Fanning the fire of the performing arts workforce

A comprehensive cross-sector response is proposed to address the financial hardship and workforce challenges faced by Toi Puaki, New Zealand’s performing arts sector.

This is among the key findings contained in Kia Mura! (Set Ablaze!) workforce development plan (WDP), produced by Toi Mai Workforce Development Council.

Te Tumu o Toi | CEO of Toi Mai, Dr Claire Robinson says the Toi Puaki sector delivers considerable social and economic benefit to Aotearoa. “Toi Puaki benefits Aotearoa by telling our stories in performance and live music and providing connection, social cohesion and wellbeing. These are well-documented effects, reinforced by research and data.

“Toi Puaki benefits our economy as well. The current $879m contribution of Toi Puaki to GDP is forecast to reach $1.78bn by 2030. Research has also found two-thirds of New Zealanders see the arts as contributing positively to the economy, while around three-quarters think arts create jobs both in and around creative industries.”

However, while audiences enjoy the fruits of the Toi Puaki labour, the vast majority of its workforce earn incomes ‘well short’ of the national median wage, with only 15% of people working in theatre and live music earning more than $30,000 a year.

“Their commitment to putting our stories on stage comes at significant financial stress and limited choice in meeting their own needs, goals and ambitions,” says Robinson.

“This means they are heavily subsidising New Zealanders’ participation in and enjoyment of the performing arts. Effectively, the workforce has already subsidised your tickets by the time you buy them!”

Toi Mai has identified five recommendations and 12 actions within Kia Mura! These are intended to rebalance the financial burden on this workforce, align training with workforce needs – particularly in areas where there are shortages – and highlight the variety of roles in the sector.

“The recommendations advocate for a cross-sector approach to financial, infrastructural, training, regional and administrative solutions for the multi-level challenges experienced by the workforce – with the most important investigating how to increase incomes in the sector.

“We will also focus on the things that we can do within our orbit in convening agencies, undertaking research, advising government on vocational funding, developing qualifications and endorsing programmes.

“For the benefit of all the cultures and communities that proudly make up contemporary Aotearoa, we need to collectively ensure the Toi Puaki fire burns fiercely into the future.”

Robinson encourages Toi Puaki workforce members and education providers to give feedback on the plan’s recommendations and actions.

Toi Mai wishes to thank everyone who has previously contributed their valuable time to help us advance this WDP to the consultation phase.

“Now we need to know if we have got that thinking right. We are encouraging industry members, learners, education providers and those with an interest in the performing arts sector to have a say in shaping the future of Toi Puaki.”

Stakeholder feedback will inform the final recommendations and help produce a roadmap government and others can use to realise the productive potential of the sector.

Consultation on the Kia Mura! is open until 22 July. For details on the consultation process visit the Toi Puaki webpage.

Key Facts:

  • Toi Mai is one of six Workforce Development Councils established in 2021. The WDCs have a legislative remit to align education and training with industry needs, and to raise the skills and vocational training available to industries.
  • Toi Mai aims to ensure the creative, cultural, recreation and technology sectors in Aotearoa – Ngā Peka o Toi –are supported by a skilled, diverse and thriving workforce.
  • Stakeholder feedback is currently being sought on four new workforce development plans and one industry development plan developed in close collaboration with industry stakeholders.
  • Of the 10,500 people working in theatre and live music in 2022, only around 1,500 earned more than $30,000 a year and half earned less than $17,000 a year – well short of the national median of $62,000.
  • Toi Puaki has an estimated annual income gap of $310m–$420m. This figure represents the unpaid and under-paid work performers provide to ensure communities can access live music and theatre.
  • Contributing $879m GDP in 2023, the sector has grown faster than New Zealand’s wider economy over the past eight years and is forecast to reach $1.3bn–$1.78bn GDP by 2030.
  • Toi Puaki includes practitioners of live performance, dance, drama, circus and music, as well as the backstage workforce of producers, directors, choreographers, light, sound and rigging technicians and designers, and set and costume designers and makers, amongst others.
  • The WDP was developed through conversations with over a hundred people working in theatre and live music, and the topics and themes reflect the concerns of these people.
  • The title of the WDP Kia Mura means ‘to set ablaze’. The inspiration of te ahi (fire) helps us tell the story of the performing arts in Aotearoa.