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Lowdown #8 - Mark Amery

‘The Gym, Christchurch Arts Centre’ Free Theatre - June 2015 Rehearsals Footprints Tapuwae (image Stuart Lloyd-Harris)
A Slightly Isolated Dog asking for your support to get to Edinburgh with Don Juan
Jhana Millers and Laila O’Brien of new gallery Millersobrien with a work by Denys Watkins, 'Double Happy'.
A homeless Free Theatre, getting some pace on PACE, a moving dead albatross and plenty of great reading. It’s Mark Amery with the eighth instalment of the Lowdown.


Arts Media Lowdown # 8 - news and content online from across the arts in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past fortnight.

Comings and Goings

A new contemporary gallery is about to open in Wellington, run by former 30 Upstairs gallery colleagues and artists Jhana Millers and Laila O’Brien. And by its title - Millersobrien -they are clearly (and welcomingly) setting it up as gallerists rather than as a collective artist run space. Millersobrien opens July 6 with a group show which has a range of recent grads who doing exciting things and some more experienced hands. Website here.  

Jhana Millers and Laila O’Brien of new gallery Millersobrien with a work by Denys Watkins, 'Double Happy'.

New Zealand Opera have announced the appointment of a new General Director. Thomas de Mallet Burgess comes to NZ after five years with Perth-based company Lost & Found, who present unusual operas in found spaces. Might come in handy with the closure of St James Theatre for earthquake restrengthening (the timeline for which Stuff reports is still up in the air). A temporary venue for the Royal New Zealand Ballet is due to be built in the Michael Fowler Centre carpark, ah, about now.

Meanwhile James Wilson has left Q Theatre as Chief Executive after seven years at the helm, since it opened on Auckland’s Queen Street. In that time Q has consolidated itself and provided a very dynamic new face for the performing arts. Tineke O'Brien is acting Chief Exec.

Arts on Tour’s Steve Thomas has been taking small shows around the regions for 23 years and his programme continues to grow in strength. Here’s an impressive menu of shows for 2019 just out.


Art as Work

"As valuable as the arts are to our society, now is not the time to be turning down available work to follow an artistic dream." Those were the words back in 2011 of the former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett in a Dominion Post article in regards to the PACE Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment scheme, which had been launched in 2001.

Discussion on PACE picks up - ahem - pace this month, with this excellent lengthy look at PACE’s “difficult history” by Adam Goodall. It includes some valuable future thinking comment from Elise Sterback, Executive Director at Auckland’s Basement Theatre: “Where we’re at now, as a sector, we don’t have the capacity, or the freedom or self-empowerment, to be able to pursue” other means of creating sustainable work and careers for artists. As Goodall surmises: “When the ice beneath you looks like it might give way, you’ve got to get off the ice first before you can focus on anything else.”

On Friday 6 July Urban Dream Brokerage hosts a conversation at Wellington’s Toi Poneke between Grant Robertson and Luit Bieringa on the subject of artist work schemes and PACE – for podcast anon.

In the advocacy space a new arts organisation is about to launch in Wellington: Opportunity Arts. Eryn Gribble: “'Opportunity Arts' advocates, empowers and provides practical support for artists of diverse backgrounds who face barriers to participation in the arts; to develop individual, sustainable arts practices. We work with talented and dedicated, emerging artists, who for various reasons (for example, disability) require additional support to access opportunities that can increase their audience, profile, income, sense of pride and purpose.” You can find them on Facebook here with a website to launch 10 July.

Crux Te Punga is a set of art projects arising from the demolition of Christchurch’s earthquake-damaged Central Police building. The programme has been announced here, with the first exhibition a sonic work by Rose James’ Through a cloud of smoke and dust at COCA from July 6. “Ōtautahi is being rebuilt around us” originator Trent Hiles writes on the site, “it is important that we remain vocal and visible commentators on and participants in what will be, one day, our history.”


Looking after our public art

Progress is being made on a national public art registry, reports Sue Elliot. The work is with Massey College of Creative Arts in Wellington, working with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. When I spoke to Sue last week on RNZ’s Standing Room Only Neil Dawson’s iconic ‘Ferns’ ball had just been rehung in Civic Square. Elliot also confirmed a commitment to seeing Len Lye’s long-mechanically troubled ’Water Whirler’ on the Wellington waterfront back up and running.

Further north, Auckland Council’s Devonport-Takapuna Local Board have approved the relocation of Greer Twiss’s sculpture ‘Flight Trainer for Albatross’ to Devonport’s main Victoria Wharf, as reported here last week. It has interesting history. This 2004 work was the first commission of the Auckland City Sculpture Trust and placed close to the Auckland ferry terminal (images here). Early on it suffered damage, leading Twiss in frustration with council inaction to spraypaint in pink on the sculpture's damaged areas and on the ground underneath: "The damage is caused by an irresponsible city council." More recently, it was decided the work didn’t fit its site. Twiss has done further work on the sculpture to fit for its new wharf location. As local media suggests, not all local residents are happy, but with public sculpture can any less be expected? Will it be in its new site as beloved as Dawson’s ‘Ferns’, or Michael Parekowhai’s mini state house across the water? Or a proverbial albatross around the neck?

Meanwhile Palmerston North’s public art programme is one of the three finalists vying to be New Zealand’s “best creative space” in a Creative New Zealand sponsored award for excellence in local government.

‘The Gym, Christchurch Arts Centre’ Free Theatre - June 2015 Rehearsals Footprints Tapuwae (image Stuart Lloyd-Harris)

Art Buildings

Sad news that Christchurch’s dynamic 39 year old experimental theatre company Free Theatre has had to vacate its theatre The Gym at the Arts Centre as reported on Stuff here - just as new CEO of the Arts Centre Philip Aldridge (formerly of Court Theatre) starts his new job. As I write Free Theatre have posted on their Facebook page that there has been no change but hope to meet with Aldridge: “We have found an alternative venue for our Kidsfest Holiday Programme and we are still looking for spaces for Ars Acustica, “ they write. “We are hugely grateful to everyone that has helped us during this time.

Even more dramatic news as we publish however that Christchurch City Council has opted to prioritise the movement of Court Theatre back into the CBD ($45 million) over also supporting a theatre compex for independent theatre the Andromeda Theatre ($19 million). The $30 million the council have to spend will entirely go to the Court - The Press reports here. Quite a few disgruntled practioners out there in terms of the support of a diverse performing arts ecology, and questions are being asked about the lack of priority given to supporting touring independent theatre. The Court follows the traditional sole producing model and Christchurch doesn't have the likes of Circa, BATS, Basement or Q Theatre to support both local and touring shows.

Andromeda meanwhile have written sadly but rather constructively in a sign off on their Facebook page: "the rest of us were summed up as "Black Box" which perhaps doesn't sound quite as sexy. To me, I would say this is just a problem of council's misinformation, as we have so many established performing arts groups with proven track records, the model is tried and true, the people behind Andromeda are well experienced and successful in the commercial world, and the fact the Court's business case would cost the public purse millions each year seems to be excusable in their case... I must quickly follow up by saying we strongly support the Court's return to the CBD..."

Formerly in the Arts Centre, The Court Theatre have had a  temporary home in a shed in Addington for over six years. Their media release this week noted their excitement about "the Christchurch City Council’s resolution to work together to establish a permanent home for the company in the city centre".

To stir things up further a third theatre proposal has also emerged for Christchurch, as reported in The Press. The Piano music centre on Kilmore St has proposed a small $10 million theatre with a flexible performance space on a site next door to their building.

Further south it was hard for the theatre community to watch the Fortune Theatre’s assets being auctioned off last week. One ray of light in a city not known for having a wealth of business sponsors was Dunedin’s arts festival gaining a principal sponsor for the first time in its 20-year history: New Zealand owned SBS bank. Long-time director Nicholas McBryde talking to the ODT puts that down to the difficulty of getting a sponsorship that doesn’t conflict with other supporting businesses.

A Slightly Isolated Dog asking for your support to get to Edinburgh with Don Juan

Funding News

A national music centre planned for Victoria University’s school of music and the NZSO in Wellington’s town hall have taken a step forward with four million granted from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board. The fundraising campaign is said to be well on its way to achieving its $30 million target. More here.

New funding decisions are out from the New Zealand Film Commission giving us a peek at some upcoming local projects. Included is a documentary on Taki Rua Theatre’s 30 years directed by Whetu Fala and a fair few theatre folk moving into film. The commission’s newsletter provides a handy summary of lots of news for New Zealand film here and overseas, including the upcoming  NZ International Film festival premieres.

You can tell what theatre shows are going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year by the fundraising. All are on crowdfunding site Boosted: Don Juan (A Slightly Isolated Dog), Not in our Neighbourhood & The Moa Show (Tikapa Productions), The Basement Tapes (Chapel Perilous), Valerie (Last Tapes Theatre Company) and Welcome to Self Co (Theatrewhack).


More arts reading online

“Right now Vienna feels like the right place to be in order to have a sustainable life as an artist while also having easy access to different conversations around painting.”A lovely postcard from painter André Hemer.

Jay Hutchinson’s latest dazzling embroidery work involves making two throwaway cups and a mince and cheese pie wrapper. Rosemary Overell reviews and shares pictures in the Melbourne based online Un Projects.

Staying in Dunedin, one artist given the luxury of time this year is Frances Hodgkins Fellow Louise Menzies. She talks about it with Rebecca Fox here in the Otago Daily Times.

These days Landfall also publishes reviews online as well as in print, brought together by editor Emma Neale. Reviews appear to be going up monthly with a fresh new batch onsite now. Last week The Big Idea featured the announcement of new monthly online literary journal Dear Reader Magazine.

Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here  to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to

Written by

Mark Amery

3 Jul 2018

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

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