The biggest barrier to artists being able to freely create is the lack of a living wage. Artists pour their blood, sweat and tears; hopes, dreams and time, into producing works that may or may not sell. No artist in their right mind would be in it for the money but we all need a roof over our heads and food on the table. The crossover between art and hospitality is no coincidence. Most artists need to take a straight job to pay for their passion. 

This is the problem the newly established ARA Charitable Trust aims to tackle. They provide assistance to regional artists in Heretaunga and Tairawhiti, inviting patrons to contribute $1,500 apiece to grant a mid-career local contemporary artist $30,000 so that they might focus on the job of creation without having to worry how they are going to pay their bills. Patrons form a club of sorts, with opportunities to engage with the artist over the year to 18 months of their residency. In doing so, they not only give the artist a living wage but foster interest and understanding of local arts. Presumably if patrons are committed enough to donate to the fund they are also potential art buyers, connections that every artist needs.

The inaugural recipient of the ARA grant is Ben Pearce, a Napier based sculptor whose art marries deep philosophical thought with prodigious skill. Using wood, stone, metal and found objects, Pearce’s is a body of work reflective of a dynamic mind, driven to expand his understanding and practice. His last Hawke’s Bay show was in 2018, before Parlour Projects sadly moved online, but he has exhibited widely and to acclaim around the country and overseas. As the father of a young family, this award is a gamechanger for Ben. “It’s a pivotal moment for my practice,” he enthuses. 

The philanthropic urges of the four founding members of the Havelock North based trust is an example of ‘big society’ in action. Independent patrons come together to support the arts and engage with the artistic community to mutual benefit. For Ben Pearce, it’s an opportunity to further his work, freed from financial insecurity for himself and his family. The rest of us, patrons and punters alike, wait with expectant eyes to see what Pearce will create next.


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