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Response to the Creative New Zealand Draft Strategic Plan 1998-2001
Creative NZ approached PhotoForum just before Christmas for a response to their draft plan. John Turner replied on behalf of PhotoForum, and this is an edited version of his response
Thank you for this opportunity of responding to the Draft Strategic Plan. We are appreciative of the Arts Council's work, and acknowledge the many cordial and helpful contacts we as a Society have had with your organisation and the staff we have dealt with. This said, we are obliged to voice not only the views of our committee but also those of the many independent photographers whom we represent. Having carefully considered your questionnaire and backgrounder to the Draft Strategic Plan for 1998-2001 we have concluded that by far the most serious criticism of Creative New Zealand in recent years is that it has become rather aloof and lost touch with fundamental aspects of being a liberal arts sponsor. Your aims are sound, we believe, but your methods of achieving them exhibit some serious flaws. It is our considered view that:
1. Creative New Zealand has become far too prescriptive in formulating, expressing and assessing applications.
2. the unnecessarily bureaucratic and prescriptive tone and structure of the application forms and rules for documenting proposals force applicants to choose a single category within which to frame their application, when, patently, the nature of their work and application can fall between the restrictive categories allowed.
3. Creative New Zealand should abandon the role of telling artists how they should think and what they should do and go back to listening to what artists want and need.
4. funding (or that topping up of funding, to be more accurate, by acknowledging the artist's own financial contribution, ) of the arts is always a risky business, with no absolute guarantees of success, ever. Ethnicity or gender should not be disadvantaged when projects are of equal and high potential, but for their own sake, neither ethnicity or gender, any more than fitting into current movements or fads, can absolutely guarantee quality of work or value for money. The mix, from year to year, in the kind and quality of applications for support will inevitably fluctuate, surprise, and even disappoint the most liberal of patrons.
5. Photography as a sub-category in the Visual Arts, could, like Film, benefit from having a specialised adjudication or advisory panel. 6. We also note that Photo-Forum has never been approached by the Arts Council to recommend assessors, nor contribute to the panel which makes the award decisions in Photography.
7. in our view, worthwhile applications of national significance by other parties have in the recent past been rejected, it is felt because the applicants have at times been critical of some aspects of the Arts Council's behaviour. We are aware of several incidents in which concerned artists and administrators have failed to criticise Arts Council activities, despite reasonable cause, for fear of predjucing future applications by upsetting Council staff. Our point is simply that to prevent such aspersions to underhand tactics, whether real or imagined, it is crucial to ensure that the Council's deliberations are more transparent. In the first instance we advocate the widening of your network of assessors for Photography applications, and secondly, that the names of panellists be notified in an appropriate manner, before or after applications have been processed.
8. We would, as publishers, welcome knowing what criteria Creative New Zealand would apply when, as recently occurred to us, an application for a new (i.e. second) publication subsidy was requested before the first publication had appeared? (Publishers almost inevitably have more than one publication in the pipeline at any one time, and we don't wish to be an exception.) In other words, do you expect one project to be completed before an applicant applies for a second?
9. We note that while it has in no way disadvantaged our publishing programme, quite the contrary, we do not, in principle, support the concept that individual artists must have the support of established or reputable organisations such as ours, in order to apply for Creative New Zealand publication subsidies. This, we think, impinges on the independence of the artist, who for whatever reason may not wish his or her work to be associated with any organisation.
10. We would also welcome knowing what criteria Creative New Zealand applies when a young or new up-and- coming artist competes with a relatively well-established mid-career artist who has previously been the recipient of, say, three or four, substantial grants? (One broad perception is that the Council is inclined more towards continuing its support for previous recipients, who have become perceived as "Arts Council favourites," to the detriment of supporting new, and, it is assumed, more risky talents. Our own interest is in seeing that a fair balance is struck over a reasonable period, where the standard and potential of projects is equal.
11. insufficient emphasis is given to the need for bringing important overseas artists and their work to New Zealand.
12. the Art Gallery Directors' association and Exhibitour (both assisted by Creative New Zealand, we believe) have frequently failed to support important local exhibitions for touring New Zealand, let alone overseas. In so doing, there has been a general failure to ensure that important exhibitions go to more than one main centre to maximise their impact. We acknowledge that not all exhibitions need to tour, but we believe that the performance of these groups has been found seriously wanting, for reasons that we are by no means sure about.
We hope that our comments and observations are useful to your survey, and that irrespective of the outcomes, the Government will increase its funding for Creative New Zealand so you can better meet the diverse needs of New Zealand artists. Yours faithfully, John B. Turner, Director & Managing Editor, PhotoForum.