TBI Q&A: Elisabeth Vaneveld

Elisabeth Vaneveld
In the last of our 10th birthday QnAs with the team behind the scenes, we hear from one of the people who not only started The Big Idea but has never lost sight of it - Elisabeth Vaneveld.


Directors are often the unsung heroes of productions. The Big Idea is a production on many levels, not just a publisher, but a networker, connector and worker in the creative sector. Meet our executive director, Elisabeth Vaneveld, who keeps all those balls in the air in a seemingly effortless way.

Elisabeth works closely with the Trust Board and the operational team to keep all aspects of what we do afloat. Which as she says “is only possible by working as a tight team with plenty of esprit de corp, determination and dedication beyond the call of duty."

This starts right from the top, with Elisabeth leading by example. While she's never been one to shy away from rolling up her sleeves (where an ace often resides) to deal with the details -  it's her experience, intellect, strategic skills and strength that keep the creative community cogs turning. And not just for The Big Idea.

Her creative consulting and management for TBI Assist professional services, including directorship of ART Venture, not only keeps the sector well fed with invaluable advice - but makes a significant financial contribution to supporting this website.

Along with Elisabeth's integrity and strengths as a leader and strategist are her endearing qualities as a person - including a holistic approach, never losing sight of the little things and her spontaneous spark - which is well known for lighting fires in others.

As she says in one of her (five) tips for surviving and thriving in the creative industries "Set aside time in the working week to be in spaces where you’re likely to be interrupted as spontaneous interactions with people stimulate new ideas, expand possibilities and provide opportunities for sharing and exchange."

In the last of our 10th birthday QnAs highlighting the team behind the scenes, we hear from one of the people who not only started The Big Idea but has never lost sight of it - Elisabeth Vaneveld.

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

Anytime when I’m not overly programmed and going with the flow.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Casual classic with a good dash of fiery red in the mix.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Two things: Being part of creative teams jamming ideas and plans for opportunities that we’re cooking; also working in the ‘here & now’ with groups and organisations to engage creative thinking and processes.

How does your environment affect your work?

As someone who spends a fair amount of time creating content of one sort or another in front of a screen, I need to do that kind of work in a quiet space with classical music in the background. The music helps the part of my mind that’s not into screens to stay interested (and not bored)  . . . I also love being part of creative teams and for that kind of work, being in a light, bright well resourced environment, like the Biz Dojo (in the Ironbank Building – Karangahape Road) really helps.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

I’m blessed to be able to engage with both easily.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

Am I allowed to have five?

If you’re really determined to have a successful career in the creative industries, go for it – and make sure that your path crosses those of people who are waiting to help you.

Get on top of the technical skills that are relevant to your creative discipline as true innovation comes from being able to apply those skills in interesting new ways.

Continuously expand your networks and seek advice and assistance from those with different yet complementary skill sets.

Set aside time in the working week to be in spaces where you’re likely to be interrupted as spontaneous interactions with people stimulate new ideas, expand possibilities and provide opportunities for sharing and exchange.

Adopt a holistic approach to life as every career pathway has its own unique flow bringing periods of intense stress, happiness and at times boredom.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

Over a career spanning 35 years plus, I’ve worked on a fair number of projects that have been personally and professionally satisfying, largely because I’ve had wonderful opportunities to work with amazing, creatively stimulating and deeply intelligent people. The four big standouts are: in the 70s, Moehau / Mommba; in the 80s Whangarei Community Arts Council; in the 90s Queen Victoria Women’s Centre – Melbourne and in the 20s, The Big Idea | Te Aria Nui . . .

Who or what has inspired you recently?

The Big Idea’s columnist, Renee Liang winning the Royal Society of New Zealand’s creative non-fiction prize for science writing with her essay, Epigenetics: Navigating our own inner seas. I remember my scientifically minded sister excitedly describing epigenetics to me last year and I didn’t really get it. Reading Renee’s paper, I do. For me, Renee as a scientist, artist, writer and parent is ‘the future now’ – and that gives me hope . . .

I’m also hugely inspired by The Big Idea team (Trustees & Publishing Team) as we achieve a lot with very little resources (despite our continuous efforts to improve that)

Tell us a bit about your background.

Not having come from family with arts to the fore, it was a miracle to find my true-calling by accident when I returned to Auckland as an 18-year-old from Canada. With little direct family support and no money, I started work pretty much on the day of arrival as a receptionist – and I’ve worked ever since. I didn’t know for quite a while that there was such a thing as the arts sector to work in. However, when I fell on its path, I knew I was on the journey of a life-time. So while I’ve been the architect of my own career, it’s not been without the invaluable help from a number of mentors who saw my potential even when I didn’t.

Tell us about your role at The Big Idea?

As the Executive Director of The Big Idea Trust, I work closely with the Trust Board and the operational team to keep all aspects of what we do, afloat – which is only possible by working as a tight team with plenty of esprit de corp, determination and dedication beyond the call of duty. To some extent, I’m a ‘Jill of all trades’ and a trouble-shooter, pitching in where necessary as we are a very small team. As the Publisher of The Big Idea, the buck stops with me when it comes to keeping the website up and running.

To earn money for The Big Idea website, I’m also principal consultant and manager of TBI Assist, our professional services arm. We undertake special projects including consulting work, mostly in the arts / creative sector. Through TBI Assist we also run the ART Venture Programme for ART (Arts Regional Trust) and I am the Director of that programme.  

Tell us a bit about your recent and upcoming projects.

Three come to mind:

Attracting more investment into The Big Idea website – which is necessary to the project’s viability in its second decade.

Managing the selection process for ART Venture 2013 to choose the next cluster of creative entrepreneurs for a 1 July 2013 start; (AVP is an acceleration programme for creative entrepreneurs working in Auckland that is funded by ART – Arts Regional Trust and delivered by TBI Assist).

Kick-starting planning for Survive & Thrive 2013.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

Documentary film producer / editor.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

A very wise place within that is my “higher self”.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Because I’m partially deaf, anywhere that I have control of the volume; I’m very drawn to music and if it’s around me it’s pretty much what my attention defaults to.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

Flash new toys for pets Iwa & Rimu . . .

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

“Consciously breathe through your nose not your mouth”

What’s great about today?

That there are bound to be some surprises in it – I love that because who knows what they’ll be and where they’ll lead . . .

What’s your big idea for 2013?

A personal one for a change: Experiment working in different ways for more sustainable results, personally and professionally.

    * * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

The potential of The Big Idea is immense especially as its core premise is to develop and deliver powerful, relevant resources ‘for creative people by creative people’; that’s the main reason I left Creative New Zealand in 2006 to take the promise of The Big Idea and with wonderfully creative and dedicated team, make good on that promise.

What changes have you noticed in (insert discipline) in the past 10 years?

The creative sector is far more digitally astute and how creatives are using digital technology on the leading edge is awe-inspiring and deeply innovative; I’m envious, being a member of “hairy ears” generation to see what those practitioners can do.

Organisations and practitioners in the sector are much more willing to make a stand for a sustainable, viable future – and there’s an increasing willingness to learn the business technology that is part of making that real.

The age of activism through the arts has returned (and yes, some of you will say it never left); however the advent of the internet enabled the concept of “community” just as we were losing that – and so now collaborative, multi-disciplinary arts practices; working in and with communities (wherever and whoever they are) and mainstreaming community arts practice as a powerful change-agent is the new renaissance (just look at Gap Fillers in Christchurch for example).

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

The investment environment for the arts remains as tough as it ever was, if not tougher. On the whole, we’re still waiting for consistent, enlightened thinking across multiple investors and funders who together understand what it takes to deliver an interconnected, healthy creative ecology – and are willing to invest in that long-term.

This is important because it’s not just about creative output, it’s about the soft and hard infrastructure in our sector that underpins the development and viability of that creative output – meaning the development and sustenance of real people and what they make and do – as New Zealand’s premiere unique content creators. 

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

3 Dec 2012

Interests Cathy Aronson – The Big Idea Editor Cathy is a journalist, photo journalist and online editor.

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