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Standing Up to Tall Poppy Syndrome

Six60 concert in full effect. Photo: Eden Park.
Eden Park like its never been seen before. Photo: Six60/Facebook.
New Oscar winner David Lee. Image: TVNZ.
The 2021 Walters Prize exhibition works. Photo: Supplied.
Matt Pine posing with Cone Pieces in 1985 - and again in 2021. Photo: Supplied.
New Zealand's creative scene is the envy of the world - so why is there still some negativity - or ignorance - towards our artistic success stories? Get the Lowdown.

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Any time members of the Aotearoa creative community are the biggest topic in the country, it’s a reason to celebrate.

It can be hard to penetrate the constant deluge of political bun-fighting and name-calling, who should wear what number black jersey, the latest shocking crime or tragedy and which celebrity has said something to get themselves in trouble.

So seeing Six60’s domination of all media - particularly social media - as they made history by selling out Eden Park in the famous stadium’s first-ever concert should be applauded by all.

Right?

Well, apparently not.  Whether it’s the neighbours complaining about the noise (it’s a miracle the up to six concerts a year plan made it past the Eden Park Residents Association) or detractors trashing Six60’s musical ability, there seems to always be someone keen to pull down these success stories.

While the rest of the world marvels at New Zealand leading the way with 50,000 people creating the largest concert attendance anywhere on the planet in recent memory (that includes huge spectacles like the Superbowl halftime show) and millions estimated have watched the live stream, it’s not even something that the country can be united on.

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a cliche we’re all sick of referencing - but it’s a common phrase for a reason. 

You don’t have to like Six60’s music - it certainly isn’t for everyone - but if you can’t step back for a minute to see how their achievement is a feather in the cap for the creative community and the country as a whole, then look again. 

It will inspire other aspiring artists, it will hopefully lead to New Zealanders who are still nervous about attending live events to see it as returning to a societal norm once again. There are trickle-down effects that could have a wider impact on our creative community.

Eden Park like its never been seen before. Photo: Six60/Facebook.

Let’s not forget it was a big night for many others. Acts like Maimoa, Troy Kingi and The Clutch, JessB, Drax Project - hell, even Sir Dave Dobbyn got to experience something they can tell their grandchildren about. So many NZ artists had this chance to walk through onto a once forbidden stage via a door that was kicked in by Six60.  

It has the world’s attention - international acts are reportedly clamouring for their chance to come here to perform in front of an audience of that magnitude. It’s what most musicians live for, that rush you only get with live performance. New Zealand is the envy of the live performance world right now - that’s both for artists and would-be concert-goers.

Let alone what it speaks to about the country’s COVID-19 response - best summed up with the Associated Press headline The world isolates. A New Zealand band plays to 50,000 fans.

It’s not bad for a group that started life as a Dunedin covers band. Even if you don’t want to listen to them, you’ve got to at least hear them on this occasion. 

Laugh, listen, literature

That Fred Dagg sentiment of ‘we don’t know how lucky we are’ applies in full as we enter what will be a busy May for those who crave culture and creativity - of course with a strong leaning on all things local.

Starting from tomorrow and running until 23 May, the New Zealand International Comedy Festival makes its much-anticipated return with more high-spirited performances than you can shake a stick at. Being touted as the only full-scale comedy festival in the world this year, it’s another one not to take for granted. 

For the literary lovers among us, the Auckland Writers Festival and the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival will bring many engaging conversations to life (both in-person and online). The same goes for Featherston Booktown Karukatea 2021, which will be heavily issues-focused after its return after a COVID-enforced break. Ranging from artistic morality to podcast vs books debates, chairman Peter Biggs tells Stuff their biggest ever line up is geared “to get your synapses firing”.

And not to forget that it’s also NZ Music Month Te Marama Puoro o Aotearoa. Along with a ton of performances and streaming suggestions to encourage you to support Aotearoa artists (and not just the ones that can sell out Eden Park), there are plenty of other ways to get educated and appreciate the talent on our doorstep.

The Art of the Record exhibition will be travelling up and down the country, showing off 21 iconic album covers to celebrate 21 years of NZ Music Month. Some music documentary gems should also be on your watchlist this month,  NZ Film On Demand will be streaming a colourful collection of them online.

Walters long wait

Walters Prize 2021 finalists' exhibition work. Photo: Supplied.

New Zealand’s most significant art award, the Walters Prize has finalised its exhibition of finalists’ work - finally, some would say.

The biennial event is entering its third year without a new name on the winners' list. The Walters Prize didn’t go ahead in 2020 (the year almost everything got cancelled), so will begin its almost 4-month long exhibition from 15 May At Auckland Art Gallery.

The time gulf between last year’s announcement and this year’s exhibition has seen changes not to the finalists, but to the work they will exhibit, it’s been confirmed on Wednesday.

The Mata Aho Collective have opted to present a reimagined offering of their 2020 work Atapō, co-created with senior artist Maureen Lander - originally commissioned for the universally acclaimed Toi Tū Toi Ora - rather than the impressive rope weaving tower Aka (2019) for which they were nominated.

Sriwhana Spong will switch up her nominated Now Spectral, Now Animal (2019-20) to exhibit mixed media artwork The painter-tailer (2019-21) for the first time in Aotearoa, while Sonya Lacey adds “two significant new sculptural works” to her exhibit Weekend (2018–21). Fiona Amundsen’s installation, A Body that Lives (2018) remains as nominated.

Last year The Lowdown covered the questions raised over the judging process, with several of the panel also curating work of some of the finalists. This was rejected at the time by The jury’s convenor, Auckland Art Gallery curator Natasha Conland, who told RNZ’s Lynn Freeman that “where there was a conflict of interest, the juror was not involved in the discussion and could not vote on that project”.

Ocula reports the winner of the $50,000 prize is determined not by the jury but by a visiting international judge, who will be announced in late May or early June.

Holding Councils to account

Not content with being spoken to - instead of spoken with - arts advocates are making sure Councils around the country are having their decision-making scrutinised when it comes to funding performances, public events and artworks.

Public consultation has begun on Wellington Council’s Aho-Tini 2030 Arts, Culture & Creativity Strategy - with submissions invited before the 10 May cutoff. 

But already, Wellington City councillor Nicola Young has told the Dominion Post that the arts sector should be “realistic” with their feedback and that the Council does “not have a magic wand” to fix all its funding problems.

Wellington’s creative community’s desire to see improved access to venues - particular mid-sized ones - and improved cultural infrastructure has been a drawn-out saga, referred to as an issue back in the Council’s last Arts Strategy back in 2011.

The article states low visibility at the council table is an issue - the sector in the Capital may want to take a page out of their Waikato-based peers’ playbook. A delegation led by Hamilton Arts Trust chairman Paul Bradley descended upon Hamilton City Council’s long term plan hearings to call for an increase in the annual budget allocation from $100,000 to $1 million.

Bradley's plea to the Council included a vision of “high quality, high-impact arts projects that will shape a city that people love and are proud of...A growing city needs a growing arts scene and a growing arts budget.”

As belts tighten throughout local government after COVID, these conversations will reach every region. A united front with a clear list of priorities appears the best approach. But now is not the time to remain silent on issues one is passionate about.

NZ’s Forgotten Oscar

Amid the weirdness and backlash surrounding this year’s Oscars, you may have missed that another New Zealander etched his name onto the list of our country’s triumphs in the most prestigious awards in the film industry.

It’s OK - so did every media outlet in NZ. We are only talking about it because of some proud parents.

David Lee was the Digital Effects Supervisor on Tenet - which claimed the award for Best Visual Effects. A graduate of New Zealand Film and Television School who started his career locally at Weta Workshops and Huhu Studios, Lee has worked on some huge movie franchises, including Avengers, Fast & The Furious, Wonder Woman and The Hunger Games.  

Oscar winner David Lee on TVNZ.

Incredibly, the news only filtered back through Lee’s dad hitting up TVNZ’s Breakfast to get him on the show to make his mum happy - which he no doubt did. Stranded in London, he’s still waiting for his golden statuette to arrive.

Lee's journey is explained in his interview here on The Big Idea.

That’s entertainment

While we’re on the subject, mainstream TV often gets chastised over opting for the predictable topics when covering ‘entertainment’ - so it’s worth throwing a few bouquets for featuring some talented and hard-working creatives on morning telly this week.

The effusive John Campbell spoke with Courtney Sina Meredith on Breakfast on her latest book of poetry Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind. It’s not a common occurrence that poetry gets the national television spotlight, and you get a real sense of pride from Meredith, saying “young brown women can be empowered, that we can stand by our own stories.”

The same applies for Cassandre Tse, director of Auckland Theatre Company’s Single Asian Female that begins at ASB Waterfront Theatre tonight. A ‘Kiwi-fied’ adaption of the story written by Chinese-Australian writer Michelle Law and performed to sell-out crowds across the Tasman, the production with Chinese women leading production and on-stage performance brings “a voice that we’ve not really heard before in theatre,” Tse tells Three’s The AM Show.        

Celebrating artistic legacy

A retrospective of artist Leon van den Eijkel’s brightly coloured works opened in Foxton over the weekend. Sadly, the artist himself wasn’t there to take part.

Just 10 days earlier, van den Eijkel passed away aged 81. The decision was made in conjunction with his family to continue with A Colourful Nation – Kleur Bekennen, curated by the Oranjehof Dutch Connection Centre museum.

After immigrating from the Netherlands, van den Eijkel’s artistic legacy includes a number of works from Te Papa, with the 3-month multi media exhibition a celebration of his contribution to the art world.

Matt Pine posing with Cone Pieces in 1985 - and again in 2021. Photo: Supplied.

Another veteran artist has one of his creations brought back into the public eye. 

Whanganui local Matt Pine saw his sculpture Cone Pieces taken down for cleaning 18 years ago. And last Friday, it finally returned to its position in the town’s War Memorial Centre. 

After 18 years in storage, it’s fair to say it may have needed another clean before being reinstalled.

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