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Are Ethics More Valuable Than Art?

21 Jul 2022
Provenance & patronage are crucial pillars of the GLAM world - but what happens when they clash? Plus the Lowdown on some major musical happenings & award shortlists.

Anyone involved in the sector globally knows that historical collections may be the cornerstone of museums and galleries, but they can also be problematic for a range of reasons around ownership and trauma.


The same can be said for those who donate, support and patronise. They are the lifeblood of many GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) organisations, but some come with baggage, often unknown at the time.


There’s been an intriguing example across the Tasman, with the Wollongong Art Gallery needing to make some big calls after it was discovered that one of its prominent donors, who passed away 30 years ago, was last month confirmed as a Nazi intelligence officer during the Second World War.


Artshub looked into the fallout, which included confirming that none of the around 100 artworks that were purchased and then donated were “acquired by ill-begotten means.” A plaque with the late Bronius ‘Bob’ Šredersas’ name on it has been removed, and the gallery is committed to examining the narrative of the collection, in conjunction with Sydney’s Jewish Museum.


Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery (the local council that oversees the gallery) says “We have an obligation upon us to present the facts and to be truthful in the narrative around the Collection.


“I think it highlights the point that every artwork, every aspect of a museum or gallery collection, has a story behind it and it’s up to the institutions to make sure that the narrative is there – and that it’s truth based on facts, not assumptions.


“But as time goes on, truths or facts are revealed and they need to be incorporated or dealt with. [This should be done] not in a defensive way, but in a way which reminds everyone that things that happen around artworks have a greater connection with history, both good and bad, that needs to be highlighted in terms of their provenance.”


Wollongong Art Museum. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

So what exists here in New Zealand to provide similar safeguards?


Cleary no two scenarios will be the same, so the unique circumstances will lead to a horses for courses approach.


The Museums Aotearoa Code of Ethics guides how its members act towards the collections, public and staff. One of the driving factors is the emphasis on managers to gain adequate provenance (record of ownership through an item’s lifetime) for all collection items and sufficient proof of legal title.  


The code also includes the need for carefully considering any potential sponsors, funding and revenue-generating activities and the impact it can have on the Museum’s reputation. 


Of course, it’s much easier to put all decisions made currently through a rigorous filter than it is to investigate decisions made over the decades, even centuries.


The code highlights the need to “act with honesty and be transparent about an item’s story,” “reflect different perspectives and narratives on historical events, including what they mean for the future,” and “Invest time in researching the provenance of items and be able to reassess if new information comes to light.”


Museums Aotearoa Chief Executive Adele Fitzpatrick told The Lowdown “how items were acquired, the character and reputation of the donor or sponsor are fundamental to the discussion, but so is the benefit to the public to experience the works and being able to participate. It can be a tough balance for a cash-strapped institution to find.


“A question to ask is ‘how great is the public good from having and displaying this item?’ There’s no simple answer here, but we have a supportive network of museums and galleries; we share information, ask each other for advice and debate issues. 


“Affected parties should also be included in the conversation – the institution should seek different viewpoints and provide opportunities to contribute to the narrative, just as Wollongong has done.“


Rock 'n Scroll


The recognised gold standard in New Zealand songwriting is back in the spotlight.


The top 20 have been revealed from the 300 plus entries for the APRA Silver Scroll and it is a diverse collection.


You can check out all those who have made the cut and indulge in some choice musical cuts on the below Spotify playlist.



Last year’s winner Troy Kingi (who finally got to receive his award this year) is back in the running again - in fact with two bites of the cherry, both with collaborations.


He Ōrite is a funky te reo Māori waiata written and performed by Kingi and The Nudge -  Iraia Whakamoe, Ryan Prebble and James Coyle.  Kingi’s also combined with Diggy Dupé (featured just this week on The Big Idea) and Choice Vaughan for the soulful and defiant My Heart Never Sleeps from the must-watch Panthers TV show soundtrack.



Two of last year’s finalists, Taite Music Prize winner Anthonie Tonnon and Jonathan Pearce are again in the running with the hypnotic Peacetime Orders.


And it’s not every day you can say Willie Nelson’s up for a Silver Scroll. The iconic country music global figurehead’s performance with singer/songwriter Tami Neilson in Beyond The Stars (co-written with Delaney Davidson) has helped propel it into the top twenty. Neilson’s just launched her Kingmaker album, and as you can read here, it’s awesome.


Rob Ruha has the distinction of being in both the Silver Scrolls top 20 with his radio and social media hit 35 (co-written by Ruha, Kaea Hills, Te Amorutu Broughton, Ainsley Tai, Dan Martin and Whenua Patuwai) and in the top five for the APRA Maioha Award for excellence in te reo Māori songs with Taera, sharing the writing credit with Rory Noble.


The shortlist was chosen by an expert panel that apparently spent the last month listening to entries, with the decision on the top SIlver Scroll top five and the Maioha top three finalists now open to all APRA members until 8 August, with the Awards dished out (fingers crossed) at Spark Arena in October.


Quest for the best

The Lexus Song Quest finalists with judge Teddt Tahu Rhodes. Photo: Supplied.

There are plenty of shortlists being whittled down in the musical world at the moment, with the ten semi finalists trimmed to the five remaining finalists for this weekend’s Lexus Song Quest.


Amelia Berry, Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono, Felicity Tomkins, Sarah Hubbard, and Filipe Manu will battle for the prestige of winning a title that has been running for more than sixty years, performing over two nights at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre, accompanied by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.


You can see what being given the honour of reaching the final means to the performers - and the appreciative audience - as it was announced.



The Song Quest hasn’t been contested since 2018 due to the pandemic, and offers the winner a cash prize of $20,000, a study scholarship of $27,000,  with up to $3000 of international travel.


The runner-up will receive $10,000 cash and a study scholarship of $10,000.


The capital is the place to be for enthusiasts of traditional concert music forms this weekend, with the Classical on Cuba festival happening as well.


The Butlers did it


Pick the jetlagged one - Jordan Kennedy (Bass), Walt Robberds (Lead Guitar, Vocals), Bradley King (Lead Guitar), George Berry (Drums) of The Butlers. Photo: Supplied.

Kiwi acts getting to open for international touring artists to our shores is a pretty common (and frankly should be mandatory) occurrence.


And Christchurch indie darlings The Butlers deserve a shout out for getting to open for infamous Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher at Spark Arena tonight.


But what makes it particularly newsworthy, is the call only came a few days ago, with vocalist and guitarist Walt Robberds getting the news early morning on a farm….in El Salvador.  


42 hours of travel later, he’s back in the country for four days and one gig - a pretty big one that he describes as “my childhood dream” before flying back for his Central America road trip.


That’s commitment to the cause - and what should be a special moment for this close-knit musician collective.


Look of the book


Now, you can insert your own ‘judging a book by its cover’ witticisms here.


The visual side of the literature world can’t be understated and has been highlighted with the announcement of the 42 books made finalists for the  2022 Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) Book Design Awards. 


It features some well-celebrated books and outstanding authors like Whiti Hereaka, Joy Cowley and Tayi Tibble.


There are some with multiple award nominations, with the likes of Floor van Lierop (This is Them), Kate Barraclough (Kate Frances Design), Vida Kelly (Vida & Luke Kelly Design - with three of five nominations in the Best Children’s Book category), Megan van Staden, Keely O'Shannessy, Fiona Moffat, Aaron Beehre, Te Kani Price and Camilla Lau.


You can see the full list of finalists here - with the winners announced - along with the overall Best Book award - on 2 September.


Golden opportunities

It pays to live in the Bay.


There are plenty of opportunities on the boil right now for those creatives in Bay of Plenty.


The Acorn Foundation has a trio of scholarships available for residents of Tauranga and the Western Bay - or those who have completed part of their secondary education in the region.


Creatives of any discipline can apply for the Jann Medlicott Creative Arts Scholarship – a $5,000 boost that can be used for further study of any genre that can help kickstart a career in the arts. 


There are two more specific opportunities - the $3K Coker Classical Arts Scholarship for Year 13 students with a proven talent in classical painting and who want to study it further and the Christine Tustain Classical Music Award which provides the recipient with $2,150 to commence study for a career in classical music.


All close on 1 August.


On the scholarship front, it’s wonderful to hear that even though she’s no longer with us, the legendary Keri Hulme will be making a difference for Māori writers.

Her nephew Matthew Salmons has told RNZ that one of Hulme’s final wishes was for the original manuscript for her history-making The Bone People to be auctioned off, with the proceeds to go towards a trust which will give out grants to Māori authors.


Given that her signature book was the first debut novel to win the prestigious Booker Prize back in 1985 - not to mention the first time a New Zealander won the famed award - before it was made into a motion picture, it will hopefully fetch a strong price. Auction house Dunbar Sloane is tipping it will reach between $35,000-$50,000 when it goes on the block next month.


Hopefully someone with deep pockets wins the bid - given the impact it can have on the Māori literary community.