Breaking research from CNZ + NZ On Air shows making a living in the arts is tough

A new report out paints a bleak picture about the reality of what it’s like trying to make a living as a creative professional in Aotearoa writes Andrea Rush.

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The creative industries are those which make us laugh, cry, stop and reflect, think and relax and see the world from different perspectives. They are integral to our cultural identity and well being.

 

What gets measured brings change

This new research showing just how low pay is for many in the creative professions is sobering but it’s also healthy because it offers a blueprint for a better future.  The Big Idea welcomes this research and insights.

These statistics bring in to stark reality the numbers in the sector, and it’s welcomed because what is measured can be changed and the research released today by Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air is the first step to addressing low pay in the sector.

The research entitled A Profile of Creative Professionals is the first of its kind in almost 20 years, and asked close to 1,500 people working in creative professions questions about their income, training, means of support and wellbeing.

Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air jointly commissioned Colmar Brunton to conduct the research into the sustainability of careers in the creative sector, and to discover what opportunities there are to better support creative professionals.

Creative professionals have been defined in the research as those who are aged 16 plus, who earned at least some income from their creative work in the financial year ending 31st March 2018.  And who are working in the following creative sectors: craft and object arts, dance, literary arts, media production, music and sound, Ngā Toi Taketake (customary Māori arts), Pacific heritage arts, acting and theatre production, video game development and visual arts.

 

Sustainable livings needed for creatives

The research found that while the majority of creative professionals covered in the survey have difficulty making a sustainable living from their principal artform or creative practice. With the highest pay going to video game developers and the lowest pay for dancers who were only earning around $17,000 per year

It also showed that young people entering the industry on average were expected to work without pay for nearly 18 months and that this expectation was increasing.

The median personal annual income for creative professionals surveyed is much lower than the average wage at around $35,800 – compared to $51,800 for all New Zealanders earning a wage or salary or $37,900 for self-employed New Zealanders. However, when you take away other sources of income, the median income from creative work is only $15,000.

So, it’s not surprising that it also found most creative professionals rely on other sources of financial support such as another job or a partner’s income to survive, and that most can’t dedicate as much time to their art or creative practice as they would like

 

High levels of commitment

Of those surveyed just 23.0% reported they were living comfortably, and these tended to be more established and older sector professionals. However, the rest were just getting by or finding it difficult. Despite this creative professionals are highly committed to their sector – only three percent think they’ll leave the creative industries in the next five years.

“This research provides valuable insights into the challenges of making a living as a creative professional. It’s a useful marker as we work with the sector to support fair reward for creative work and more sustainable careers in the industry, and develop stronger arts and creative sectors for the benefit of all New Zealanders,” said Creative New Zealand Chief Executive Stephen Wainwright.

We collaborated with Creative New Zealand on this research because we need a diverse range of people involved in creating the media content we fund, and we need to understand the barriers to pursuing a creative career for some,” said NZ On Air Chief Executive Jane Wrightson. “While our funding is for content outcomes, not designed to provide income at a personal level, we will be carefully considering what we can do to address issues this research raises for NZ On Air.

The most interesting thing was that while creative professionals are less satisfied in their career than the general New Zealand population, a huge 82% see themselves in the creative sector in 5 years’ time, despite the challenges a creative career presents. This is because they say they love their work, are passionate about it and find it a wholly fulfilling career.

 

A call to action

The two agencies have agreed on three joint priorities as a result of the research:

1.       Fair reward – working towards:
- ensuring lower-paid creative professionals are paid in line with technical professionals
- lifting pay to the point where creative professionals start to feel it is a fair reward for their work.

2.       Sustainability – working to make the careers of mid-career and established creative professionals more sustainable through more continuous creative endeavours.

3.       Emerging creative professionals – working with the sector (including peak bodies and guilds) to find better ways to support creative professionals at the start of their career.

They acknowledge that career sustainability is complex terrain, and an area the Government has signalled an interest in. The next step in advancing this work is that each agency will engage with the creative communities it works with on the issues relevant to their funding work. This will include highlighting potential areas for future exploration, such as gender pay gaps.

NZ On Air has issued a discussion document relating to its areas of responsibility. Creative New Zealand recently signalled likely changes to its grants programme, to better support artists and arts organisations, and plans to advise on those changes in June. Creative New Zealand also plans to seek arts sector views on the research, and the wider issues it raises, following the release of a discussion document in July.

Here is the link to the Full report – A profile of a creative professional

Here is the link to the Research summary – A profile of a creative professional

 

An invitation for feedback

To provide feedback on the research:
Creative New Zealand
advocacy@creativenz.govt.nz
PO Box 3806
Wellington 6140

04 473 0880
NZ On Air
communications@nzonair.govt.nz
PO Box 9744
Wellington 6141
04 382 9524

 

Written by

Andrea Rush

20 May 2019

Andrea Rush is a writer for the Big Idea. An aspiring novelist, she has a background in journalism, broadcasting, television production and communications. She is passionate about social justice and Donut economics.