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Managing a Massive Assignment

Carrie Rae Cunningham
Well studied and heavily credentialled, a former Women of Influence awards finalist explains what inspired her to take up the helm of a much admired arts organisation.

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Theatre companies like Massive aren’t easy to come by. They have a real passion for emerging talent and developing artists who are creating original work, giving young people a platform to grow as artists and as people.

Andrea Rush talks to Carrie Rae Cunningham about how she got the gig of General Manager/Kaiwhakahaere Matua (advertised on The Big Idea), her background and the aspirations she brings to the role.

Pedigree and past 

Cunningham’s creative CV hasn’t lacked variety. Since 2003, she has worked as a producer, grant writer, artistic consultant, mentor, dance reviewer, choreographer, performer and arts strategist. 

She originally hails from Mississippi and moved to New Zealand to do an MA in dance studies. No stranger to study, she has taken attaining her qualifications seriously and to add to her BA in English and Creative Writing, Cunningham set out to gain her Masters in Dance Studies and Arts Management at the University of Auckland.

Since arriving on our shores, she has worked with the NZ Dance Festival Trust, as Artistic Director Tempo Dance Festival and is able to rattle off an impressive pedigree of experience with some of our finest practitioners and companies; they include Douglas Wright, Michael Parmenter, New Zealand Dance Company, Atamira Dance Company,  FOSTER Group and White Face Crew. So she has seen a bit and knows how to write an arts grant!

In 2017 she was named as a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards in the Arts and Culture category for her work with NZ Dance Festival Trust. 

Shoulder-tapped 

“I’d known Massive and always loved what they did … I’d seen shows like Brave and the Wholehearted and thought this is really cool what they’re doing.”

Cunningham says she was aware of the great work Massive Theatre Company was doing  so when she got a call letting her know that the job had been advertised, she knew it was somewhere she would be passionate about working.

“I’d known Massive and always loved what they did … I’d seen shows like Brave and the Wholehearted and thought this is really cool what they’re doing.”

Inspiring kaupapa

Taking on the leadership role has been a real step up for Cunningham and she says it’s provided her with a great challenge. She is clearly excited about applying her skills to growing the company artisitcally, developing funding strategies and growing revenue. 

“It’s familiar but not entirely new territory for me,” she says. “I’m looking forward to building on my finance and management experience and growing revenue for Massive so they can do more of their important work changing lives.”

“This is the kaupapa that runs through the whole organization, they are really nurturing, and supportive and to see people become better."

She says it’s a testament to Massive how they focus on nurturing and developing artists - as well as the belief they’ve had in her to grow and learn on the job. They saw that she knew enough about running an arts organisation to take her on and support her professional development.

“This is the kaupapa that runs through the whole organization, they are really nurturing, and supportive and to see people become better.

 “This type of workplace brings out the best in me, I feel really encouraged to be human at work,” Cunningham remarks.  “We all have jobs to do and we are all really busy. We always take time to check-in, we see each other not only as colleagues but also as whānau, we are people who want to sit and talk to each other.”

Full time but flexible 

Cunningham’s other role also comes into play - as a mum of three vivacious girls. The ability to manage her professional and family life has made a real difference.

“Having flexibility is hugely important and it’s one of the things that makes working in the arts attractive,” Cunningham explains.

“Because we are operating as a charity or not-for-profit, there’s a sense of family and community around roles, so while it’s full time and I work a lot of hours, it’s very flexible which is great.”

Babble - the next Massive stretch

Cunningham says the next work they are putting on is special and dear to her heart.  It is a commission piece by Auckland Arts Festival and features a cast of 20 young people from five different South Auckland schools.   

“We were asked to specifically go into those communities and tell their stories and Babble is the result.”

When we discuss what she is learning from this production, she explains that one of the themes that has come up in Babble is the constant noise around technology and how young people navigate that. Switching that noise off to be  in the quiet to develop mindfulness and focus is a central theme.   

Preparations are underway, with performances running from March 18- 27 at Mangere Arts Centre.

https://www.aucklandfestival.co.nz/events/babble/

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Written by

Andrea Rush

17 Feb 2020

Andrea Rush is a writer for the Big Idea. An aspiring novelist, she has a background in journalism, broadcasting, television production and communications. She is passionate about social justice, environment and economics.    

Arts Foundation 2019 Laureates - photos by Nan Sirisamphan. T-B, L-R: Kris Sowersby, val smith, Laurence Fernley, Sima Urale, Jessica Hansell aka Coco Solid, Solomon Mortimer, Pietra Brettkelly, Louise Potiki Bryant, Yvonne Todd, Ruth Paul.
Story
Andrea Rush unveils the just announced 2019 Arts Foundation Laureates.