Frightened of funding applications?

Tere Harrison and Paul Lisi. Supplied.
Creative New Zealand’s newest recruits come laden with advice on how artists can play to their strengths. They share their insights with India Essuah.


Earlier this year, Creative New Zealand put out the call on The Big Idea for senior comms talent and have since appointed two great storytellers, each with a personal and professional drive to build connections with Māori and Pasifika artists. 

Tere Harrison and Paul Lisi joined the organisation in these key roles, with a focus on Māori and Pacific projects respectively. Having worked in creative careers themselves, they bring plenty of insights into building long-lasting relationships with practising artists. 

“You can be immersed in the arts, and then be involved in some gnarly stuff, which is why we love the role that we do,” explains Tere. “It’s so varied - you can go from listening to Leilani Wendt Young and her literature from Sāmoa to having to answer reporters, and OIAs and ministerial briefings.”

“I especially like seeing development and opportunities for communities,” she adds. “That’s one of the beauties of this job.”

“It’s so varied - you can go from listening to Leilani Wendt Young and her literature from Sāmoa to having to answer reporters, and OIAs and ministerial briefings.”

Paul adds that an important part of his role is summed up by a phrase that came out of CNZ’s Pacific Arts Strategy: “‘Teu le va’ which means ‘adorning the space’.”

“It’s about respecting the people that I work with every day,” he says. “[It involves] a lot of the typical values that live within the Pacific culture - respect, courteousness, thanking people. It’s making sure people are on the same page - adorning the space between people, relationship-wise.”

Dealing with those scary applications

Paul studied communications at AUT and then pursued performing arts, before moving into the areas of funding and governance. Most recently he was a talent and development manager at the NZ Film Commission, where he made it his mission to pick up as much knowledge as he could, and then pass it on other Pacific artists.

“Being in those spaces made me realise that there’s a lot of information that a lot of my peers don’t know,” he says. 

So, what’s the biggest thing he’s learned from his line of work that he wants to pass on? “Funding applications aren’t as scary as we think they are.”

“I remember being so scared of putting things wrong… I found out everyone was feeling similar feelings,” he says.

He also wants to tell younger Pacific artists that no matter what their focus “your voice has validity - your art is valid”. 

Bring your background

With a background in journalism, film and broadcasting, Tere says her passion lies in “showing that CNZ does have opportunities for Māori”.

“Elevating Māori arts practitioners is of benefit for the entire country. If we increase the health, education and employment of Māori, it will benefit the entire country and the same applies for the arts - it’s a win-win.”

“If we increase the health, education and employment of Māori, it will benefit the entire country and the same applies for the arts - it’s a win-win.”

Having grown up in the Hawkes Bay, she enjoys seeing those with a regional lens have an impact at CNZ. 

“The regions will say ‘this sounds like Lambton Quay’ and that’s not what the country is about. It’s important to bring wherever you come from… Bringing your regional background to a role is a strength I believe. That’s one of the beauties.”

“I see a strength coming through from the Coromandel which is fantastic. The arts sector is only strong when the communities and regions are strong. It’s important to have voices from Coromandel, or Hawkes Bay, or Southland sitting at these tables… That’s where the wheels turn.”

Sticky and tricky situations

Each role is not without its challenges, but both Paul and Tere say that navigating these is one of its most rewarding aspects.

For Paul, the trickiest times have been “when there’s a perception of unfairness”.

He hopes that “people remember we are also people as well”.

“There are actually people on the other side of those emails, who take what you say to heart. We’re part of the sector because we want to be, and we genuinely want to make things better.”

“We’re part of the sector because we want to be and we genuinely want to make things better.”

He says that an important aspect of his role is making sure the organisation's thinking so that “everybody understands why things happened a certain way”.

This means “people can understand where we’re coming from, but we also need to understand where artists are coming from and what their situations are.”

Tere says an area she loves is “that the country is trying to navigate its way through the sensitivities of our history”.

“There’s a lot of goodwill among people and there are a lot of layers that we have to navigate. Removing those layers is one of the tricky parts at the moment, because I think the country is maturing in its understanding of who we are. Unpicking those in a really productive and safe space - that’s an area that I like.”

“I think the country is maturing in its understanding of who we are.”

She sees communications as providing a means of people being able to unpack complicated issues in a way that has a long-lasting impact.

“It won’t last if you do it in a harmful way - that’s a strength of comms. We won’t always get it right, but there’s a willingness to attempt that.”

Fine advice 

For those looking to work in communications, Paul says not to shy away from the idea of networking - even if it seems difficult - as it’s really just relationship building.

“Meet as many people as possible, because you never know when a contact will come in handy.”

As Aotearoa’s sector’s so small, he says it’s likely someone that you met through your “co-worker’s brother’s nephew”, might be able to provide you with support, or a new contact someday. “You never know where it might lead to.”

Tere says the most important thing coming into this career is to remember the values you come with, and act on them with courage when the time feels right.

“Reminding yourself of who you are and where you come from. I’m an older comms member - eventually you’ll get old enough and grumpy enough to say ‘that’s not how it should be’.” 

She recalls starting jobs in newsrooms where those in charge had “big barks” or would snap easily.

“As you get more experienced you’ll begin to say ‘no, that’s not the correct approach’. If we want to make some changes then having those strengths is important.”

She also encourages people to go easy on themselves.

“If you want to stay in this field of work - I mean you’ll come, you’ll go, you’ll leave and do other things - this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

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Written by

The Big Idea Editor

8 Oct 2019

The Big Idea Editor

Photo credit: Mark Coote.
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