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Arts Political Powerbrokers Shake Up

05 Nov 2020
There's a new face at the top of the Government's arts, culture and heritage ministry - but what does it mean to the sector? Mark Amery has the latest arts news bulletin.

Welcome growth in arts ministerial reshuffle

Monday’s announcement of the new government cabinet was notable for some big, unpredicted shifts - no less so than in the arts. Carmel Sepuloni has been promoted from associate to principal Minister of Culture and Heritage. 

Sepuloni’s recognition follows her leadership in this area in a testing year. If you want to get a current steer on her direction, watch Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi’s September election panel on the arts where Miriama Kamo puts her under pressure (viewable in this report for The Big idea). 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved down to an associate ministerial position, while Grant Robertson has stepped out. Instead, there’s the welcome addition as an Associate Minister of Kiri Allan, a new inclusion to cabinet and representing the East Coast, where toi Māori is loud and proud. 

I believe she is the first Māori minister with this portfolio since Peter Tapsell in the late 1980s. Even Sir Pita Sharples, one of our leading advocates for kapa haka, didn’t get an associate nod when a Māori Party minister under the National-led government. 

The ministry continues with the ‘principal and two associate’ structure employed in Labour’s first term, and it’s welcome with this to see new blood coming in, rather than the portfolio just being captured by the party leadership. Particularly when it reflects the strength of Māori and Pacific Island arts in Aotearoa.    

The reshuffled Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministers. (left to right) PM Jacinda Ardern Associate Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, Minister, Kiri Allan, Associate Minister.  

Speaking of the ministry: last week, the Lowdown reported on the revealed timeline for the rollout of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage Manatū Taonga’s Arts and Culture Recovery package. That’s now been confirmed, and this week they have also released a summary of the feedback gathered through their public engagement process (from 219 online survey responses and almost 200 people involved in focus groups across three funds). It’s a useful summary of concerns raised as the ministry now work on the detail, before taking it back to their ministers.  

Recognising a Pacific Legacy

Providing Minister Sepuloni some reading over the coming months, this week Pantograph Punch have, with Creative New Zealand, launched the Pacific Arts Legacy Project, a “digital-first history of Pacific arts in Aotearoa as told from the perspective of the Pacific artists who were there.” 

The project is co-helmed by former Punch editor, Pacific arts writer and curator Lana Lopesi. As she writes here, it’s a project borne of a need identified during CNZ Pacific Arts Strategy fono to address the little writing of histories despite the significant production, exhibition and recognition of the Pacific arts. 

The project kicks off later this week with pieces by Maualaivao Albert Wendt, Ema Tavola and Pelenakeke Brown. It is due to keep publishing digitally into 2021. 

Given the paucity of histories tracking recent decades across the New Zealand arts, this initiative deserves to be watched carefully as a new digitally-led model. 

Chalk up another Ardern artwork

Jacinda Ardern donated artwork to Pablo’s art auction.

For her donated artworks, Jacinda Ardern has developed a strong clear blackboard aesthetic with wry wit, akin to fellow Auckland painter John Reynolds, as shown in this Stuff feature. Perhaps he is an advisor? The latest neatly expresses a ‘let’s get this year over with’ sentiment (with a rather unnecessary ‘Let’s try that again’ coda), completed for the very good cause of popular annual Pablos Art Auction - this year on 12 November.  


Page turners 

Verb Wellington Lit Crawl. Photo: Vanessa Rushton Photography

Contrary to a looming recession, independent bookshops appear to be thriving. As Harry Lock writes for RNZ this week, four new ones have opened in New Zealand in the last month alone.

My hunch: lockdowns have been reconnecting a lot of people with their books - and connecting them with others, without the need for screens. 

Lock highlights Wellington as particularly strong. New in the capital (the third bookshop to open there in two years) is Good Books, founded by writers Jane Arthur (who co-founded the great web platform for young readers The Sapling) and Catherine Robertson (a current IIML Writer in Residence). They’re the first New Zealand bookshop to be an accredited Living Wage Employer, and are tucked in next to the new Hamish McKay Gallery, amongst the escalating gentrification of Jessie Street. 

Jackson Niewland and Carolyn DeCarlo of poetry reading collective Food Court are due to open a bookstore in Newtown this week - and start publishing their own material from next year. Which is a bit of a prequel to a major bit of international indie bookshop news this week.

As The Guardian’s book section outlines, is gaining major traction in uniting indies at the expense of A kind of Bandcamp for books, Philip Gwyn Jones, a publisher at Picador has described it as ‘a revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling’ or less pufferly by the Guardian as, “a socially conscious alternative to Amazon that allows readers to buy books online while supporting their local independent bookseller.” 

It opened in the UK on Monday in partnership with more than 130 book stores. Stores receive their full profit margin – 30% of the cover price - while customer service and shipping are handled by and distributors. No word on negotiations with bookshops here. Many, it should be noted, already have their own online shopping services, created presumably with considerable outlay.

One welcome aspect of the new generation of literary festivals -  Word, Verb and Featherston Booktown as examples - is their direct championing of independent bookshops. 

Word’s Rachael King’s did just that recently for her Christchurch locals in this piece for the new online Ensemble magazine. Booktown celebrates a town of bookshops, and Verb was borne of Litcrawl, which fill independent shops across Wellington for a night a year.

Word Christchurch wrapped up at the weekend and, as you read, Verb Wellington is hitting its straps. Word saw attendance of 7000 - strong turnout for a festival without international stars and limited seating due to COVID. There’s a Press story here but for a great on-the-floor review, I recommend Paula Green’s at NZ Poetry Shelf

Rejectamenta at Ferret Bookshop.

In other good bookish media news - Dominion Post has stepped up its books coverage quickly under new editor Anna Fifield, working partly in partnership with the new online platform Kete. Here’s co-founder of Verb Claire Mabey in Wednesday’s newspaper ahead of the Verb activities.

Rights of Writes

All this comes in a week when the Society of Authors, Copyright Licensing New Zealand and the Publishers Association have banded together to launch a campaign to highlight why creative rights like copyright are so important. 

It’s called Creative Rights = Creatives Reads, and it’s explained in this sponsored content on The Spinoff via a neat graphic story by Ezra Whittaker and Toby Morris. Why the fuss? A review of the Copyright Act is currently on the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s to do list. Specific concerns were raised last year about the changes needing to be made to the Act to put into effect the agreed-to Marrakesh Treaty, at the expense of writers - see this 2019 RNZ story.

The NZ Society of Authors Heritage Book Awards were also announced at the end of last week at Word Christchurch. What is a heritage book? Now in its seventh year, the award recognises any book linked to New Zealand’s heritage. The winners are in this release on Scoop

Not all NZers free from lockdown

As countries like France and the UK go back into lockdown, spare a thought for New Zealand artists abroad, and New Zealand artists whose careers depend on their global mobility. 

This week I caught up with the editor of web platform Contemporary Hum Pauline Autet, via Zoom in lockdowned France. Since launching in December 2016, Contemporary Hum has become a valuable platform for the networking and discussion of New Zealand artists and curators work abroad. Autet noted they now have contributing editors in Asia and America. Their trustees are notable art world figures based here in New Zealand.

This week, after securing Creative New Zealand funding, they have launched a Boosted campaign to fund them to build a new site. Well known art collectors Jim and Mary Barr have offered to match people’s funding up to $2000. 

We regularly feature new interesting content from this platform. This Lowdown, it’s this article with Millie Riddell visiting a group exhibition in the Netherlands in which Yuki Kihara is currently participating, What a Genderful World.

The sustainable, the scary and the sharp

The Outlook for Sunday competition for short films about sustainability by emerging young filmmakers has been running since 2007. This year the films are being released twice a week on RNZ. I really enjoyed Alice? - Grace Hood-Edwards’ dreamy yet real take on the trials of being a plus-sized teenage girl at college. 

We reported on the passing of light and performance artist Peter Roche in July but since then, City Gallery have published this excellent blog which brings together many people’s memories of Peter. They include curator Gregory Burke’s memory of accompanying Peter in a small plane to dump a dead sheep over Waitemata Harbour for the work ‘Meat Lift’ in 1978. A great group of commentators are assembled - also featured are Evan Webb, Wystan Curnow, Priscilla Pitts, Serena Bentley, Jane Sutherland and John Hurrell.

Poet Bill Manhire has a new volume of verse out, Wow. Here’s a great feature from a former pupil Rose Lu on Stuff.

Emma Draper in new Kiwi horror Reunion.

We’re a bit slack here on the Lowdown on directing you to critical reviews of Aotearoa movies. Here’s Graeme Tuckett of the Dominion Post on new psychological thriller ‘slash’ horror Reunion. It looks dark and somewhat domestically disturbed and disturbing. “Reunion,” writes Tuckett, “sees writer/director Jake Mahaffy take the old is-it-mental-illness-or-is-it-really-a-ghost formula and swing for the fences in a rain-sodden antipodean mansion somewhere halfway between rural Aotearoa and sheer hell.”

Finally, almost three years of the arts media with the Lowdown and we’ve rarely featured tattoo art. Remedied: Here in pictures and words on Stuff and in this RNZ news story is this last weekend’s Wellington Tattoo Convention, in the Old Dominion Museum Building, which saw more than 90 tattoo artists constantly booked throughout the weekend and thousands of visitors.


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