It seems Delta's sticking around for now. What’s next for the arts?

3 Nov 2021

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Stephen Wainwright
Posted by Stephen Wainwright

Chief Executive - Pou Whakahaere

Photo of Creative New Zealand Chief Executive, Stephen Wainwright.

"Right now, one of the most useful things we can do is use our networks to encourage vaccination. In the arts ‘word of mouth’ from those we trust has always mattered."

Living with a global pandemic

In my last blog (September) we welcomed the Government’s additional one-off emergency resource into the arts and culture sector to address the Delta arts emergency. While we were hopeful for the future, we also signalled our working assumption that the whole country would not be at Alert Level 1 before Christmas – to say it’s unfortunate to be where we are now would be an understatement; this is a difficult environment for much of the arts world to thrive in.

Limits on congregation, and enduring a long level 3 and 4, have been particularly tough for our arts whānau in Auckland. Having had months of stressful re-programming and re-budgeting more Auckland arts practitioners and organisations are making pragmatic decisions and cancelling or deferring work scheduled for November and December 2021 – which must be tough.

This time of year at Creative New Zealand we'd normally be in the throes of our annual awards season, but like many others we're having pivot for the second year in a row. We've made the difficult call to defer the 2021 Ngā Taonga ā Te Waka Toi (Te Waka Toi Awards) to 2022 and to an online delivery only. Changes in alert levels in Tamaki Makaurau and the Waikato-King Country regions have meant that we haven’t been able to safely complete the interviewing and filming of our recipients to produce the beautiful video pieces that the awards celebration is known for. With the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement we've once again decided to pivot to an online literary panel with this year's winners. And for the Arts Pasifika Awards we've made the tough decision once more to not proceed with a live awards event at Parliament this year (we had planned only to go ahead if the whole of the country was in Alert Level 1). Instead, there'll be an intimate Zoom event with the winners and our Arts Council Chair.

All those who said that Delta was a gamechanger are correct. As a nation we’ve moved from the elimination strategy that we were so familiar with a year ago, to now focusing on how we might ‘live with Delta’. The target of 90% vaccination rate for every District Health Board is key to opening up Aotearoa New Zealand, to a ‘normal Christmas’, and in fact the next phase in our existence of living under the shadow of global pandemic.

What can we do now?

The current feeling of powerlessness and the limitations on our cultural lives thanks to the awful consequences of COVID-19 is an inconvenient truth for those working in the creative sector (as well as people in international tourism, travel, hospitality and in Auckland). These impacts are felt unevenly across different sectors. Our Chair Caren Rangi had some observations on that in her recent Q&A with Stuff.

Right now, one of the most useful things we can do is use our networks to encourage vaccination. In the arts ‘word of mouth’ from those we trust has always mattered. If you feel comfortable, please have conversations with your loved ones about the importance of vaccinating to protect one another and allow us to gather to enjoy the creative activities we love.

Also, with only about seven weeks until Christmas, for those who are able and wish to buy presents, we can all personally support creatives by purchase content and experiences by New Zealand creatives.

Christmas is often extremely stressful, on top of an extraordinarily stressful 18 months, so I hope we can all hold our hands up for self-care.

Looking to 2022

We know that the ‘COVID-19 modellers’ are optimistic that the District Health Boards should achieve that 90% target sometime in December, and the centre has given us a ‘living with Delta COVID roadmap’ which helps us understand how things will roll in the future.

When we eliminated COVID-19 initially in 2020, life went back to how it was in alert level 1 for a while. This time, with new frameworks introduced, we know that there’ll be different opportunities for New Zealanders, depending on whether they’re vaccinated and have a passport or not.

This is a whole new context for us all. A lot of work from political leadership and officials is going into clarifying how this might operate; passports, guidelines around congregation, how offices manage visitors, and so on.

Here at Creative New Zealand, we too are working through these same issues for ourselves in terms of our own employees, guided by our own values and informed by the various advice that has come through from the centre in terms of the Worksafe COVID-19 Risk Assessment and from our own whānau. Our primary concern is the wellbeing of our people – as ever, the devil is in the detail. There are different perspectives to understand, and different scenarios to anticipate.

In terms of the Government, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet are holding the pen on the guidelines work that will accompany the ‘re-opening’ of the country. This points to the importance. As with any other complex system work, it would be remarkable if it’s all perfect when the guidance first lands. It will, though, become clearer over time; improvements will no doubt be made and evolved based on feedback and we’ll all get the hang of it by doing it.

So, a lot of thought is currently going into how we might “get on with it” in this future state, even though we don’t have all the information right now. We’ll work through it; whoever said necessity is the mother of invention was spot on. A better future and some nice summer weather can’t come soon enough.

For the moment, there’s impressive efforts happening to present work to the public in alert level 2 circumstances. It was good to attend one of the opening nights at Enjoy Gallery recently, and on the 4th of November the New Zealand International Film Festival is premiering ‘The Power of the Dog’ by Dame Jane Campion. I take my hat off to all those who are finding ways to ‘make it work’, and at the same time fully understand that for many performing arts, work of scale can’t happen at the moment.

2022 season programmes are beginning to arrive, as the deliverers of our nation’s arts experiences prepare to deliver their mahi to a populace who are learning to live with the pandemic and re-engage with the things that make life worth living.

 

Kia mau ki te tūmanako, te whakapono me te aroha

Hold fast to hope, faith and love