A funding crisis looks set to force the closure of New Zealand's only organisation providing professional development, support and advocacy services to our visual artists.
The board of the non-profit organisation Artists Alliance is recommending it close because there is no longer enough money to pay for the work it has done for, with and on behalf of visual artists since 1991.
Board member Caroline Stone and executive director Maggie Gresson say the potential closure, likely to be at the end of the year, follows several years of financial struggle which intensified when Creative New Zealand stopped its funding in 2013.
Though other funders like Foundation North and Rata Foundation have continued their support, Stone and Gresson say the money — around $200,000 a year — isn't enough to keep pace with demand for services or run existing programmes.
• A paid, brokered intern programme alongside the likes of Auckland Arts Festival, Chartwell Trust, Wallace Arts Trust, McCahon House Trust, Art News and, in Christchurch, The Physics Room and CoCa. The Alliance also has ties to Boston University, which has hosted 15 students as interns since 2006.
•A mentoring programme which, in 13 years, has matched 69 emerging and mid-career artists with paid mentors.
•Providing information, access to free legal information and other support services to visual artists as well as providing an advocacy service on their behalf in areas like copyright, image licensing and re-sale royalties.
•A volunteer programme which has supported organisations such as Auckland Arts Festival, Objectspace, ArtWeek Auckland, Te Toi Uku, Bowerbank Ninow, Te Tuhi and others, offering industry experience to recent graduates and established workers alike. Some volunteers have gone on to paid employment at the organisations for which they volunteered.
Gresson says the Artists Alliance also regularly receives requests to provide information and professional development support to students at the country top art schools, including Elam, Whitecliffe and AUT.
"We sincerely hope that the art schools can establish a means to continue to provide and even develop these services to their students without our support as we believe this service is essential," she says.
AUT Visual Arts staff and students posted a Facebook message which thanked Artists Alliance for its 27 years of work, saying "what an incredible friend, resource and service to lose!"
"Since 1991, Artists Alliance has been the go-to place for the need-to-knows for NZ artists and arts-related workers. Some of us were there in the beginning and know what it took then and what it takes now in 2018 to achieve the organisation's mission to 'represent and advance the professional interests of visual artists in Aotearoa New Zealand'. You did a great job, Artists Alliance!"
Around 400 artists pay a minimal membership fee — less than $100 each a year — to belong while art schools and training institutes are charged $1500. Stone says they've thought about raising membership fees but feel it disadvantages artists who aren't big wage earners to begin with.
Gresson, now the only full-time staff member, says arts aren't a "nice to have" but offer tangible economic, social and cultural benefits to all of society. She and Stone believe it's time CNZ, as the country's arts council, recognise this by establishing an organisation like Australia's National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).
Started in 1983, NAVA receives government funding and states it is "the peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector."
"There seems to be support for the big projects — the Venice Biennales of the world — but you can't get to fabulous if there's no basic services to help people make a name in the first place," says Gresson.
Their call is supported by Whitespace gallerist Deborah White, one of the driving forces behind Auckland's annual Artweek.
"I know and appreciate there is a huge demand on the public purse, but I would like to think there is some sort of advocacy group for artists and maybe a NAVA model is the way to go. I understand why the decision has had to be made but I think it's a real shame because it will leave us with no advocacy group for visual artists."
Deborah Rundle went through an Artists Alliance mentoring programme. The winner of a 2017 Wallace Art Award, Rundle says it was a major boost to her confidence and helped show her some of the practicalities involved in being a working artist. Now a member of Public Share collective, also helps to run Karangahape Rd artist-run gallery RM.
"I've seen other people graduate and then struggle to find their way after art school and they drop away from their art practise; confidence diminishes and the support structures that exist can be quite dismissal. This is just terrible thing to happen."