It's been a bizarre few days around reactions to Eleanor Catton's interview in India. I commented on that a couple of days ago. But as an extension of the wider discussion I see the Taxpayers Union (a right wing lobby group) has commented today on the fact that Eleanor Catton (as many NZ writers have – myself included) has received various funding grants for writing, etc.
I'd like to unpack some of this. Firstly, the statements carry an embedded message, using the classic binary opposition of: taxpayers/writers, or taxpayers/artists. (Writers and artists. as creative workers may and do apply for and receive funding from Creative NZ.) This binary is used as if the recipient (in this case Eleanor Catton) aren't themselves taxpayers,or that there is no flow-on tax revenue from their work . It's a discursive trick and shouldn't pass without critique. Maori are well used to it, common examples being the ever popular ‘taxpayers/Maori’ or ‘New Zealanders/Maori’ binaries, written as if the entities are mutually exclusive. And specifically that the smaller group in the binary is not only NOT a contributing part of the larger – it’s just a drain on its resources. .
Then there’s the wording ‘…the support of the New Zealand government…’ The support would come via Creative NZ, an arts funding body that operates to both keep those creatives IN the community (fund them to allow them to work) and keep such a community itself in existence, to ensure an ongoing role in the New Zealand landscape for a vibrant artistic and intellectual life. Creative NZ grants fund a great many endeavours every year. They are not gifts, or crumbs from the master's table, they are part of an arts STRATEGY.
But: arts funding bodies and their decisions and supported programmes are not part of the political arm and aims of the government of the day, as such. We all need to be very clear on this. This blurring comes from the philosophy that promotes the corporatization and potentially the identity capture of everything, including individual and national perception, New Zealand Inc, as an example. This wording about governments supporting artists often features deliberately coded language slippage in which the subtext is: funding body = government = current government’s ideology and policies. So it follows therefore that funding should buy acquiescence, or at the very least - silence. Again, this arts funding is strategic investment.
We can and should debate the points in this ongoing dialogue and perspectives on what specifically should be funded and how, that's our right as stakeholders. To make these debates meaningful it's critical to get the language and its implications as clear as we can.
An artist or any individual or organization does not actually begin working for the political party in government when and because they accept funding from arts bodies,themselves resourced from the wider NZ tax pool.
Funding is NOT enlistment, because that would be totalitarianism.