Unemployed artists find opportunity in Dunedin

Dunedin may be the best city in New Zealand to be an unemployed artist.

A pilot programme introduced 10 years ago to assist artists into self-employment continues to be a success in Dunedin after being abandoned in the rest of the country.

''Only Dunedin, still does it. The rest all fell over. They've all ditched it, except for Dunedin and that's thanks to the outcomes we've achieved,'' Artist Development Agency manager Antony Deaker said recently.

''We average 80% outcomes. That's people going off the benefit and staying off the benefit. They go off and live happily ever after. Not many get rich, but they're all doing what they love and it's sustainable.''

The Ministry of Social Development established Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (Pace) in 2001.

''Back then, people were getting agitated by work-for-the-dole, which led to a research project funded by Creative New Zealand and the New Zealand Employment Service, which found that there was no bureaucratic box to tick to say that you're an artist. So, you had to work in hospitality,'' Mr Deaker said.

''But, the employment services available didn't meet the needs of artists, as most artists become self-employed. Pace was technically considered a membership group within the unemployment sector. It was a big step forward, because at last you could get their real career aspirations acknowledged.

''Artists don't think about businesses, they look at careers. But, there's been no knowledge about what an artist's career looks like. How do I turn this juice into money?''Mr Deaker is contracted until 2014 by Winz to mentor about 50 people a year.

''We developed a process in the Dunedin region to register artists as 'arts and cultural workers' and we started training programmes and seminars to help artists set themselves up professionally.

''Now, our programme includes mentoring and planning and access ways to start self-employment. We also demystify taxes, income and money,'' he said.

''Typically, my clients are fashion designers, jewellers, print-makers and artists. They need to be turning over around $20,000 a year. Mostly, they've got tertiary training, but not all of them do. We work with people from their mid-20s to 60-year-olds, who are returning to the workforce.

''Winz provides a start-up grant for self-employment of up to $11,000. The majority of people I'm working with have applied for that and the majority have got it.

''The relationship with Winz, by and large, is really good and people coming through the system are very grateful for the opportunity. They still have to be available for full-time work, which is 30 hours a week, and they still have to meet their obligations as job-seekers.''

However, not all artists have had positive Winz experiences.

Former Dunedin School of Art lecturer Ali Bramwell said she was warned by Winz in October her benefit would be stopped if she held exhibitions.

''My case manager told me I had to supply a signed and witnessed affidavit that I would stop having exhibitions, or I will not be eligible for unemployment benefit,'' she said.

''I left the meeting where she told me I had to stop exhibiting, totally in tears. It was like a sucker punch.''

The Otago Daily Times understands the situation was caused by ''an overly-enthusiastic Winz staff member'' and Winz resiled from that position, when contacted.

''There is no requirement for artists, or any other potential client, to sign an affidavit to determine eligibility for the unemployment benefit,'' a Winz spokesman said.

''Work and Income does cater for people who specifically want to work in the arts and culture sector and will support any willing jobseeker to apply for roles within this industry.

''When applying for, or receiving, any income-tested assistance, it is necessary to declare all income that is received.

''This includes income received from sale of artworks.''



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