Reflecting on the year that’s been 2021

8 Dec 2021

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Stephen Wainwright
Posted by Stephen Wainwright

Chief Executive - Pou Whakahaere

Nga mihi o te wa | Seasons greetings

“The ‘wear and tear’ is real, and there are many forms of loss to live with. It has in many ways become a most forgettable year. Yet most of the arts people that have shared their views with me are still standing – standing, and weary. On the horizon there’s anticipation about a summer recharge and hope that there’s a COVID path forward in which the prospects for the arts are better than now.”

Still standing…and anticipating a lie down 

I want to first acknowledge the people of Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau, by default our primary gateway to the world and a buffer for the rest of us, and the people who have carried the heaviest COVID-19 burden here in Aotearoa.   

With travel out of Tāmaki Makaurau allowed from 15 December there’s the sense that our friends and colleagues will at least theoretically be able to re-enter the wider physical world of our country. That’s a helpful progress marker. 

I’m sure this wasn’t a role they sought; but it’s become a koha that benefits everyone else. It’s a tough role for people who quite understandably have had enough of cancelling gigs and working from home and over Zoom, and all the extra burdens that brings.  

The ‘wear and tear’ is real, and there are many forms of loss to live with. It has in many ways become a most forgettable year. Yet most of the arts people that have shared their views with me are still standing – standing, and weary. On the horizon there’s anticipation about a summer recharge and hope that there’s a COVID path forward in which the prospects for the arts are better than now.  

Traffic Lights 

The COVID-19 Protection Framework, aka the traffic light system, is the new guide for protecting one another, keeping our health system running and businesses open. It took effect on Friday 3 December 2021. 

If you haven’t seen this yet, here's a good place to start

More specific guidance: 

While it would be helpful, the guidance can't expressly cover every activity or situation. I’m sure it will evolve and improve over time but sound judgement will continue to play an important role. 

Importantly, the traffic lights are a manifestation of how we live the best lives we can while a global pandemic remains very much with us. 

People in so many situations keep doing the mahi, even though it can be hard to do that online or remotely, in a context of profound uncertainty where many are unable to work in the same way they did 18 months ago. There are many quiet champions working for the common good and doing their best to mitigate the myriad negative impacts of COVID-19 and supporting vaccination. 

We've pulled together some information that might be useful

If you’re feeling a bit of ‘information overload’ or not sure where to start, we’ve pulled together some FAQs on our website to help direct you to various pieces of key information around the traffic light system as well as sources of financial support: 

Traffic light guidance that may be of particular relevance to the arts sector 

Sign-posting financial and other support available to arts community impacted by COVID-19  

Creative New Zealand's COVID-19 Policy

In response to the COVID-19 Protection Framework, we’ve developed our own COVID-19 policy at Creative New Zealand. The policy contains guidance and expectations around vaccination and operating under the traffic light system – including how we’re protecting and supporting our staff, those who visit our offices and those we engage with in other locations.

Here’s a very short summary of our policy in table form [PDF, 136KB]

New normal? 

The traffic light system sets out how we might live with the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 in a risk-based way. This is welcome.  

For Creative New Zealand and the arts sector as a whole, it would seem to require heroic optimism to see this system as heralding a new normal that is remotely like life as it was in February 2020. This would be green lights everywhere. 

Recent news of an Omicron variant reminds us that the global pandemic is not done.  

As we approach 2022, it’s likely we will need to continue to draw on the traits of adaptation and creativity – which have been hallmarks of managing through since March 2020. 

Vaccination is one of the best defences we have. If you look at international comparisons, the vaccination rates here are extremely good, which is encouraging.  

Last week we launched a social media campaign, amplifying voices from the arts community to encourage vaccination. The campaign is fronted by artists, who share in their own words their ‘why’: why they do what they do, why they love their creative practice, and why they’re vaccinated.  

 

The $ picture 

Firstly, for those of us who rely on public investment from the Crown, it’s important to acknowledge that a key reason New Zealand has lessened the impact of COVID-19 socially, culturally and economically (compared with overseas) is because the Crown has done a lot of extra lifting for the people since COVID-19 struck. 

For Creative New Zealand, last financial year and this financial year have been by some margin our biggest years in terms of our ability to support the sector to manage through the pandemic.  

We’re appreciative of the ‘one-off’ emergency resources we’ve been able to invest at a time of great need, with Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage delivering the bulk of resources this financial year.  

While we believe that we can deliver further public good with more public investment, the context in which the Government is operating is markedly different now. 

As you can see from the graph below, borrowed money has enabled the Crown to increase the size of its COVID-19 safety net. The Government has signalled that in a traffic light setting of orange or green it will seek to reduce the support payments it has been making to keep businesses afloat and employees employed. 

You don’t need to be in the Treasury to understand that the Government is keen to spend less rather than more. For those interested, here’s more context around government debt

Government debt in New Zealand increased to $102 billion in the year to end June 2021.   

While we’ve put our best foot forward in the Crown budget process, we know that much of the emergency money we’ve received was just that – one-off money for the COVID emergency. Unless there are some super Powerball jackpots to fuel the money we get from Lotto, it’s prudent that at least one of our planning scenarios is focused on shrinking public resources next year. 

Beyond the gates of our house the good news is that the pandemic response continues to include support for investment in culture. Minister Sepuloni recently announced the Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme which will be a vital safety net for arts and culture events. Also, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is administering the Events Transition Support Payment scheme, designed to provide assurance to organisers of large-scale events. 

This support and all the guidance above are important strands of work – and the labour and effort that sits behind them point to the considerable efforts underway from across Government to ensure that we can make the best of what COVID-19 throws at us. Won’t it be good to do more of the things that bring us together and bring us joy – our whānau, the arts and our lovely bush, coastline and beaches. 

Tēnā te ngaru whati, tēnā te ngaru puku 
There is a wave that breaks there is a wave that swells