An arts policy with attitude
In our first editorial, two years ago, we made an appeal to the then new Shipley administration – more in hope than expectation – to show greater support for the arts. A positive effect was not noticeable. We saw the Minister for Arts and Culture excluded from Cabinet, no increase in funding, and, as the only major initiative in the area, the amalgamation (and consequent dilution) of arts and culture with heritage in a kind of mini superministry. In these circumstances, it is doubly ironic that on leaving office Jenny Shipley’s predecessor, Jim Bolger, should have expressed regret at not having provided more support for the arts.
It would seem that with the election of Helen Clark’s Labour-led Government, things can only improve. And if policy statements are anything to go by, indeed they will. A look at the Labour Party Art, Culture and Creative Industries Policy reveals a range of initiatives that gives the artistic community real cause for optimism.
Underpinning this policy is the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to the arts. She is a genuine enthusiast herself: she enjoys music, opera, theatre, dance and film. She reads widely and is knowledgeable about fiction, as anyone who attended last year’s Commonwealth Writers Prize function will attest. She understands that a nation needs something more than material things on which to base its identity and values; that the arts have an important role as the critic and conscience of society; and that New Zealand artists and performers deserve as much recognition and backing as our sportspeople. Her personal commitment goes so far that she has appointed herself Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.
What is more, she is prepared to put her money where her mouth is. She has promised to spend an extra $25 million over the next three years on arts and culture. The policy initiatives themselves are wide-ranging – from establishing a Music Commission to assist the domestic music industry to setting up an Arts Capital Fund to maintain and develop national and regional art collections to introducing programmes to encourage young people with demonstrated ability to follow artistic careers.
In areas of more direct concern to this journal, there will be more support for the neglected Authors’ Fund, long a source of discontent to our writers, who have seen their payments steadily eroded over the years; and attempts will be made to reverse the damage that has occurred in restructuring the National Library and the National Archives.
Of course, it remains to be seen how many of these policies will be realised. Good intentions are one thing; actions are another. With stroppy coalition and parliamentary partners, and the Opposition wasting no time in engaging in negative tactics, the Prime Minister may have too many demands on her time to devote sufficient attention to her pet portfolio. (She has, however, appointed an Associate Minister in Judith Tizard to assist her.) With huge and perfectly legitimate spending demands from other areas of government, the promised funds may not in the end be available: indeed, it has already became apparent that they will be spread rather too thinly. Changes of course and disappointments are almost inevitable.
But what will be sustained, we believe, is the very different attitude, ethos, culture that the new government brings into office – not only in connection with the arts, but right across its areas of responsibility. This attitude is more open, flexible, generous and hands-on, contrasting sharply with that of the last administration, which was mean-spirited, punitive, blinkered and emphatically hands-off, and appeared to limit its appreciation of culture to the obscene ostentatiousness of the America’s Cup and the sanitising preparations for APEC last September. The new government’s attitude is one that may in itself create a climate more conducive in the nation as a whole to fostering the arts. For this reason alone we should welcome its accession to power.
With the new millennium, New Zealand Books enters its 10th year of existence. It does so with its position more secure than ever before: the number of subscribers has been steadily increasing, and we are attracting more advertising. However, the fact remains that we could not exist without the generous grant from Creative New Zealand, the tireless administrative assistance we receive from the New Zealand Book Council, and, last but not least, the goodwill of our Friends and Founders, subscribers and readers. The editors would like to record their own special thanks for this support.
There will be some minor changes to the timing of our issues this year. To make the interval between the appearance of each issue more even (and to make the latter half of the year less harried for the editors), we will be publishing as usual in early March, but then in mid-May, mid-July, mid-September and at the end of November. We hasten to assure readers, however, that these changes will not affect either the content or quality of the journal.
Bill Sewell & Harry Ricketts