Make a big difference to The Big Idea.  Help us tell the most creative stories.

Home  /  Stories  / 

Artists Infiltrate Parliament

26 Nov 2020
The Beehive's artistic influx, a major contemporary art space under threat and positive signs in the regions and in print media. Mark Amery has this week’s arts news Lowdown.

There’s an artist in the house!

It’s a time for embedding creative thinking in all spheres of our public life, through involving artists as catalysts and cross-boundary thinkers and connectors. 

That starts at the top.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate that new Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, who this week was awarded the Greens arts, culture and heritage portfolio, is a professionally trained, practising artist. 

Driven by kaupapa Māori, Kerekere is an LGBTQ+ activist with a wealth of experience in rainbow and youth development, who has worked as an artist and curator for many years. A graduate with a Bachelor in Māori Visual Arts of the celebrated Toihoukura school of EIT Tairāwhiti on the East Coast, she recently completed a PhD based on extensive research into the argument that pre-colonial Māori openly accepted gender and sexual fluidity, and that anyone who didn't fit into heterosexuality was considered ‘takatāpui’. Kerekere speaks to this in an NZ Parliament youtube interview in June. Her father is master carver and artist, the late Karauria Tarao (Bison) Kerekere.

New Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere with Tabby Besley, founder and manager of InsideOUT in front of artist Shannon Novak’s work at Suter Art Gallery.

Kerekere is well placed to make an impact for better integration of Toi Māori into vital areas like wellbeing, with new Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan also from the East Coast. Principal Minister Carmel Sepuloni meanwhile is married to an artist, Fijian New Zealand writer and musician Daren Kamali. Also new to parliament is the Māori party’s Rawiri Waititi, who has been with leading kapa hapa group Te Whānau-ā-Apanui for the past 15 years. 

So, how often do artists represent us in parliament? Putting that question out to friends and colleagues, sadly, not enough. We may never have had it so good. 

It is a little known fact, according to the Labour Party, that Labour MP Paul East is a graduate of the leading Elam School of Fine Arts. A fine arts degree sets you up for a career in politics, community and economic development it seems.  

Historically, the only professional practising artists those I’ve talked to could find were novelist John A Lee, who was expelled from the Labour party in 1940 for being too socialist, and Paddy Blanchfield, Labour MP for Westland in the ‘60s and ‘70s, known as ‘The Bard of the Coast’. Readers may remember some guest appearances: Rob Muldoon in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Marilyn Waring’s release of a version of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ and, of course our current Prime Minister’s time behind the turntables. 

The current Greens bench is peppered with arts experience (as were there others): Marama Davidson is a poet, Teanau Tuiono a stand-up comedian and former arts spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick has had time treading the boards and as a fashion designer. 

I eagerly await some outings of artists from the National and Act sides of the house. 

Regional treasures

The new giant Camera Obscura in Whangārei.

This has been a horrid year for the country’s regional museums and venues but there are many bright spots appearing.

A beacon in the north, construction of the Hundertwasser Arts Centre in Whangārei - which will feature a Māori art gallery - continues apace. I read a great piece in a beautifully rejuvenated North and South magazine, under new ownership (contents outlined here), about the tilers on the project and how much creative license the Hundertwasser kaupapa gives them. 

Just up the estuary, a giant interactive Camera Obscura sculpture (pictured) has opened after ten years in the making. The Northern Advocate covered its Friday unveiling here and Kim Hill spoke to one of its founders, photographer Diane Stoppard. 

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, a new $3 million Rakuira centre (pictured above) is due to open 1 December. On RNZ’s Standing Room Only, Lynn Freeman spoke to Rakiura Heritage Centre Trust chairwoman Margaret Hopkins and Jo Massey, the Southland District Council's museum officer.  

The Mayfair - Te Whare Toi ō Kaikōura reopens. Photo: Andrew Spencer.

Further north in Kaikoura, it’s a minor miracle that the town’s Mayfair - Te Whare Toi ō Kaikōura has just officially reopened (great Marlborough Express story here). Almost completely wrecked by the 2016 earthquake, there was only its distinctive pink art deco facade left standing when I visited 18 months ago. Since then, there’s been a $3.6 million restoration project of the scenically sited movie theatre, with new community and arts spaces - it is now also an arts and culture centre. 

The first art exhibition, Energy of Change by excellent Kaikoura-based artist Susie Baker is on until 5 February. Like Rakuira, it’s run by volunteers in a community organisation. For the Mayfair, the Kaikōura Community OpShop raised a remarkable $300,000 for the project (no ratepayer money was involved) and in recognition, they are official sponsors of the main auditorium. 

Finally, there’s a small clamour for Hamilton’s old Founders Theatre to be saved despite the council committing $25 million to a new regional theatre, as the Waikato Times reports. They might need to quickly start fundraising. 

Major contemporary art space under threat  

St Paul Street Gallery at AUT in Auckland is one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary art spaces. It’s progressive, exciting programme has supported so many of our finest artists and curators, strongly reflecting Auckland’s Asia-Pacific position in recent years. 

It seems, however, under threat. 

While there’s been no media attention, as I write an online petition is being circulated by advocacy group Artmakers Aotearoa. It documents that the gallery was recently handed a ‘change proposal document’ from the University that would make all staff at the gallery redundant, replacing four roles with a part-time secondment from the academic staff, and a part-time assistant role, with the claim that the gallery “is not sufficiently integrated into teaching and learning or research across the school.” 

There can be no doubt this move must be in part financially motivated, and the move glosses over the significant role university gallery’s like St Paul play in developing critical programmes that deliver to a university’s core functions.  

And the drinks tray goes to...

Emily Duncan receives the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award. Photo: Philip Merry.

New Zealand’s longest-running and arguably most significant playwriting award, the Bruce Mason, has gone to Dunedin’s Emily Duncan. The $10,000 award (complete with a trophy, a lovely old Mason family silver drinks tray) recognises professional success in a playwright's career and is designed to encourage their continued exploration of the medium. 

The late Bruce Mason is considered a seminal figure in New Zealand playwriting (and theatre criticism). Emily was the 2019 University of Otago Burns Fellow and has been co-producer of Prospect Park Productions since it began in 2016.

Speaking of literary success stories, earlier this week John Campbell facilitated an online discussion with the winners of the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement, presented in a partnership between The Big Idea, Creative New Zealand and Auckland Live. You can catch up on this by watching on Facebook or on Youtube here, as well as insightful features on Tessa Duder, Sir Tīmoti Kāretu, Jenny Bornholdt and Campbell himself.  

Sienna Olsen with ‘Lord Spittleworth and his candle.' Photo: Tauranga Art Galley/Instagram.

And not a silver tray, but what a prize: congratulations to Tauranga 9-year-old Sienna Olsen - who Tauranga Art Gallery tell us is a regular art programme attendee. Her illustration, ‘Lord Spittleworth and his candle’ has been chosen from thousands of entries worldwide to be in J.K Rowling’s new book, The Ickabog. Here she is on Newstalk ZB.

Imogen Zino, The Materiality of Winter 2020.

A great looking/feeling/hearing multi-sensory audio-tactile installation made of 3500 individually handmade ceramic pieces by Imogen Zino, is supreme winner at the ECC NZ Student Craft/Design awards. It’s on display at the Dowse Art Museum until 3 December. Zino is an AUT Master of Design graduate and also won the Friends of The Dowse Surface Design Award. More details on the awards here.

Art replacing post

Ayah and Aolani Philpott with work by Micheline Robinson at Art Everywhere, Paraparaumu.

It’s a scheme that deserves to be rolled out nationally by the government in partnership with communities. 

In Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast, what was once a NZ Post shop sharing space with Kiwibank, is now a pop-up gallery for local artists. It opened earlier this week with exhibitions by Micheline Robinson and Ashling Aileron. The project has been organised by a very active organisation Creative Kapiti as part of their ‘Art Everywhere’ project which aims to activate unused spaces in the community. 

Art back in print

I mentioned the welcome fired-up return of North and South earlier. It joins the Dominion Post under new ownership and the latter is living up to new editor Anna Fifield’s statement that she’d get the arts back more foremost in Wellington’s paper. The clearest signal was the front page of the newspaper on Saturday: a story about the retirement from the NZSO after 50 years of cellist Allan Chisholm. A spot usually reserved for rugby players having completed a tenth of that tenure.  

Also on Saturday: the return of the visual arts. As well as an interview with Zac Langdon-Pole ahead of a City Gallery Wellington survey show, I got to debut a new arts criticism column Te Hīkoi Toi. In the first, I look at the work of Tanya Ashken, Louise Henderson, Piera McArthur and Frances Hodgkins. This coming Saturday I get to introduce a fresher writer, Arihia Latham.

Meanwhile, the new Metro Magazine (the biggest since 1989 they say) should be on the streets as you read, from Thursday.    

From Christchurch, monthly art newspaper Artbeat is now online with its November issue. Included are interviews with art collectors Anthony Wright and Selene Manning, and reviews from Nick White, Orissa Keane and editor Warren Feeney.


Want more of the Lowdown?

Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to [email protected].