Towards Transparency

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"We need to be honest with each other, and ourselves. Only then can we grow strength and sustainability throughout our performing arts ecology"

- James Wilson, PANNZ Chair

Key themes of Arts Market 2017 were partnerships and working together. In his opening address, our Chair, James Wilson, had some poignant words to share that got a lot of us thinking. We have been encouraged by some of those that were in the room to share these thoughts more widely, and in doing so we hope to generate thought and discussion. Below is a transcript of James' speech...

Towards Transparency
James Wilson (PANNZ Chair) Opening Address at Arts Market 2017

In putting together the Market this year, The PANNZ team have been thinking a lot about how interconnected our sector is - and about the responsibility we all have to strengthen and nourish those connections. We all know that live performance flourishes as a result of a supportive and connected ecology behind the work.

To every partnership and collaboration we bring ourselves. We bring our own experience and viewpoints. We bring our own agendas, challenges and ambitions for our work. We also bring with us the agendas, challenges, and ambitions for the organisations or artists that we represent. How do we find the best way to bring all of that into the room - to honour the groups that we are representing - but also to do so in a way in which we are open to being challenged - open to seeing things a little differently, perhaps open to having our mind changed?

One of the phrases that I hear the most often in our industry is that we often have to wear 'different hats' - we are often juggling many projects at the same time, and in doing so we play a range of roles - and so in theory, it should be easy for us to see things from viewpoints that differ to the way in which we are used to seeing things. For us to be open to the possibility that there might well be a better way to do things that looks different to the ways of working that we have become used to.

One of the things I dearly love about this industry is that none of us seem afraid to voice an opinion - as creatives, we are not known for being quiet and well behaved. However, I do wish that we would be just as outspoken where we hear untruths- or myths about each-others work. One of the painful realities of the way in which we fund the arts in NZ is that it is all too easy to become competitive with each other - to look sideways at funding decisions and question the validity or impact of those who are receiving funding.

When I moved from producing for a funded company into a venue over five years ago, I think I had a very different view of what I perceived to be an imbalance between artists and venues. I had to quickly learn that the grass was not necessarily much greener on the side of a venue that from the outside looked like it was well funded.

The market is a place for us to get a deeper understanding of each-others work, to ask questions, and to learn more about the considerations we all make when it comes to creating or presenting a new work.

I’ve heard arguments that artists can be taken advantage of by venues or by festivals, whose salaried staff simply don’t understand the difficult economic conditions faced by freelance artists. I’ve heard other people suggesting that we should be equally sensitive to the difficult economic conditions the majority of venues are also struggling through, with many doing the best they can for their audiences on very limited resources.

In the last month, I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with UK based artist Andy Field, who some of you might know from his work with Forest Fringe. Andy has been in NZ making an Auckland version of Lookout, which is a site specific work where you have a conversation with a nine-year old about the future of your city.

Andy published a piece on his blog about the balance of power between festivals, venues and artists, and the misconceptions that can exist. This was in response to a provocation from a group of artists in the UK, suggesting that artists should be able to ‘name and shame’ venues, or rate them like some kind of Trip Advisor, or Zomato - you can imagine the reviews- when you were on tour did the venue pay you on time, were you picked up from the airport, were the per-diems enough to buy more than a bag of chips?

Now, this seems relatively unfair without some kind of reciprocal reviewing system for venues or festivals- did the producer deliver the show they said they were going to?, Did the fee cover everything it should have done, did the company provide high quality marketing images when they said they would?

We work in a sector in which the most valuable resource is people. It is too easy to forget that venues, festivals and arts companies are not faceless institutions but are in fact made up of real people doing the best they can, often with far fewer resources than you might think.

To quote Andy Field:

"Sometimes this all feels a little bit like bickering over deck chairs on the Titanic; theatre as we hope it might continue to exist is basically a capitalist impossibility but this is ok, in fact it is one of the best things about it, and what we collectively need to do is make a more compelling case to the general public for why we (venues, festivals, artists, etc.) should be better supported to make survivable careers out of doing this financially illogical thing."

What if there was a way to get under the skin of some of the conflicts and suspicions that inevitably arise between artists and those organisations that support and present their work? What if we could somehow hard-wire a greater degree of transparency into the relationships we create with each other.

Andy Field has two suggestions of how to do this, which he calls “TWO IDEAS TOWARDS TRANSPARENCY”

Whilst I am not suggesting that we should necessarily adopt these - I do believe that they have some merit in facilitating a better level of understanding between us about what it actually takes to make and present a work.

1. Create an online space where artists can declare how much they have been able to charge for their work, venue by venue, in the UK and internationally.
This is not about naming and shaming, about slagging off venues or festivals you’ve had a bad time with, or a license to have a moan about something that went wrong. This is only about trying to create a paradigm shift in how everyone talks about the money. Doing so should in the first instance, give all artists a clearer sense of what they should or could be charging for their work.

2. To encourage venues and festivals to declare as a percentage how much of their annual income goes directly to presenting art-
This might include managers, producers, marketers, technicians, front of house and ticketing staff. Again, this is not about shaming venues. It is about finding simple ways in which to gauge the fairness and consistency of the way in which venues are dealing with artists. It is also a way for venues and festivals to honestly demonstrate the commitment they have to presenting art is not always implicitly tied to the size of fees they pay, or even their ability to pay a fee. Perhaps making these percentages more visible would encourage venues and festivals to elucidate far more than they currently do where the money they have goes and why, which can only be a good thing.

Perhaps if we trusted one another more, were more consistent and transparent in how we talked to and dealt with one another, then we could all go on trying to solve this impossible problem together. Maybe these are two ways we might build some more of that trust and transparency.

If we are brave in theatre, we need to be brave in the real world too. We need to talk about the money. We need to be realistic with each other about what kind of investment- often personal investment- it takes to create and sustain work. We need to be honest with our boards, and with our funders about what it takes to produce and present live performing arts in NZ- we need to be honest with each other- and ourselves.

Only then can we grow strength and sustainability throughout our performing arts ecology.

- James Wilson, PANNZ Chair

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