Creative NZ funding: who lost out?

British artist Martin Creed's neon ‘Whatever’ sign. Photo/The Big Idea
Karl Fritsch and Lisa Walker. Photo/Ebony Lamb
'Southerly' by Quentin Macfarlane.
Mark Amery reveals who’s been hit hard in this week’s arts news Lowdown.

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It has not been a happy week for the relationship between the literary community and Creative New Zealand. Last Lowdown we gave you the skinny on the latest CNZ arts grants results. But what wasn’t visible was who wasn’t successful, and there’s been a few surprises. 

Longstanding review journal New Zealand Review of Books Pukapuka Aotearoa, about to turn 30, had its application declined. Talking to Lynn Freeman on RNZ, Editor Harry Ricketts said that reasons have yet to be given by CNZ, and that for them it came with no warning. In fact last year - go figure - he says they got an increase. 

For 29 years, NZ Books has been publishing in-depth reviews of NZ books in the tradition of publications like the London Review of Books, as well as supporting hundreds of New Zealand reviewers to develop their craft (you can delve deep into the archive online here). 

Given the dire media landscape for reviewing, the decision is being taken badly. “Outrageously shortsighted — that funding should have been ring-fenced,” said one tweet from the literary ranks.  “A hugely destructive decision,” tweeted another, “and even more worrying alongside the gutting of our English and Creative Writing programmes. Where is the Minister for Arts in all of this?”. NZ Books last issue #129 in December is their last. More published by Read NZ.

NZ Books are accepting donations through Givealittle for final expenses and ongoing maintenance of their online archive, and teen review site, Hooked on NZ Books through until the end of the year. An Actionstation petition addressed to CNZ and Ardern to 'reinstate funding' has been started here

There is tension currently over CNZ’s changes to arts grants (as indicated by the Nightsong Productions predicament we’ve discussed). While increased numbers of arts organisations have secured long-term funding that never used to exist, that pool has been capped, leaving others still applying for arts grants which have the potential to see the rug suddenly pulled, if the NZ Books experience is to be accepted. 

That’s led to some anguish for two key arts organisations: Verb Wellington and Pyramid Club, which has seen this clarification issued by CNZ via Scoop

One of the country’s key small artist-run venues for experimental music, Wellington’s The Pyramid Club is under threat after their recent application wasn’t successful (they are eligible to apply again next year CNZ notes). “This puts Pyramid Club in a precarious position,” they wrote on social media. “We have enough in the coffers to last until around April next year. For the last few years, Pyramid Club has operated with a small amount of government assistance. This funding has enabled us to produce a diverse programme of events and keep paying the ever-increasing rent. Behind the scenes we are all volunteers - no one who is involved makes any money from running Pyramid Club.”

A rather far-cry from the direct government funded NZSO, for an organisation that in various incarnations has been running for more than 20 years… A new friends scheme asks people to donate a small amount every week to ensure they cover overheads. Ten dollars or more each week gets you a flash ‘Key to the Pyramid’ amulet and free entry to all gigs. The space is also now open as a rehearsal, workshop and co-share working space.

Meanwhile, in happier CNZ news, a new regional fund has been launched. CNZ say on their website: “The Ngā Toi ā Rohe, Arts in the Region Fund is set to open in March 2020, focusing on incentivising arts programming and the development of new work in partnership with communities outside the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.”

Statement-making public art 

First, he has the nerve to tell Cantabrians that ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’ in giant, rainbow neon atop the Christchurch Art Gallery. Now, renowned British artist Martin Creed is in Auckland with a giant neon ‘Whatever’ sign in the CBD. The sculpture, which measures five by 40 metres and sits atop a gentrified City Works Depot building at 18 Sale Street, is the largest neon work created by Creed. Size isn’t everything, however. Known for his carefully-poised use of irony, Creed has gifted Auckland back its most iconic ironic expression. Like, ‘who cares, we’re New Zealand’s biggest city’. Creed’s artists’ statement is a poem (see this NZ Herald story), and opens it out to more positive readings. 


Johnson Witehira's redesigned the International Departure ‘Experience’ at Auckland Airport. Photo/Supplied

Speaking of statement-making art in civic spaces, there are none more important than those at our cities’ major entrance and exit points: airports. They say a lot about how our authorities position themselves. Tauranga Airport terminal currently has a model construction of the Battle of Gate Pa, Wellington has Middle Earth’s Smaug the dragon,  and this year in New Plymouth, they have agreed to invest in a replica of Don Driver’s original mural about aviator Kingsford Smith. 

But what about some acknowledgement in 2019 of tangata whenua? Welcome recognition of mana whenua has arrived at the airport in Tairāwhiti Gisborne this week, with a large carved work by senior artist Derek Lardelli as the tahuhu, or spine, of the building (Gisborne Herald story here). In Auckland, Johnson Witehira recently redesigned the International Departure ‘Experience’ with architects Jasmax and Gensler. Here on The Register is an in-depth look at the redesign in the context of how airports internationally are taking increasing care with design.


Pakaru is up for a Wellington Theatre Award. Photo/Supplied.

Award Season

Announced this week were nominations for the 2019 Wellington Theatre Awards. The awards were once judged by a panel of newspaper theatre critics, although these days those don’t really exist, so the judges have been hand-selected by the theatres themselves. Featuring strongly across all categories are the shows up for production of the year: Cellfish, Orchids, Pakaru, The Children, Tröll and Yes Yes Yes.​

Nominations for the Dunedin Theatre Awards, which is celebrating its 10th year, have also been announced, with the awards dinner to be held December 2. Up for production of the year are The Bald Soprano (Arcade), The Flick (Wow!), The Mikado (Opera Otago), Ophelia Thinks Harder and Richard II (Globe).

Which raises the question: what has happened to the Auckland Theatre Awards? Last we heard, a general manager was being sought late last year after the previous structure proved untenable, but I haven’t managed to dig out any further reports (responses welcomed).  Last year, in its tenth year, the award winners were announced in a Livestream event. In this age of great technology, could we look to a national awards that brought the entire industry together, with a ceremony shared across centres?  

Robin Hoods

All hail the Robin Hoods of creative street art. Two great examples made the media this week: here’s The Spinoff’s Books Editor Catherine Woulfe interviewing ‘Donna’ who has been covering up white supremacist posters in Newmarket with Hone Tuwhare’s poem Rain: “I could’ve drawn a big penis on it, you know, but that’s really unoriginal.” 

Then, in Wainuiomata, “a mysterious masked maverick” aka block_vandal aka Blocksy is adding giant spray-painted Lego blockheads to a retaining wall, much to the public’s appreciation. He didn’t seek council approval, but now has a councillor helping them with resources. As I like to chant: optimism doesn’t need a permit! He was interviewed by RNZ

Speaking of Robin Hoods, here’s to all the wonderful yarn bombers out there, who add love to treasured public places by giving them a cuddle with knitting. Here’s a Life and Leisure story on a great yarner, Lissie Cole. 


'Southerly' by Quentin Macfarlane. 

We missed the passing in July of a terrific New Zealand abstract painter, Quentin Macfarlane, aged 83. Macfarlane, a lover of sailing, was big on flowing, colourful forms, echoing our coastal marine environment. Fellow artist Grant Banbury has written a tribute this month on Eyecontactsite and curator Pete Vangioni wrote a lovely farewell message on behalf of the Christchurch Art Gallery back in August. Many of his works are in the gallery’s collection. “Quentin was a true friend and supporter of the Gallery,” writes Peter. “He was the unofficial go-to historian for anything relating to Canterbury art from the 1950s through to the present day.”

On Longevity

The contemporary arts are getting older and more enduring, and that means a lot more birthday celebrations. Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery is currently celebrating twenty years while both Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School, Govett Brewster and Aratoi are seniors, celebrating their fiftieths. 

Thirty years ago, we saw a significant rise in an independent performing arts scene that gained important support from fledgling venue, fringe and festival platforms, starting in Wellington. The key mainstay has been BATS Theatre, rebuilt and developed a few years back with funds from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. This year BATS has been celebrating its 30th in a cultural landscape it played a big part in fostering. 

David ODonnell wrote an excellent article on BATS for international site Theatre Times. Why has BATS endured? Because of its adherence to ensuring easy access to all theatrical newcomers who can prove potential to the venue, and by keeping its admin staff turning over to new emerging producers every few years. The place holds the elixir of youth, for young and old alike. 

Two former staff, Paula Van Beek and Brigid Connor, have announced a unique end of year party to cap off the 30th celebrations. Sunset promises to be a free “nostalgic all-nighter misremembering Wellington in the 90s”, streaming on Radioactive.fm. Starting at sunset, it takes over all three levels of the building on Saturday December 15th.

Speaking of longevity, a shout out to the remarkable Muka Prints project which has been touring the country for an incredible 32 years, making contemporary art in 2D lithographic form accessible to the young. In this unique scheme, exhibitions of prints by well-known artists are held in galleries, with the works unnamed and the exhibitions only accessible to  under-19s. All the prints are sold at modest cost, with the possibility that families might end up with something worth rather more. The purchase is purely based on what the buyer likes rather than any perceptions of financial value. This year’s Muka Prints tour rolls into Auckland Art Gallery November 30-December 1 after covering much of the rest of the country. Here are the founders Frans Baetens and Magda Van Gils on RNZ’s Nine to Noon.


Karl Fritsch and Lisa Walker. Photo/Ebony Lamb

Great Reading

A wonderful confessional piece by Tayi Tibble at Newsroom on the occasion of her editing of the latest edition of literary journal Sport

Here’s a great article at Kiwionscreen by Hineani Melbourne, a Māori film producer, director and writer, on being a cultural consultant on a film, and what makes a film have integrity.

One of my work joys this year was getting to visit jewellery artists Lisa Walker and Karl Fritsch in their studio with photographer Ebony Lamb. Here are the results

Composer/musician Lucien Johnson and his partner, the dancer/choreographer  Lucy Marinkovich were the joint recipients of the remarkable Harriet Friedlander New York Residency this year. Lucien has written about the experience on his blog here

A profile on the talented stalwart of the Dunedin independent music scene, Francisca Griffin (formerly known as Kathy Bull of Look Blue Go Purple and Cyclops fame), is one of the latest additions to the wonderful Audioculture website. Hear and listen more here.

Migoto Eria reflects on HERE: Kupe to Cook at Pātaka Art + Museum on Pantograph Punch.

Written by

Mark Amery

28 Nov 2019

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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