow people to combine training and paid employment to acquire a recognised qualification through a mix of on-job and off-job learning · Re-establish the Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE) scheme.
PACE has always been an effective programme when targeted to the demographics of the region it is delivered in. During its halcyon days under Helen Clark, Artists Development Agency established by Antony Deaker in Dunedin and Standing Ovation in Wellington run by Biddy Grant are shining examples of programmes whose success grew from the knowledge of the creative sector in their region.
Biddy Grant ran Standing Ovation, which had the Wellington Pace contract.
“It was really, really successful. There were some years when Standing Ovation got the most people off the benefit in the whole of the Wellington region that includes hospitality and retail, and whatever. Most people who came were new graduates with little idea of how to make a living from their skills. There were some woolly stories at the start with people whose best claim to being an artist was “I own a guitar” but they were weeded out.” What happened to the PACE scheme? Tom Fitzsimons. 2.3. 2011
Depot Artspace has successfully run a PACE programme since it was initiated in 2001, working across the whole spectrum of creative disciplines to support more than 2000 creative job seekers into employment. We are known for our responsiveness to the needs of individual practitioners in relation to trends in both the creative sector and socio-economic environment.
Consequently, we continue to develop projects that enhance the prospects of creatives and build the sustainability of the sector. Our latest innovation is a digital platform and community hub, a place to go, for creatives seeking work and employers looking for creatives.
And we have contextualised our services in a well-being index where quality of life is a primary indicator of achievement.
With regard to the issues outlined above, I have a number of observations, which I hope you would be prepared to discuss in the near future:
Here are some of your pre-election policy promises:
- Labour was in opposition for nine years and had adequate time to research the viability of their policies. PACE and Creative Apprenticeships have been part of your MCH policy since you were voted out of office. Led by Steve Chadwick, Labour even held a policy launch at the Depot, which included these initiatives.
- It is now more than a year since Labour took office and still Arts and Culture languishes while research is undertaken to determine the efficacy of existing programmes and alternatives that could take their place. We have been interviewed 5 times with four different configurations of six people.
- We can tell you from our own research and experience, not only in Auckland but in the Hokianga, of the needs of creatives across the spectrum of disciplines and in diverse regions, that one of the big issues is isolation; isolation in practising alone, as a creative who has no reference group, and geographically from networks of other creatives.
- Given that you are considering the development of a wellbeing index, this could be an issue you give serious consideration to; it does not need another extensive, time-consuming survey to ascertain what is already evident, and reflected in suicide statistics and mental health.
- We know that CNZ, which receives 90% of MCH funding, is undertaking a survey on the needs of professional practising artists to ascertain their needs, from which appropriate resources and services will be developed. You may be interested to know that the previous survey, initiated in 1999, took 4 years to process with the results published in 2003.
If that’s the time frame then Labour will be into its next term before it makes a practical commitment to arts and culture.
I’m sorry to sound a little testy, Jacinda, as we know you’re committed, but I think we had great expectations of the creative future under a Labour Government and we really did anticipate you would fulfil many of your policy promises rather than return to ‘the drawing board’.
As previously mentioned we’ve talked to a number of researchers in the past 6 months, who are undertaking research and preparing reports which they say will be ready for February, so we’re not holding our breath for rapid change or action. In fact, given their lack of familiarity with the creative sector, we’ve decided to divest ourselves of hope and just get on with the job we do so well; of supporting creatives and the creative sector to develop sustainability.
Nga mihi nui,
Linda Blincko, MA, QSM