A Spanish edition of ‘the bone people’!
So. Almost exactly 35 years after the bone people’s first publication, it has a Spanish edition. There’ve been other European translations over the years, but this one feels special, because of the reach of Spanish. One message on the Spiral Collectives Facebook page said ‘M and I are talking it over about donating a copy to the new public library just opened and now in service in Rapa Nui. Our bro in the Welly will check out that book and get a copy on its way there… on behalf of our whānau’. My eyes popped. Gosh! And I responded: ‘Lovely idea! Is there a Spanish-speaking community in Rapa Nui?’ And back came: ‘te reo Spanish is the other official language in Rapa Nui…there is a push to encourage Rapa Nui Maori to revive and re-use their own te reo Maori dialect at every opportunity though Spanish, English, German and French are the more often other languages heard and seen on the island’.
This whānau’s heart-warming support is typical of the generosity that’s always enriched the bone people’s movement out into the world. When Keri was unable to find a publisher for the bone people after she spent twelve years writing it — while earning her living in other ways — and Spiral became the bone people’s publishers of last resort, many many people gave from their hearts, time and money (1). I named some of them in my last post about the bone people, 9 years ago; and some in a recent post about Jacquie Sturm and her The House of the Talking Cat. And my mate Vicki just reminded me, again on Facebook, of ‘the days of running raffles in pubs to get money for printing the bone people’. The raffles were frozen chickens, I think; and Vicki was a whole lot better at selling tickets than I was.
And today I remember too the reciprocal generosity and hard work that came afterwards for Keri. No email and social media then. Instead, over years, she had big mail sacks of fan letters delivered; and I think she answered every one. She also — of course — responded abundantly to calls for support from many people, including artists and writers.
And in 2016, Miriama Evans (1942–2018)— with Irihapeti Ramsden (1946–2003) one of the three-member the bone people collective, assisted by Anna Keir and Lynne Ciochetto — made another generous gesture, when she dropped off her immaculate Spiral Collective files, for deposit at the Alexander Turnbull Library. The bags she left contained the accounts (hard-copy only in those days) that Miriama organised very efficiently — Irihapeti and I weren’t so good with numbers — and the bone people contracts signed when the book moved on out from Spiral, including one that Keri embellished very beautifully. There were also documents about our hui to launch the book at the Wellington Teachers College, thanks to the vibrant and loving embrace of writer and lecturer Keri Kaa and to Bridie Lonie’s help with the food at the main event. There were records of the shopping lists for menus to feed visitors over a couple of days too; and invitation lists. All evidence of the hard work that Spiral and friends did for love.
And now I’m just back from time with another collective working in similar ways to Spiral, with similar love, similar intensity and similar impact. Alongside their artistic work they undertake other work to pay the bills; they fulfil their family responsibilities; and they sustain their fierce reciprocity of support for other artists and writers. (Remember Ava DuVernay’s ‘If your dream only includes you, it’s too small’?) Just like the people, very often women, who create the webseries and low-budget films that are transforming onscreen representation in New Zealand, most recently Same But Different, written and directed by Nikki Si’ulepa (2).
It’s hard yakka — as you all know — for artists and their supporters when they do outstanding and groundbreaking ‘different’ work, done primarily from love rather than for the potential income. Even if a project’s funded, that income tends to go entirely on the costs of making the work, so you’re not paid for your time. And you may never receive income from sale of the finished work. I often wonder, would Irihapeti and Miriama have lived longer if they hadn’t worked so hard to address the ongoing effects of colonisation, in projects like the bone people and The House of the Talking Cat, alongside their demanding and distinguished scholarly work, their paid work to improve conditions for all New Zealanders and their immediate and extended family responsibilities? They were both also artists and writers. Would they have made and published and exhibited more if they hadn’t invested so much energy in projects like Spiral’s? If they’d made it to a healthy old age, would they have had late-life surges of creativity?
These questions matter. And they especially matter right now, because there’s an opportunity for change that could better support artists and writers.
Inter-generational wellbeing and the 2018 budget
Remember Davos this year, when our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern explained that every Minister would have to justify Government expenditure in the annual budget on the basis of its contribution to ‘inter-generational wellbeing’?
Yay! I thought, because the Prime Minister is also the Minister for the Arts, Culture & Heritage. And her Associate Minister is the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson. Would the inter-generational wellbeing idea reach policies that affect the arts, culture and heritage elements of the Wellbeing Budget? (It’s now signed off for delivery at the end of the month.)
I imagine that the Prime Minister’s views about the inter-genrational wellbeing of artists and writers in all mediums are in tune with Tina Makareti’s ideas about ‘a kaupapa whare… a whare that must welcome and absorb and connect all the literatures and writers and readers of Aotearoa’; and that she too imagines a larger kaupapa whare that embraces all art forms as ‘a whare for all of us’.
I imagine too that she knows that ‘by and about’ is vital, that she understands that if women and girls, in all our diversity, aren’t supported to tell and widely distribute our own stories, especially in that often most costly of arts — moving image — children are less likely to see onscreen women and girls as complex and authentic and diverse central characters; and those children’s wellbeing — regardless of their gender — will be adversely affected. As Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein tweeted recently –
We all know what happens when women aren’t seen as significant, especially those whose gender intersects with an ethnicity, sexuality or class also not seen as significant onscreen, in galleries or in literature: when we’re under-represented and/or misrepresented we are often abused in other ways. And one element of the abuse is that we tend to be denied the resources to develop our stories and images and present them to wide audiences: until we are safer, physically, psychologically and economically and can contribute whole-heartedly to our culture as artists, inter-generational wellbeing won’t improve.
When I read on about the Wellbeing Budget, I learned that research and measurement matter to the Prime Minister, too. The Wellbeing Budget, she’s said ‘puts people at its centre…requires us to set targets, report on our progress, and create strategies to ensure we’re looking after the wellbeing of our people — because what gets measured, gets done (emphasis added)… by widening our focus, we will build an economy that is more productive, sustainable, and inclusive.’
Elsewhere, she’s stated that in the arts —
‘…we need to gain a clearer picture of the reach of the cultural sector across New Zealand. With that information we can develop policies that ensure our investment in the arts and culture reaches everyone.’
So what information, if any, will have informed the Wellbeing Budget’s expenditure for creative workers and future policies? Is the data inclusive and robust? Whose voices inform funding approaches at taxpayer agencies and in wider government policy? Whose voices are excluded?
At the moment there seems to be big gaps in the information available and the information isn’t robust. I’m especially concerned about women artists and writers, so here’s a bit of background, followed by a mostly gendered analysis of aspects of two pieces of recent research.
The first is Writers Earnings in New Zealand (Writers Earnings), commissioned by Copyright Licensing New Zealand in conjunction with the NZ Society of Authors (NZSA), NZ Writers’ Guild (NZWG, for scriptwriters) and Playmarket. It follows a similar survey published in 2016 and it raises some troublesome unanswered questions that I’ve inquired about without success (3).
The second possible resource is the forthcoming New Zealand On Air (NZOA, the taxpayer-funded broadcasting agency)/Creative New Zealand (CNZ, the taxpayer-funded arts organisation) research report, centred on a survey (CNZ/NZOA Survey)conducted by an independent market research agency, Colmar Brunton, in late 2018. The Prime Minister, in the article already referred to, stated that she is someone who is ‘also passionate about more support for those lucky and talented people who pursue the arts as a full-time endeavour. For young people to consider careers in the sector, a career in the arts needs to be a truly viable option’. I’ve concluded that this research attempts to explore the elements of ‘a truly viable option’, but I hope its findings won’t affect decisions made in the Wellbeing Budget, because of its exclusionary framework and some problematic survey questions.
Then, finally, some discussion of why I believe artists and writers — especially women and especially women from under-represented and misrepresented groups— deserve better.
I know that women artists and writers have always worked and continue to work, in very difficult conditions, though the difficulties are often ameliorated if they/we have a supportive and relatively prosperous partner or wider family and community, or other privilege of class, race or sexuality (4). (The difficulties may also be exacerbated by success— recall those attacks on Janet Frame, Keri and Eleanor Catton?)
How do I know about these things, beyond what appears in the media? Because I’ve heard and read local women artists’ and writers’ stories over decades now: next January, it’ll be 40 years since I helped found The Women’s Gallery, ‘to support and promote women artists’ (in all disciplines) and it’s over a decade since I began to research gender inequities in taxpayer funding for women filmmakers.
But research about women artists and writers’ wellbeing is challenging to find, partly because until #metoo many women were frightened to speak up in public, or even off the record. As a starting point though, there’s the baseline evidence of conditions that affect many women in every occupation: women and particularly Māori, Pasifika and Asian women, earn significantly less overall than (Pākehā) men. This makes it more difficult for women artists and writers to sustain their/our — often unremunerative — arts practices through earning a basic living in another role. It also amplifies the economic and emotional challenges of women’s unpaid work, including caring and other community responsibilities, work that used to be measured in the Time Use Survey; and the risks to our/their wellbeing from the many abusive practices generated by pervasive sexism and racism (etc).
Beyond this general information, the most recent comprehensive research directly about artist wellbeing is Portrait of the Artist (Portrait), based on data collected just before the turn of the century and published in 2003 by CNZ. Portrait established, among other things, that the gender pay gap between women and men artists’ median annual income — including filmmakers — was just over 50%. This research is still useful as a reference point but needs updating.
The NZOA and the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC, the taxpayer-funded film agency) keep track of their investments by gender and ethnicity of writers, directors and producers; and NZOA produces its Diversity Report each year as well. From this data it’s possible to infer that film and television projects that members of some groups write and direct — women, Māori, Pasifika and Asian — don’t get the same taxpayer support as others. That affects the wellbeing of those excluded, the wellbeing of the communities whose stories they tell and the wellbeing of the rest of us who don’t see a balanced view of our communities onscreen, especially in film (because, unlike NZOA, the NZFC’s legislation doesn’t require it to consider the needs of specific audiences).
Janis Freegard’s research about publishing is also helpful. She based it on lists of New Zealand books provided in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, most recently the 2015 list.
She found that almost 60% of the fiction was by women, 40% by men and 1% ‘other’.
Non-fiction was the opposite: 62% by men and 38% by women.
When Janis added together the fiction, non-fiction and poetry , 82 titles were by women, 83 by men and one by both. Wonderful. (And much much better than the feature film stats — women have written and directed only around 20% of them over the last decade or so.)
Analysed by ethnicity, all the titles — fiction, non-fiction and poetry — give a not-wonderful picture, in a population where 14.9% identify as Māori, 7.4% Pasifika and 11.8% as Asian, with many people having more than one ethnic identity.
From this research — and women writers’ representation this year in the short lists for the Ockhams, the national book awards — it’s possible to celebrate (Pākehā) women’s participation in New Zealand’s publishing, especially as writers of fiction and poetry.
In 2019, it’s also helpful to reflect on this recent comment on Janis’ site, from Lani Young, who was about to cite Janis’ research in a lecture —
‘The numbers by ethnicity are dismal, but not surprising. It’s slightly better when you look outside the margins. I’m Samoan/Maori and I released two novels in 2015, and one in 2014. But I’m an indie publisher so my titles aren’t listed on the source material used for the survey. There’s a lot of exciting things being done in the ‘wilderness’ outside the traditional publishing industry, where marginalised writers are thriving and we can read a rich variety of diverse voices. My children are educating me about fanfiction sites, peer reviewed writing sites, web comics, group storytelling , choose your own adventure apps and more.’
The Writers Earnings research offered a fine opportunity to learn more about the participation of under-represented groups. But somehow it didn’t.
Late in 2018, 408 invited writers started — and 356 completed — a questionnaire from Horizon Research: 71% of them women, 28% men, 2% gender diverse. There’s a note that 32% of the respondents were aged over 65 but no table that provides the full age range. And the report has no ethnicity information. There’s nothing that tells us whether some writers were excluded from the research by a preliminary question — like the one referred to below, in the CNZ/NZOA Survey — to establish whether they had any gross income from writing at all. (There was an exclusionary ‘Question 3’ in the 2016 survey that resulted in around 12% of participants dropping out, but no detail about what the question was!)
Fortunately, because Wellington’s Central Library is closed because of earthquake risk, my writing buddy 1B works here more than usual (5). (She’s also part way through a long and solitary project and gets more lonely than usual.) And fortunately the other day she brought her other writing mate Cai to use my ancient and beloved turn-the-handle sewing machine — Cai’s machine had broken down and she needed to finish some costumes urgently. ‘Fortunately’ because, as already noted, I struggle a bit with numbers and Cai is pretty good with numbers and tables.
It started like this: I was showing Cai how to thread the bobbin and 1B picked up my printout of Writers Earnings and interrupted our casual chitchat.
The first thing she noticed was that although 71% of the research participants — drawn from NZSA, NZWG and Playmarket — were women, a higher proportion than the women writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry published in 2015 in Janis’ research, she and I hadn’t been invited to take part. We muttered about that, while Cai got her work organised.
And 1B kept reading.
— ‘Listen up!’ she says, reading aloud from the Executive Summary.
— ‘While in 2016, female writers had earned 10% more per annum from their writing (an average of $13,800 per annum) than male writers ($12,600 per annum), in 2018 the gap had widened to 48% more per annum, with income from writing for male writers dropping to $10,400 average and for female writers, increasing to $15,400 per annum on average.’ She grimaces. ‘How come?
— ‘How come?’ says Cai, ready to go with a long seam. ‘Because it’s an average, a mean, not a median! Some hard-working women writers are probably raking it in, so their incomes skew the average. A median would be a bit different I reckon. Where’s the gross writing income table? I’ll work out the median.’
There isn’t a gross writing income table with a gender breakdown. But there is one about gross personal income. And it’s illuminating.
According to Stats New Zealand, in 2018 the national median gross income was $997 a week/ $51,844 p.a. and when Cai did the adding up, this table shows that about 65% of women writers earned less than this, compared with 67% of the gender diverse group and 46% of the men.That 19%/21% gap between the women and gender diverse people who write and responded to this survey and the men who write and responded to this survey matters, whether the income comes from writing or not, because the overall gender pay gap between women and men in (June) 2018 was much less: 9.2%. Even though this 19%/21% gender gap is considerably less than the just over 50% in Portrait (for artists in all disciplines) it’s still a lot; and combined with the imbalances of domestic and community/cultural responsibilities and illness, points to gendered hardship.
But. But… According to the next table, women writers in this survey are only marginally more likely than men (26%/22%) to live in households where the total gross income is less than the national median individual gross income. Gender diverse writers are much more likely to do so (50%).
— ‘Look further,’ I say. ‘There’s a table about a partner’s incomes as a source of income and that might explain how fewer women than you’d expect live in households where total gross income is less than the national median individual gross income.’
Because 20% of women writers have less than $10,000 and 30% less than $20,000 gross personal income in the year of the survey (Writers Earnings 1 table), we wondered whether women writers’ average earnings were higher because they were strongly represented among the 55% who benefit from a partner’s income (unlike any of us) and could therefore spend more time on their writing. But we can’t be sure, because the Writers Earnings 3 table has no gendered analysis.
From this we return to our exclusion from the invitation list.
— ‘The women who participated may just be your average girly swot. Join everything, get the invites, respond immediately,’ says Cai.
— ‘We’re girly swots too’, says 1B. ‘Broke girly swots. Can’t afford to join something just in case we get invited to fill out a survey. ’ (Like me, she joins guilds only intermittently, when their programmes provide something she can’t otherwise access. For instance, this year, I might re-join the NZWG, because I may have a script to submit to their Table Reads programme.)
To distract them and because I’m curious and don’t know what to think, I show them the table that shows that a higher proportion of women and gender diverse respondents than men (31%, 33% vs 13%) spend time that could be spent writing on ‘marketing and promotional activities associated with their writing and themselves as writers’. And they also spend more time on other tasks associated with writing such as administration, meetings and networking than men do (28%, 33% vs 12%).
— ‘These girly swots might see joining guilds as part of marketing and networking; and obviously they think the survey’s worthwhile’, I say. ‘I do, too, because we need the info. But I think they’re different from us.’
— ‘ Unless you two count your days together as ‘meetings and networking’ that stop your writing,’ says Cai, turning the sewing machine’s handle at speed and concentrating hard, so she doesn’t see our responses.
— ‘Shot,’ says 1B. ‘But when it’s just M and me we work like crazy. And I do spend time on marketing and promotion, but only when I’m releasing new work. Those figures seem a little off, to me. Or are marketing, meetings and networking a euphemism for lots of time wasted on social media?’
— ‘Hmmm,’ I go. ‘Could be that they’re publishing regularly, marketing flat out, get more income because of that, can afford to join a writers’ group or two?’
1B changes tack again.
— ‘Are there gender stats for those organisations? Do we know that more women writers than men join them? Do we know that the women who join them then earn more, or do they join because they’ve already earned heaps, or their partners do?’
— ‘I don’t know’, I say. ‘I asked the NZWG for their gender and ethnicity stats (twice) a while back. They didn’t get back to me. But the other day a mate applied for one of their Seed Grants and was asked for her ethnicity and wasn’t allowed to give more than one. She had to choose just one, or take the ‘Other’ option. So I guess the guild isn’t that sophisticated about data collection.’
— ‘And what about those over-65s,’ says Cai, clipping some threads. ‘Are those organisations full of baby boomers or what? And are all the over-65s girly swots? ’
— ‘Shhhhhh, kare,’ says 1B. ‘Let’s move on from girly swots. It’s more troubling that the report doesn’t identify other age groups. What about all the hard-working graduates of post-grad creative writing courses, like us, most of us well under 65? Aren’t we another a big crew, in the organisations? They might have got a wider age range if they invited all the post-grad writers, through their universities? Do they talk about that somewhere?’
— ‘No,’ I say. ‘There are tables about education and training but not related to gender or age.’
I show her. And show her the table that distinguishes between the categories that writers work in and the categories in which they’ve been published. It too, doesn’t include a gender breakdown.
The table shows that many writers work in categories that they don’t get published in and that they therefore have no income from those categories. But there’s no way to tell whether the research includes writers who have no income at all from their writing — perhaps because they’ve just graduated from a creative writing programme. So we don’t know whether there were writers excluded because they had no gross income from writing that year and we can’t tell whether a high proportion of women among that 71% work in categories they haven’t yet been published in. And of course there’s no ethnicity information, so we can’t compare Janis’ figures.
—‘And take a look at the table about primary writing categories,’ I add. ‘Only 1% of 408 people, about 4 people, give screenwriting as their primary writing category, in the sub-categories of feature film, or short film, or television.’
Cai’s quick with the maths.
— ‘And it looks like one ‘s a bloke, two are woman and one is gender diverse. When you think about all the people we know who see those sub-categories as their primary writing categories, or who write webseries, an awful lot of them aren’t in the mix.’
— ‘Ae, tika’, adds 1B. ‘And it’s weird to see that tiny number of women playwrights. Are women who write fiction more likely than playwrights and screenwriters to join the organisations, get the invites and respond with enthusiasm?’
— And why o why are these commissioners doing the right thing by including a gender diverse category but nothing about ethnicity, given Janis’ research? Where’s the equity in that?’ she goes on. Then, grumpily: ‘Makes me hōhā.’
I shrug. No idea.
Cai folds up her first project and goes to put the jug on.
1B and I go back to what stops these participants writing.
We agree that it’s useful to know that these women are a little more likely than men to need to earn income outside their creative work, and that gender diverse people are much more likely to be in that situation. It’s also useful to know that people in both these groups are also more likely than men to be prevented from writing by domestic responsibilities including caring responsibilities; and community responsiblities, as well as illness. These were similar issues for women artists surveyed in Portrait, who were more likely than men artists to identify a lack of time because of domestic responsibilities (46% / 27%) and physical illness or disability (17% / 9%).
— ‘Tell me about it,’ says 1B.
— ‘Or me,’ adds Cai, who’d just started school when Portrait was published. Over our tea and Anzac biscuits we exchange the latest on domestic responsibilities, physical illness and disability, including mental health issues that arise from ongoing sexism and racism. And from economic hardship.
We needed more from this research. And so do policy makers, we reckon.
1B drains her second cup, pushes away her laptop and Cai would love to play with more raw data. But it’s not available. So she finishes hemming a sleeve and runs off to pick up her daughter from school.
1B and I are too depressed to start work immediately. So we have another cuppa, mostly in silence.
— ‘Are we stuffed because we’re single?’ asks 1B. ‘Or because we don’t market and network enough? Should I tweet more, and better?’
— ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Don’t let it get to you. Let’s just do the work.’
I know she has to start her shift in a few hours.
— ‘I’ll make you a dinner: go to work from here.’
She pulls her laptop towards her. Opens it up.
— ‘Where’s your cooking timer, kare?’
I hand her the cooking timer, already set at twenty minutes from earlier this morning. She blows me a kiss, taps its button: go! Takes a deep breath.
For a moment, I watch her fingers fly, know that she’ll be well into it when the timer signals that twenty minutes are up. Then I go out to pick some silverbeet, hoping that others will illuminate the Writers Earnings problems further; and saving the gloomy news about the other arts research for another day.
And just before we ate, we watched this and warmed our hearts.
And watched it again afterwards. Then she ran off into her evening and I turned back to the CNZ/NZOA Survey.
Weeks later, I fall over the UK Authors Earnings and Contracts 2018: A Survey of 50,000 Writers (UK Report) which included all the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society members. Lifetime membership costs £UK36, so it’s more likely writers join it than New Zealand guilds, if they know it exists?
2,696 members completed the questionnaire, which included questions about ethnicity. In contrast to Writers Earnings, only 44% of the participants identified as women, 55% as men and 1% preferred not to say. The age of participants is much more fully analysed, but although the percentage over 65 is similar: 34%; and the figures show that 63% are aged between 34 and 64.
The survey found that about 10% of writers earned about 70% of the total earnings in the profession. It also found that primary occupation writers — those who spend at least half their time writing, do not hold a second job and who were able to live from writing alone, declined from 40% (2006) of their group to 28% (2018); and concluded that it appears to have become significantly harder to become a full-time writer.
The survey also showed gender differences in mean total gross income, with greatest equality in the audivisual sector. Here they are, in various self-explanatory categories. First, with mean writing income only–
Gender differences in earnings from writing: income of women writers as % of men writers’ income 2018
primary occupation authors women / men earnings 74.5%
main income authors(those who earn 50% or more of their total individual income from writing) 78.5%
Gender differences including earnings from non-writing jobs
primary occupation authors 74.7%
main income authors 78.5%
full income 59.3%
all authors 63.1%
The survey also noted as a ‘striking result’ that, as households, writers were doing rather well, with mean earnings of over £81,000 a year, and median earnings of £50,000 a year. The researchers suggest that this household ‘subsidy’, needed to make a living, may contribute to the lack of diversity among writers —
‘It is well known from demographic data (confirmed by our survey) that writers are mostly white (94%) and live in the South East. Is writing becoming more elitist as a profession?’ Good question? Or does this data show that the sample in the UK Report doesn’t include all those people working hard in the ‘wilderness’ over there?
I pass all this on to 1B and Cai and we chat about differences and similarities, including the intriguing detail that the UK Report gathered its data around the time self-employed people had to file their tax, ‘with data likely to be on the mind of respondents’.
We talk about privilege and inequity; and about what might be necessary to increase inter-generational wellbeing through strategies for inclusion.
I also tell them about Lani Young’s comments — which I’ve just seen — and we speculate about those who write in the rich-sounding ‘wilderness’ Lani Young refers to. Among them, perhaps, are women writers who market and network and make high incomes? It feels possible. We’d like to know… We need comprehensive info, in simple easy-to-understand forms, like these.
And policy makers, decisionmakers, need something comprehensive, too?
Then, yet again, I turn back to the CNZ/NZOA Survey.
The CNZ/NZOA Survey
Introduction I believe that the researchers who developed CNZ/NZOA Survey had the very best of intentions. And I imagine that their budget was limited. But if the results of their work are used as a basis for policy making, it’s a worry.
Some aspects of the survey were excellent. It was lovely to hear from other participants that they deeply appreciated the questions about their practice, which gave them welcome opportunities for reflection as they decided where to place themselves on the various sliding scales of wellbeing. When I did the survey, I thoroughly enjoyed those bits too.
But unfortunately the survey was seriously flawed by its exclusionary factors from the very beginning and there were also some internal contradictions within it. And — vital in relation to inter-generational wellbeing — it didn’t develop a line of enquiry into the gendered differences between creative professionals, identified in Portrait and probably exacerbated by intersectional issues. Nor, just as vital, did it address all the urgent safety issues exposed by #metoo and by research into the mental health of creative professionals, like Australia’s Entertainment Assist and, in New Zealand, Lorraine Rowlands’ research into film workers. It seems inevitable that the information recorded and the researchers’ conclusions about ‘creative professionals’ and inter-generational wellbeing — will be skewed towards those who are already economically and socially privileged.
It was probably too much to expect that the researchers would create a new paradigm that contributed to policy that enhanced inter-generational wellbeing. But with luck, this analysis — and analysis from others — will help generate discussion and lead to incremental improvement.
How I became involved: I got an email from Women in Film & Television New Zealand (WIFT) last October, because I was a WIFT member. It invited me to take part in or opt out of a survey ‘on the sustainability of careers in the creative sector…to help inform the funding approaches for both NZOA and Creative NZ, and hopefully inform wider government policy’. WIFT had been asked to support the survey by providing contact details for members; and it wanted to make sure that women were well-represented in the survey.
I was excited for all the obvious reasons. Was the pay gap for women artists and writers smaller now than it was when the data was gathered for Portrait? Do women still take many more breaks from their arts practice than men do, for domestic reasons or due to ill health? Or are we now participating on an equal basis, at least some of us? And if so, what are the characteristics of those ‘some of us’? Would the survey include some #metoo questions? What does ‘sustainable’ mean in this context? Economically? Physically? Psychologically?
And then I thought, who will be included? I wondered about the hard-working women artists and writers (see above!) who are too poor to join guilds, and weren’t on the CNZ/NZOA radar for other reasons. So I asked Patricia Watson, WIFT’s Executive Director, who would be able to give me more info and she put me in touch with Colmar Brunton (CB). And CB responded quickly and generously, as it did throughout our interactions — until a representative of the funding bodies shut down the conversation until the survey report is published — and asked if I knew women who might like to participate and whether it would be possible to reach them.
Who’s in, who’s out — the invitation: In the meantime, partly because I’d had a CNZ grant in the last year, but had heard nothing about the research before Patricia’s email, I asked other arts practitioners I came across if a) they were members of guilds; and b) they had been contacted about the research. All of them were people who have my respect for the quality of their imaginations, their artistic skills and the intellectual property which they work very hard to make and/or facilitate and/or distribute. Only one had even heard about the research, another WIFT member. Those who hadn’t wanted to know more.
CB and I were going to chat, but I was about to leave for Auckland to attend #directedbywomen events I’d organised. At the first event, a cinema screening of episodes from local women’s webseries, followed by a Q & A with some of their makers, I learned that making webseries, even with NZOA (under)funding, is not sustainable for those makers. These magnificent women make — or made — the very best of New Zealand’s webseries, and have achieved a local revolution in the representation of diverse women. That revolution didn’t happen in film or television, so I really really wanted to check with CB that they were included in the CNZ/NZOA Survey.
But then I tumbled down some wooden steps in Parnell, broke one leg and cracked the other ankle, spent 48 hours being shunted from ward to ward in Auckland Hospital. You can imagine: X-Ray. Plaster on. X-Ray. Plaster off. Moonboot on. Change of ward again. And again. Each time with new stories from the other people in there.
CB and I did have one brief conversation when my phone, for which I had no charger with me, was about to run out of juice. And although I was groggy and may have misheard, I think CB said that there would in due course be a link that I could send to people I knew who hadn’t received an invitation. So I felt reassured.
And then: learning to use crutches. To walk short distances. To go up and down a little flight of three stairs.
Learning to use a wheel chair to negotiate public spaces.
Learning to get into a plane and, using those crutches, into and out of a seat on the plane. And then home, via an ACC-provided car.
And then in a wheel chair down the steep path to our place.
And then at home for weeks.
Learning to manipulate my crutches so I can make a cup of tea, open the fridge and take stuff out, cook, clean.
Learning, on a small scale and for a short time, about the consequences of disability.
Lots of help. But getting through the days didn’t leave much time for anything else.
So a month or so passes. And then this came —
Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air have commissioned a survey of creative professionals, and you are invited to take part. They have commissioned Colmar Brunton, an independent research agency to manage the survey.
The survey includes those working in creative roles in the arts, media production and online gaming.
What is the purpose of the survey?
We want to better understand the experiences of creative professionals in building a career in the creative sector. The findings will be used to help inform funding strategies, as well as inform wider government policy.
What is in it for me?
As well as helping to inform policy for the creative sector, if you complete the survey you can enter the draw to win $1000 cash from Colmar Brunton.
Data will be published in early 2019 so you can see how your experiences compare to those of other creative professionals.
What does the survey ask?
We ask questions aimed at establishing:
• your general well-being
• how you got to where you are — training, motivation etc.
• how you make a living, including your sources of income and total income. Questions on income are optional but will help us build an overall picture of the sustainability of creative careers.
How do I take part?
Please click on the “Take Survey” button above to complete the survey before 9 December. It will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.
What happens to my survey answers?
Colmar Brunton is a member of the Research Association of New Zealand, and we will ensure your answers remain anonymous. The dataset that Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air will receive will be anonymised and will not include information on income levels.
Who do I contact for any further information?
If you have a question about the survey, please contact * — *
Thank you in advance for your participation. We look forward to sharing the results with you.
Colmar Brunton Creative New Zealand NZ On Air
On 26 November I wrote again to CB, asking for a link to the survey, to circulate. CB replied with their usual courtesy and efficiency. I learned that the survey had been circulated to around 10,000 people via guilds and NZOA and CNZ contacts, aiming for about 2,000 responses. But — to my surprise, given my memory of the earlier conversation — no open link was available, because it meant less control of the sampling process.
This wasn’t a census, but because of that interest in ‘general wellbeing; how you got to where you are; and how you make a living’ and because the ‘findings will be used to help inform funding strategies, as well as inform wider government policy’ it felt vital that the sample was an inclusive one.
CB invited me to send a list of contacts so he could check if they were on the sample list. So I curated a representative list of 140 diverse people whose voices matter in research that informs funding strategies and wider government policies: people whose work and work ethic I love, people who were vigorously building or maintaining a career ‘in the creative sector’.
I included people with various artistic practices and incomes (as much as I was familiar with them), a range of genders and ethnicities, a good geographical spread, ages from young to old. All the cast and crew of a recent NZOA-funded webseries except the writer/director and producers — who would, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, be invited; two well-known and multi-award-winning writers; two local writers who’ve been working hard for several years on a New Zealand-based international project; some visual artists, including a group of dedicated women artists in various media whose lives became easier once they received superannuation; three artist workers at an innovative, high concept and commercially-oriented arts umbrella and some of those whose work they support; a film editor in regular work for several years; some Women Who Do It directors; some script writers; a couple of performers.
In retrospect, after writing NZ Update 17.1: Safety Revisited for my Wellywood Woman/ @devt blogs, about the ‘new’ Tū Tonu Mai kindness and collectivism paradigms that generate exciting work onscreen and about the bone people, I realise that I also chose people who aren’t working in the tired old ways described by Australia’s Entertainment Assist in their research on artist mental health as ‘characterised by long and unrewarding working hours and a lack of appreciation for years of commitment and (emphasis added) a powerful, negative culture within the [entertainment] industry that includes a toxic, bruising work environment; extreme competition; bullying; sexual assault; sexism and racism, all ignored or dealt with inadequately’. Instead, their practices are notable for a focus on wellbeing and a generosity of spirit, like those who worked on and launched the bone people; and those who I see as part of the Tū Tonu Mai worlds; and among those I wrote about six years ago, in Beyond ‘Career’. Those on the list I don’t know — for instance the webseries’ cast and crew — work in contexts with reputations for similar practices.
I bet there are many more artists and writers whose wellbeing matters, like those Lani Young described to Janis Freegard, who work in ‘wildernesses’ that may be unfamiliar to the CNZ/NZOA researchers; and to me, too.
On 28 November I wrote to CB: ‘Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of hard-working artists etc you may have missed. Some I think are unlikely to be in guilds and some I know have been missed. If you want to include some who aren’t duplicates [i.e. not on CB’s list too] I’ll check with them if they want me to pass on their contact details.’ CB responded the same day with the names of the 100 or so on my list who weren’t in the survey’s databases (about 80%) and said it would be great if I could pass on the email addresses of those people, if I had permission. Preferably before Monday 4 December, because the survey was going to close on Sunday 9 December.
‘Many thanks [CB]’, I wrote. ‘It’s a pity that this is at the sharp end of the year for so many people and that I’m on deadline for something else. But I’ll do my best’. And I did.
On 3 December I received a reminder that I hadn’t completed the survey, I learned that over 800 of ‘my peers’ had taken part.
And on 4 December I had to apologise to CB, for sending a group of only 11 emails: ‘Thanks to your deadline and my deadlines, I just haven’t been able to ask around/followup as much as I wanted and needed to, though I did send emails to three people who were involved with larger groups of people I listed. But some of them are flat out too…so here are the few from that list that I can supply, along with a couple of others I fell over and who told me they didn’t know about the survey’. CB thanked me and forwarded invites to those people.
And I received a message from a woman on both CB’s list and mine: ‘I thought it was a brilliant initiative. At last they are asking the right questions! I will ring round some people and get some emails for you. (She didn’t.)’
And that felt like that done and dusted: when I had a minute I’d fill in the survey and move on.
But on 5 December, before I did that, I read a post from writer Renee and that drew me into an examination of the survey’s questions.
Who’s in, who’s out — the questions problems
Problem 1: ethnicity question — Unlike Writers Earnings, the CNZ/NZOA Survey had an ethnicity question and Renee asked: ‘Wouldn’t you think in 2018 in Aotearoa New Zealand there would be a slot you can tick for Maori/Pakeha? In the Colmar Brunton poll you had to put it in a section called ‘Other’ ??? Hello? I can’t be the only one with a Maori mother and a Pakeha father. This is Aotearoa New Zealand right?’
Oooops, I thought. I was surprised. But I learned from CB that the survey did actually allow selection of multiple ethnicities, in line with the approach in the national general census; later CB told me that they had changed the wording of that question to make the options clear, somewhat to my surprise, because changing questionnaires (after at least 800 responses) seems a bit of a research no-no?
But, later the same day, the next questions about the survey were even more eye-popping.
Problem 2: the age-and-income questions — I received a message from a mate, an inspiring creative professional, let’s call her ‘Alice’, who’d been on my list for CB: ‘I didn’t get very far — they cancelled me out when I said I was 72 and didn’t make any money last year!!!!’
At first, I thought my mate got cut out because of her age. And wrote irritably to CB:
‘…Artists and writers usually DO NOT RETIRE and the poverty among some older artists and writers is severe, after a lifetime of living on silver beet and being unable to save for our old age. And those of us who are women, some of whom have had lifetime caring responsibilities for both children, grand-children and aged parents, are just hitting our stride once we have the guaranteed basic income of superannuation…
Please advise how you justify excluding the woman who sent you this email and any other artist/ writer of similar age and income. What was the cutoff point? Seems like the very worst kind of ageism. What other groups have you excluded (apart from those who weren’t on your list, in the categories already identified?)
With hope that there has been an error that can be rectified!
(signed) A-very-annoyed-citizen-of-Oriental-Bay, your ever-curious-correspondent-who-had-hoped-to-find-the-results-of-your-survey-super-useful!
That was when I learned that CNZ and NZOA had decided that ‘to qualify for the survey creative professionals had to have earned some income from their creative work in the year ending 31 March 2018’, so the second question was designed to exclude everyone else, a second-level exclusion after the exclusion of the many creative workers who weren’t invited.
WIFT’s Patricia was concerned, too, and wrote–
‘As background, my first ever job was doing economic research for the Dept of Statistics.
I must say I agree with Marian. Excluding people who haven’t earned an income in the past 12 months is going to completely distort the relevance of the figures I am guessing. You would be horrified at the number of people in the screen industry who earn no income in any given year, and many of them are mid-career. Some of them are important producers.
Maybe the data coming out of the survey will not be purported to represent the industry, just the income earners in 2018. That will need to be a headline qualification, because it certainly cannot represent the industry.
I am happy to discuss this when I am back. In fact I will be in Wellington on Tuesday if you wish to meet.’
Patricia was also concerned about the possible exclusion of women who were on maternity leave and unable to earn that year.
I never managed to pin down the researchers’ understanding about what exactly the ambiguous ‘some income’ meant to them. And I never managed to understand why they tended to call this ill-defined group with ‘some income’ the ‘audience of interest’ instead of ‘the survey sample or cohort’, or — more precisely — the ‘voices of interest’, because only these creative workers’ voices will be heard by the true audience for the results of the survey — those who develop funding strategies, and those who make wider government policy.
But we were told that CB would consider amending the text to make their ‘audience [voices]of interest’ clear and on December 11 I was advised that they had amended the survey so potential participants weren’t screened out inadvertently at the initial questions; and modified the text to explain to respondents who were screened out to explain why that was so. They would also be clear in the published report about the ‘audience [voices] of interest’. I don’t know what the new text said; when I completed the survey, a couple of days later, with what seemed to be a running number in the 1300s, the questions hadn’t changed, so I’ll be interested to learn what proportion of participants responded to the amended questions.
Again, it doesn’t feel right that the survey questions changed once it started. But the choice of the first two age-and-income questions and the wording of the second of those questions, about income, have more serious problems.
Some screenshots are in the discussion that follows, from when I took the survey. But not of the straightforward first question, on age.
The age question: This one matters because it is the only question before the ambiguously worded ‘exclusion’ question, about income from creative work. And because it’s the only demographic question, we’ll never know the genders of creative professionals who were excluded because they didn’t (didn’t *seem to* — see below in ‘Income’) have income from creative work. We’ll never know the ethnicities of creative professionals who were excluded because they didn’t (*seem to*) have income from creative work.
Information about gender and women’s exclusion because of lack of ‘income’ would have been both relevant and useful, as well as the inclusion of those whose ethnicities and age intersect with gender. Why? Because of the national gender pay gap, the significant gendered gaps in income in Portrait, and between the gross incomes in Writers Earnings, and concerns about gender equity in the creative industries. And this failure is particularly surprising because in its latest Diversity Report, the NZOA stated that its data that shows gender and ethnicity problems is ‘indicative of the wider sector’, so it’s aware of equity issues in creative work generally; I would have thought they’d be curious to learn more about them.
Was the Age question chosen because the researchers knew about the high proportion of over-65s in Writers Earnings? No idea. But I hope the report will record how many people were excluded by the ‘income’ question and what their ages were.
Earning ‘income’ (whatever that means!) vs ‘earning a living’ questions– In my view, the second and exclusionary income question was so flawed that it invalidates the research.
The question and exclusion seem unecessary, because with carefully formulated questions the researchers could anyway have learned who among the creative professionals participants ‘earned a living’ from their practice and who did not. The exclusionary question was also inequitable because it implicitly defined as not ‘significant’ the wellbeing of the many many talented and committed creative workers who some years don’t, and in this year didn’t, ‘earn a living’ from their work; and excluded their realities from consideration when arts agencies and the wider government develop policy and funding strategies.
So, the details.
You may remember that the invitation said ‘We ask questions aimed at establishing:
• your general well-being [if you have one of the voices that interest us]
• how you got to where you are — training, motivation etc. [ditto]
• how you make a living, including your sources of income and total income.
Questions on income are optional but will help us build an overall picture of the sustainability of creative careers.’
Well, the question in screenshot 1, the second in the survey after the question about age, was compulsory, not optional. And like Alice, if you didn’t ‘get it right’, you were excluded from the rest of the survey.
Alice didn’t make a sale of her intellectual property in that financial year, so her response was an easy one to make. But others would have/could have excluded themselves, even if they had significant revenue from their creative work, because ‘income’ in this context, without clarification, is an ambiguous term.
‘Income’ can mean payment for employment before tax (‘gross income’) or after tax (‘net income’). It can mean that someone received payment as a contracted and self-employed person with expenses that might outweigh that payment. Or it can mean someone received a grant for materials and other costs but not for living expenses. (& more!).
For instance, when I filled out the survey, I would have responded ‘none of these’, if I hadn’t known that if I did I would be excluded from the rest of the survey. Because although — like many other creative professionals — I received ‘income’ in that tax year, from work here and overseas and from a Quick Response CNZ grant, my creative business ran at a loss for tax purposes. A better alternative would have been to ask about revenue? Or to ask, as in Writers Earnings, for Gross Personal Income from creative work?
The ‘income’ confusion was compounded by the next question that began ‘You mentioned that you have earned a living from the following sectors…’
‘Mentioning’ that I earned some income from creative work (whatever that meant to me) is NOT the same as ‘mentioning’ that I earned a living from it. Many creative professionals’ ‘income’, as noted, may be better described as ‘revenue’ — devoted to materials, services and other costs — or Gross Personal Income from creative practice, because — as with my mate 1B — the actual ‘earning a living’ happens in another occupation or occupations, often in another sector. There was a later question about costs and from answers to that, if it were preceded by a question about Gross Personal Income, the researchers could probably calculate whether participants actually earned a living. But that’s a hypothetical and doesn’t address the initial problem of this slippage in language that led, inevitably, unreliable data (on top of the data lost and skewed because some significant creative practitioners were excluded from the invitation list and by the second question).
I think it would also be helpful to distinguish in ‘income’ questions between those creative professionals whose work services other people’s creative vision and intellectual property (e.g. in a play or film, whether as a producer who has licensed copyright, say, or as maker of stage sets) and those whose creative work is towards intellectual property that they own. My guess is that a large majority of those who checked the ‘income’ box without a second thought fall into the former category. But for long-term inter-generational wellbeing we need plenty in the latter and policy decisions should take account of this.
Finally, unless I missed something, there was nowhere to record each participant’s notional income from people who volunteered their time to support their work (particularly pervasive in theatre and film but also in other mediums). This can equate to many thousands of dollars worth of ‘income’.
‘Non-creative roles’ and the ‘teaching’ questions — There was more ambiguity in relation to ‘non-creative’ roles; and teaching.
As you may have noticed in Screenshot 1, the exclusionary/inclusionary income question excludes those with ‘non-creative’ roles in the creative sector and thus opens debate about the ‘creativity’ of some roles — e.g. curatorial, research and film production positions. But in that all-important exclusionary question ‘Teaching or instructing in the creative sector (not including primary or secondary)’ counts as ‘creative’. But then, as shown in Screenshot 3, another question states that ‘Teaching roles are considered work outside of the creative sector’.
A following question reinforces the view that teaching work was considered to be ‘outside of the creative sector’: ‘You have mentioned that you have earned some income from the following…What other occupations in the creative sector, if any, did you earn some income from…Please only list occupations that involve producing creative work. Do not include non-creative roles within the creative sector, for example tutoring/teaching’ (emphasis added).
It’s hard to understand why there’s this contradiction. It imports another inequity: teachers who qualify as creative professionals because they teach and can therefore declare that they ‘earn some income’ in the initial exclusionary question can participate in the survey — unlike others — without needing to (seem to) have any ‘income’ from the creative work that others are required to have. Did the survey want to gather information about ‘creative professionals’ who teach, regardless of whether they had any income from the other elements of their creative work? Perhaps because some teachers’ creative work is possible only because educational institutions often fund/invest in work that other agencies won’t, with cash or other resources? The ‘income’ the institutions provide helps generate filmmaking and visual arts and writing and other work and allows creative workers to take risks/develop innovations that may not generate any income at all ever, because they have their teaching salary to depend on.
‘Working hours’ —
This is a particularly problematic question for those who donate significant and often very skilled time to other people’s creative projects (see above); for those who undertake internships like CNZ’s at Venice (now being reconsidered); for women creatives with caring roles within the whānau, whose unpaid work in the domestic sphere has been measured in the Time Use Survey in the past and whose earning capacities are becoming increasingly under scrutiny internationally, as an integral part of policy formation (see e.g. Raising Films, in the UK, with their Making it Possible survey; and in Australia); and for highly skilled creative professionals who are not paid at all when they lead a funded project, or not paid for part of it.
There was a series of ‘safety net’ questions, that would have been ideal for exploring this.
Safety Net — In many ways the ‘Safety Net’ questions (examples at screenshots 6–9) are terrific, because the participants’ responses will expand on the information in other surveys, about financial support from partners. They will also help identify whether this limited range of creative professionals, included in the survey because of their responses to a flawed initial question, are part of professions that are ‘becoming more elitist’.
But, in the Inter-Generational Wellbeing era, questions that seek information about economic safety are not enough. They need to inquire about other safety nets, like those that protect from #metoo physical and psychological risks, from sexism and racism; and where they intersect with other (lack of) privilege; and about safety nets that support resilience when these risks are realised. Yes, there is the ‘other’ option in screenshot 7, but in this context, I think most people would read that as an economic ‘other’. And screenshots 8 and 9 could have been teased out to obtain data about support with time as well as money and to distinguish between support with time and money to complete a creative project — including help with child care, where that comes from and what it costs— and time and money that otherwise support and enhance mental and physical health.
If ‘Safety Net’ had been conceptualised more broadly, there could also have been a question about advocates, who are key safety nets for success. Jane Campion for example had the late Pierre Rissient almost from the outset; and a random Facebook example supports a whole lot of other anecdotal info: ‘[at the NZFC] vouching and relationships will put you at the top of the queue; I think it’s common everywhere’. And in the #metoo era, advocates in employment contexts are absolutely necessary for safety reasons.
I hope that I’ve shown how the CNZ/NZOA Survey’s erasure of the experiences of some creative professionals is problematic, because it draws on a limited pool of participants, provides those participants with a framework that doesn’t record vital demographic information about gender and ethnicity and then poses an exclusionary question about ‘income’ (ambiguously defined) for a particular year.
Here’s more about why I think it matters so much, especially if the survey’s intention was primarily to research the factors that make pursuing the arts, in the Prime Minister’s words, a ‘fulltime endeavour…[and] truly viable option’.
Excluding people on the basis of income might work in a survey about fine wine or Burger King but ‘the arts’ is not an ‘industry’ that is entirely about money. How ‘industry’ and ‘money’ are only part of the picture is nicely illustrated in this excerpt from Agnès Varda’s conversation with Judith Banhamou-Buet, where Agnès distinguishes between ‘industry’ films and the films that ‘feed me’ — a significant inter-generational wellbeing element of creative practice. It co-exists with and sometimes overlaps with with creative work that’s purely for commercial ends.
The economic and industrial-oriented exclusionary and inequitable elements of the CNZ/NZOA Survey also help reinforce an entrenched local belief in a false dichotomy in ‘the arts industry/ies’ between artists who are paid regularly and those who are not and who therefore don’t belong in the CNZ/NZOA Survey and don’t matter in policy formation. (I wondered too, whether the Prime Minister buys into this dichotomy, when she said she was ‘also passionate about more support for those lucky and talented people who pursue the arts as a full-time endeavour’.)
My favorite illustration of this questionable belief comes from a 2014 interview with Sophie Henderson, the creative professional who wrote and acted in Fantail, a feature film, for a revenue of only $2, possibly swallowed up in parking meter costs. She’s since written two more features — Baby, Done was in production the last I heard and her The Justice of Bunny King is one of those funded through the New Zealand Film Commission’s 125 Fund. My question was —
Fantail was made for $250k. The other day, an established filmmaker told me that this kind of budget was for the ‘inspired amateur’ (emphasis added) only, possibly in response to stories about low budget films spending a huge proportion of their budgets on legal fees, about writers and directors not being paid, about cast and crew not being paid. I’ve also heard of low budget filmmakers saying ‘never again’ because the stress of earning a living and finishing the film was too great. And for women I think, because we tend to earn less than men, a low-budget film may be just too great a risk. What do you think about all this?
SH: I’d love to talk to that person, I think it’s an interesting point of view. Maybe we were inspired amateurs but that doesn’t mean our film is rubbish. It doesn’t mean we’re not artists. Our crew was made up of very experienced and dedicated humans. They all got paid and they all have points in the film. I knew they weren’t working on it for the money, they were working on it because they backed us and they connected to the story. We also gave some people the opportunity to shoot their first film, to be an HOD, to take the next step in their careers. I didn’t get paid, but I got more out of it than anyone else. It gave me experience, it gave me a writing credit, I’ve got work because of it. Not getting paid meant extra shoot days and that was my choice. It was what was best for the film. Curtis earned half as much as me, don’t worry. My contract says I get $1 for acting AND $1 for writing.
‘What happened next’ for Sophie, as described most recently at Script to Screen’s Advanced Story Camp, shows how her investment and risk paid off.
Sophie’s experience wasn’t unique. Other filmmakers who have talked about the challenges of ‘income’ include Jackie Van Beek ‘effectively paying’ to complete post-production on her first feature. The experiences of the women webseries makers who particpated in that Q & A last year is echoed inThe Candle Wasters Collective’s story, in their Online Heroines episode(around 9 minutes in, directed by Louise Hutt), where they are particularly open about their financial struggles. They paid their costs, including the costs of employing others. But even with NZOA funding, each of them received a limited fee, not a wage, and it wasn’t enough to live on, so they all worked part time or flexible jobs to make ends meet. Yet another webseries maker has told me that ‘[the webseries] has occupied my life for over two years now and I have not had any income from it despite the NZOA funding’.
But these experiences are not limited to women who work with moving image. Consider the working conditions of the visual artist who spends three unpaid years preparing work for a major exhibition while earning their living on the underwear counter at Farmers, a house painter or a carer. Or the writer whose advance for her work-in-progress is non-existent because it’s had to cover the unearned advance from her last book, which didn’t sell well. Or the woman creative working on the third draft of her spec screenplay in the early hours of the morning, before her pre-school children wake up and before she drops them at daycare, before she goes to work for which she’ll be paid less than a man and even less if she is a woman of colour. (Contrast her with the men — and far smaller numbers of women — who work on their screenplays during comfortable breaks between lucrative gigs directing commercials or television series.)
There’s another problem, too. Although the risks that characterise professional creative practice — poverty, rejection, marginalisation, abuse, ill-health, do seem to disproportionately affect women — for the reasons already referred to above, and to some extent measured in Portrait and Writers Earnings, where we are shown as more likely to have ‘time out’ for domestic or health reasons — they affect all creative professionals within and outside the CNZ/NZOA Survey’s database. Limiting participation in the survey to those with ‘income’ from their creativity in a given year will allow policy makers to turn a blind eye to the grim reality of these risks and their often long-lasting effects.
Entertainment Assist’s research among creative professionals measured very high levels of mental health problems: moderate to severe anxiety symptoms ten times higher than in the general population, depression symptoms five times higher; and extremely high rates of suicide ideation, planning and attempts.
Here in New Zealand creative professionals can similarly disabled, thanks to working environments similar to those identified by Entertainment Assist and described by participants in Lorraine Rowlands’ The Life of Freelance Film Production Workers in the New Zealand Film Industry (Life of Freelance Film Workers) research.
Many Life of Freelance Film Workers’ respondents described ‘bouts of illness and exhaustion brought on by or exacerbated by their long working hours. Maintaining close personal relationships and being involved in family life also suffered. The end of the work project brought with it a rest from the gruelling working hours but it also brought the anxiety associated with finding the next contract. This meant that even when families were able to be together their relationships could be undermined by ongoing uncertainty concerning future employment prospects’.
Some respondents described working in film as a form of addiction. One felt that this addiction stemmed from the creative nature of these individuals —
‘Yeah it is very drug like — it is a cliché but it is true. I mean most people working in the arts I think will say that. There is something about it that hooks you and it is like a drug. It is an adrenalin boost, actually working, and it is incredibly tiring and incredibly stressful because of the constant deadlines with shows. But just to get that kick that you get when a production has gone well.’
When not working, this participant went through periods of depression and self-doubt as they desperately sought work to feed this addiction, and to boost failing self-esteem. According to them, who felt that their work gave them a way to contribute to society, they needed the work in order to feel like a worthwhile member of society and this made the down times between projects particularly difficult. And in passing they deftly illustrate how being a creative professional is not absolutely not just about the money —
‘… if you work in the arts, particularly in film, television, and theatre it becomes part of your life, really part of your life. That’s how I get my creative kicks. Everything from your own image of yourself and self-belief right through to the money, but it is also something that you can’t pin down. If I’m not working, then you feel there is something missing. That is the way that you contribute.’
These statements reminded me of responses to a questionnaire I sent women screenwriters a few years ago, and reported on in Dear Jemaine. No-one said ‘Money’. The first response to ‘What keeps you going?’ was almost invariably some version of ‘Me’. Two referred to ‘compulsion’, expressed in another way by a third —
‘What keeps me going is an inner drive to never just be ‘normal’ that I’ve always had. It is unbearable for me to think about a life where I wasn’t working towards something more creatively. It is not about fame or fortune, it is about getting to the point where I know I am an expert at my craft, which I am many years away from.
I suspect this all comes from growing up in a small, boring town with lovely (but very ordinary) parents. I can’t tell you where the needing more than that came from, it’s there and it’s in my best friend from that small town too (he’s working towards the same career as me in [another city]). This is how I know it’s nothing to do with our genders — it’s just who we are. I actually have no idea what drives my other screenwriter friends (male or female), but I guess it probably all comes from a similar place.’
I noted that this participant also referred to something that hampers many who are not wholly or partly supported by their domestic partners, because no-one in New Zealand except Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens then made a living from writing feature films, though some did and do when they combine it with writing for television–
‘Time is my biggest issue, because [like Keri Hulme all those years ago] I need to work 40 hours a week at a job that isn’t screenwriting to pay my rent and put food in the cat’s bowl and so on [and being a woman she is likely to earn less than a man in similar circumstances]. This means I work very long days sometimes in order to cram in my day job, and some screenwriting, and meetings for other projects. But, as I said above, it is not an option for me not do these things, and that’s fine by me.’
The drive that keeps this participant going (she is now employed as a full-time screenwriter) was described from another perspective in another’s response to ‘What keeps you going?’, which unlike the other responses I remember did link back to the centrality of mental health issues for creative professionals (which I asked about only indirectly in a question about what ‘hampered’ those being surveyed) —
‘Ideas that won’t leave my head that magically link into the story I’m trying to tell. The voice won’t stop until it’s on the page. From those two moments, the emotional strength and self confidence required to deliver are the most difficult things.’
As I remember, no-one wrote anything outstanding about luck, talent, or income from creative work, except in relation to funding applications.
It’s time for a paradigm shift to inclusive research to inform policy about inter-generational wellbeing. Research that will more accurately reflect the conditions under which creative professionals live and work, embrace the reality of the hours of work done for love; and value that reality — and its surrounding practices — equally with other economic factors (no dismissive language about ‘inspired amateurs’!!). Here are some suggestions. I’d love to hear about yours.
- Bring in the academics, as happens a lot with this kind of research internationally (6). It’s my understanding that there was no rigorous academic peer review for the CNZ/NZOA Survey, although it was tested on creative professionals (who couldn’t have been expected to analyse its framework and language). And this kind of complexity demands specialist academics (not e.g. someone like me who isn’t trained to develop complex surveys) who can build a unique methodological framework and understand that false dichotomy between artists who are paid and artists who are not, as well as the important distinction between those who develop their own intellectual property and those who buy and/or service the intellectual property of others. Someone outside of the ‘creative industries’ who can take a fresh look, maybe someone who will use a mātauranga Māori framework.
- Reconceptualise the Writers Earnings and CNZ/NZOA Survey frameworks to include all the wellbeing concerns discussed above and combine them to establish a single inclusive and regular survey, perhaps bi-annual.
- Don’t worry too much about controlling the pool of survey participants. Publicise it in places like The Big Idea and in the wider media, as well as through guilds and offer a link to the survey freely. It wouldn’t be hard to include questions that would eliminate the frivolous? (The UK Authors Earnings and Contracts 2018 uses Survey Monkey, while pointing out the risk of ‘…uncertainty inherent in online surveys (who had access to the link?)’.)
21 May 2019
The report is elegant and intriguing. But it doesn’t address my concerns — didn’t expect it to — and I worry about decisions that will be made based on its data and conclusions. But maybe another time the framework and approach will be improved. I’m looking forward to hearing what others think.
(1) Keri did have a short-term Burns Fellowship in 1977 and at least one smallish grant from the precursor of CNZ. She also wrote short stories, poems and songs during those years.
(2) For example, these women.
(3) I asked both Horizon Research (twice) and Copyright Licensing these questions, because I think the answers would be interesting and helpful in relation to understanding more about the research–
‘1. I can see the table re gender that tells me that the respondents are 71% female, but can’t see tables that include age range (which you refer to) or ethnicities (which you don’t refer to). Can you supply tables for either/both, please?
2. I can’t see the table that you base this sentence on (p5): ‘While in 2016, female writers had earned 10% more per annum from their writing (an average of $13,800 per annum) than male writers ($12,600 per annum), in 2018 the gap had widened to 48% more per annum, with income from writing for male writers dropping to $10,400 average and for female writers, increasing to $15.400 per annum on average’. Can you supply this table too, please?
3. Did you go beyond the various writers groups and guilds in search of participants to invite? e.g. a notice in The Big Idea, or through Creative New Zealand?
4. Were there any initial exclusionary questions e.g. re income, a question asking whether a participant had earned anything from writing over the last 12 months?
5. Do you know why people dropped out ‘progressively’? Was it because of exclusionary questions or for other reasons, known and unknown?
6. Am I the only person who is surprised that a third of participants were aged over 65? Any idea why that is so?’
(4) e.g. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own; Tillie Olsen’s Silences, Joanna Russ’ How to Suppress Women’s Writing.
(5) For more from 1B, see Women Are *Not* The Problem?; #directedbywomen #aotearoa — Getting With the Suffrage 125 Programme; Tū Tonu Mai (etc). My warm thanks to her, for accompanying me forward and onward when it gets hard.
(6) The UK Report comes from the University of Glasgow and includes a list of similar reports, mostly also generated within academia and/or led by academics–
Australia: Australian Council for the Arts surveys, led by Prof. David Throsby (1988, 1993, 2001, 2009, 2016).
Canada: Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity — Doing More and Making Less: Writers’ Incomes Today (2015), The Writers’ Union of Canada. A
EU: Europe Economics, Lucie Guibault & Olivia Salamanca (University of Amsterdam) (2016), Remuneration of authors of books and scienti c journals, translators, journalists and visual artists for the use of their works, Study for European Commission DG Commu- nications Networks, Content & Technology.
United States: US Published Book Author Income Survey (2018), Authors Guild.
And this note– Methods differ. For a review, see Prof. Rebecca Giblin’s Author’s Interest Project.