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Time for New Strategy

The time for vision is now - and in this week's arts news bulletin, Mark Amery looks into where the ideas for change are, and should be coming from.


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In a time of uncertainty, with forced pauses for reflection and the chance to make change - we need to take the opportunity to look ahead and set some goals. We need vision.

Welcome, then, is the release of the Aotearoa Screen Sector Strategy 2030, the answer to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s challenge to the screen industry to develop a 10-year plan. As the practitioner-led team behind it write, “few could have foreseen how the outlook might change as a result of a largely unforeseen global crisis. 

“In response to the pandemic, a Screen Sector COVID-19 Action Group made up of people from across the sector was established... This important recovery work sits outside of the strategy’s scope. However, the strategy provides the foundation for future sector development and a plan that, beyond recovery, can guide the reinvigoration and reimagination of screen activity in New Zealand.”  

It is good to see a strategy which has funded and empowered the industry itself to develop a strategy. Too often they come from some nebulous office above, with little long-term follow-through for those doing the work.

Now we just need Jacinda to ask the same of the arts sector. Or, indeed take the Heart of the Nation report on the cultural sector out of the bottom drawer - it was delivered to Helen Clark after consultation throughout the cultural sector - and assess how it stands up.

This brings us to today. There is some small news in the past week as to the rollout of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s COVID Arts and Culture Programme - which is seeing the Ministry having to move fast to build capacity to issue significant funds provided by the Prime Minister. It is, to be fair, a ministry that has been far from resourced to do so previously. As they report in this new newsletter, MCH are still working on an engagement approach for these funds and “expect this engagement to take place in September.” The more of that the better.

Meanwhile Creative New Zealand has, under its new short-term arts funding process,  closed round one a week early, having hit a maximum number of applications, 200. Round two opened Monday. 

Last week CNZ chief executive Stephen Wainwright took the time to write to major arts organisations (their Totara and Kahikatea funded companies) to thank them for their kaitiakitanga, or stewardship of the arts sector during a difficult time. “We are impressed by the rigour and attention and leadership that we are seeing,” he writes. “As well as investing our ‘rainy day’ reserves, we have secured additional resources from the Ministers of Culture and Heritage to help mitigate the harm caused by COVID 19. We will circulate our news and information from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage as soon as we can.”

Nurturing emerging Māori artists

Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero Tuawhitu. Image: Erica Sinclair.

Portraiture in painting and photography, as a European tradition, has until the likes of contemporary women Māori artists like Lisa Reihana and painters Robyn Kahukiwa and Hariata Ropata Tangahoe been terribly one-sided in New Zealand: Pākehā of Māori. And as recent new stories about cultural appropriation by Pākehā artists make clear, there remain real issues in how Māori are treated. 

Welcome then is the launch by the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, together with the Māori King’s office (The Office of the Kīngitanga) of a Kīngi Tuheitia Portraiture Award, to inspire emerging Māori artists to create portraits of their tūpuna. There’s a first prize of $20,000, runner-up and people's choice awards. Entries open in October and the exhibition of finalist artworks will be at the gallery in Wellington next Matariki, before touring. Judges include Professor Sir Derek Te Ahi Lardelli, Kura Te Waru Rewiri and Lisa Reihana. Māori artists are known for their innovative use of media so it’s also good to see the award not limiting artists to traditional media.

Meanwhile, a great new online opportunity for emerging Māori theatre artists. COVID-19 has seen a range of new ways for theatre to get online. Last week I immensely enjoyed, if not a little disturbed by, a new Colin McColl Tony Rabbit production of Ibsen’s The Masterbuilder for Auckland Theatre Company on Youtube.

This year’s annual Kōanga Festival (2-27 September) for new Māori plays and playwrights, run by Te Po Theatre in Auckland, will premiere plays in development online. RNZ’s Lynn Freeman spoke with Kōanga’s Amber Curreen and playwright Tainui Tukiwaho. 

Rescheduling the rescheduled

“I’m not crying. I’m just so happy. Those are just happy tears that we’re rescheduling.” That’s Auckland musician Tami Nielson in a performance for camera, trying to leave the house to go on tour and failing as like “Every Musician in 2020” she is, “rescheduling the rescheduled dates that we had to reschedule from the original dates last time we rescheduled...again.” Not only does she have the greatest of voices, Tami’s great TV talent. Check out episodes of The Tami Show she recorded last lockdown here.

It’s a week of cancellations and painful rescheduling all round for the arts this week and it’s hitting some of the bigger producers. ATC has had to reschedule their Back on the Boards Festival, with artistic director Colin McColl writing here. The NZSO has also cancelled concerts in Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch over the next week. Meanwhile RNZ’s Morning Report say that NZSO, Auckland Philarmonia and the Royal New Zealand Ballet have been left with talent issues after failing to secure visas for dancers and players from overseas as essential workers. The ballet says it doesn’t have the dancer numbers for October’s Sleeping Beauty. All are pushing to have the borders opened to allow such artists.

Waikato Warriors

In the Waikato, Jeremy Mayall as head of Creative Waikato is doing some excellent advocacy work. As this local Stuff story relates, that includes pushing for the arts to be part of recovery “as first responder” - they often are as we learnt after the Christchurch quakes. Similarly in the NZ Herald (paywalled) Chris Brooks, CEO of Regional Facilities Auckland, writes on why arts and culture are essential to Auckland's recovery from COVID-19. Brooks also appears in the Auckland Art Gallery’s Cultured Conversations podcast series.

Horomona Horo.

Also in the Waikato, leading taonga puoro practitioner Horomona Horo has joined Wintec School of Media Arts as the country’s first tertiary taonga puoro researcher and teacher, as reported here.

And gathering heat in Hamilton, are plans to revamp the beloved Hamilton Gardens, site of an annual arts festival, with significant public submissions during consultation. No word yet though on how COVID-19 has affected plans to have the new Waikato Regional Theatre open in 2022. 

Racism Alive and Well

Racist attacks against Asians have sadly been more noticeable in the wake of COVID-19. There’s been a three-fold increase in complaints to the Race Relations Commissioner’s office by Asian people, and just last week - as the Otago Daily Times reports - the Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon stepped in after a West Coast councillor characterised COVID-19 as "this Chinese virus". The ODT is making up for an awful episode last year which saw cartoonist Garrick Tremain upsetting many New Zealanders for a ‘Samoan measles’ drawing.

Recent racism towards Asians has affected artists as well. Coming together to do something positive about it, the ODT story relates, is a group behind an Aotearoa Poster Competition, a campaign which includes a strong reach out to young people to submit. "We are looking for posters that either celebrate cultural diversity or address racism in Aotearoa, particularly against the local Chinese community," says co-organiser Bruce Mahalski in Dunedin.

Systemic racism in our current arts funding system is the call of Te Pou Theatre’s Tainui Tukiwaho in this piece by Annette Morehu on The Big Idea. “You know, a kaupapa Māori theatre is thriving in our current climate,” he says, “but in saying that (we don’t get) as much money as Pākeha companies who have less responsibility than we do. 

“When I used to run Taki Rua, our mandate was to lead Māori theatre throughout the country - this was ten years ago - and we were getting a quarter of what Pākeha companies were getting to do their single art form in one city.” 

Pony up

One of the literary scene’s biggest success stories internationally over 20 years is Stacey Gregg’s Pony Club Secrets books.  The latest TVNZ/BBC co-production series is based on one, Mystic, about Issie who moves with her mother from London to a quiet town called Kauri Point. Lynn Freeman talked to Gregg this week.

Black Asterisk over

Last week we reported on some buoyancy in the commercial gallery market and the troubled opening of new Ponsonby Road space Suite. Sadly, up the road August’s lockdown has seen the closure of Black Asterisk gallery after nine years, run by artist Stuart Broughton, who has supported many strong artists. That’s a solid innings for a gallery in New Zealand. 

Regional review

Founded in 1947, the granddaddy and dame of arts review titles Landfall continues with lots of life from its Dunedin Otago University press base - they are now up to issue 239. Book reviews (remember those) are published online monthly on the first of the month, and in August include Sally Blundell’s look at writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan MacLeod’s cracker picture book High Wire, Jessica Thompson Carr on 

Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of resistance, persistence and defiance and Renée’s latest novel The Wild Card.

In art reviews The Pantograph Punch’s ‘Unmissables’ remains a great place to get your head around some highlights from Auckland exhibitions monthly. Here’s the August edition. As is Otago Daily Press’s ’Art Seen’ for Dunedin. Meanwhile over on there’s a review just in time for a second Auckland lockdown of Te Tuhi’s online art series

The latest issue of Christchurch art newspaper Artbeat is not only on the streets, but now online here (where you’ll also find a full archive). Lead feature is a fascinating detailed look at why the historic, beloved Christchurch Arts Centre is such a tricky financial proposition, despite enjoying strong tenancy, and is calling for council funding (it’s noted it used to get $800,000 per annum).

Legendary inspiration

Legend is a word easily bandied around when it comes to anointing retired rugby greats, so why not give it also to groundbreaking still-practising senior artists!? 

Here’s a great editorial combo Steve Braunias and photographer Jane Ussher on Newsroom with writer Renée in Ōtaki. A "feminist lesbian with working-class ideals," Renée, now 90, continues to publish and write, including new posts on her blog every Wednesday: Renée’s Wednesday Busk. Her last great piece is a meditation on “my (and other people’s) reluctance to wear masks.”

While we’re brandishing the legend tag around, Peter O’Connor has written a passionate tribute also on Newsroom to British educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, who has recently passed. Robinson inspired many, particularly through his TED talks championing “the simple idea that schools might be better places if arts and creativity found their way into the dismal factory-like atmosphere of too many of our schools.” A subject most relevant to current calls for the arts to be better integrated into our schools system.  

Culture, career and cheesecake

Cora-Allan Wickliffe mid-performance at Tautai Gallery Opening, 2020. Photo: Isoa Kavakimotu.

More great video from Tautai Pacific Arts Trust, as it celebrates the opening of its dynamic gallery for contemporary Pacific art in Karangahape Road, Auckland. Here’s opening exhibition Moana Legacy curator and artist Cora-Allan Wickliffe talking about Niuean hiapo, or barkcloth painting, and works she created with her sister Kelly Lafaiki. Then there’s an awesome video series of Tautai Fale-ship Home Residency works in response to COVID-19. Here’s one of Lyncia Muller exploring her home environment through dance. 

Another new podcast series, The Female Career “where women of Aotearoa New Zealand share the inspiring and honest stories of their career journeys.” Lots of inspiration here. It’s produced by a professional coaching business for women of the same name.

Finally, here’s a poem on The Spinoff from Paula Morris with the excellent clickbait title: ‘how to cook cheesecake on a bbq’.


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Written by

Mark Amery

27 Aug 2020

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

Following on from the sell out success of Once Were Samoans in 2007, the Mayor of South Auckland