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Career Boosts, Craft Blows - Bittersweet Week for Creatives

Cheryl Lucas, Subterfuge, Installation View, Christchurch Art Gallery. Photo: John Collie.
History beckons and big rewards are on offer for some of our leading creative lights - but the indefinite suspension of an important fund has others on edge in this week's Lowdown.

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Winning the Silver Scroll for songwriting excellence in Aotearoa puts you in rarified air.

 

Winning it more than once puts you in elite company with the likes of Sir Dave Dobbyn, Lorde, Shona Laing and Don McGlashan.

 

Winning it in consecutive years? That’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved in almost half a century.

 

That slice of history beckons for Troy Kingi - today named as one of the five finalists from the whittled down 20 strong shortlist for the 2022 Silver Scroll.

He’s been nominated for his brilliant collaboration with The Nudge trio Iraia Whakamoe, Ryan Prebble, James Coyle on their track He Ōrite.

If it can hold off the incredibly stacked crop of talent in this year’s final five, 2021 winner Kingi will become just the second person in the Scroll’s 55-year history to ‘defend’ the crown, joining John Hanlon’s 1974-75 double.   

Kingi told The Lowdown that just because being an awards finalist is becoming a habit, it doesn’t diminish its importance to him.

“It’s an honour. Especially for the fact that it is a Māori waiata. I’ve always been excited by this song, a psychedelic blues waiata in Te Reo - I’m glad our peers resonate with it.

"It was bittersweet having to send the award back last month - it was nice having it sitting there next to the desk - it’s definitely small comfort to be nominated again. 

"I’m just happy and honoured to be there this time with my dear friends The Nudge, one of the most underrated bands to ever come out of the south seas.”

Troy Kingi and The Nudge. Photo: Supplied.

Not that Kingi’s had much time to be at his desk recently.  He’s been travelling the whenua performing his long overdue Black Sea Golden Ladder tour with album collaborator Delaney Davidson (get used to seeing his name in this week’s Lowdown), that just wrapped up late August.

“That tour was definitely a war of attrition, having postponed it four times over the last year.

“Me and Delaney were finally getting some momentum leading into the Auckland Town Hall and Opera House shows only for Delaney to succumb to the dreaded virus three days out from our final shows. We trucked on with the help of a few good friends before other members of our tour party fell sick. 

“We made it to the end of the Wellington show albeit weathered and voiceless - it was like a major weight had been lifted off my shoulders, like I had conquered a maunga with monsters holding firmly being dragged by my trousers. Relief.

“I look forward to jumping back on the waka, opening for Midnight Oil in Christchurch and Auckland this week before heading to Oz next week for Big Sound.”

Then it’s straight back on it Kingi’s album release show for Year of the Ratbags & Their Musty ThemeSongs on the 14 October at the Powerstation - the latest instalment in his genre-bending 10:10:10 series (ten albums in ten years in ten different styles, for the uninitiated). 

“It’s been in the can for a while now, I’ve been busting to show everyone since we first recorded it mid last year. Expect a lot of fun, nostalgic as hell - dancing sweaty in the most awkward fashion possible.”

 

Marlon Williams is another no stranger to Scrolls success, having won back in 2018 for Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore.

 

But he’s back for another crack with My Boy, which Williams describes as a “pop song with a Māori folk strum” - he’s launching an album of the same name on 9 September.

 

“It means a lot!” Williams told The Lowdown on his inclusion. “Year on year, this award is our opportunity to celebrate our craft and I’m honoured my little song is getting a look in.

 

“I’m curious every year to get a sense of what is inspiring us as writers, what the zeitgeist is. This year is no different - it’s a very handsome set of tunes.”

 

Like Kingi, life is busy in Williams’s world - and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s just beginning an extended international tour.

 

“I’m currently rehearsing with the Yarra Benders in Melbourne before we take off for the states and then on to Europe - before coming home in time to put the Christmas pud on.”

Just like last year, Māori performers dominate the top five - with the heralded Rob Ruha also earning a place in the finalists with his smash hit 35 performed with Ka Hao.

Ruha told The Lowdown that he’s humbled. “It is definitely a huge honour to be acknowledged as one of the best songwriters in the country alongside my brothers Dan Martin and Whenua Patuwai and the next generation of Māori songwriters - my nieces and nephew - Kaea Hills, Te Amorutu Broughton and Ainsley Tai who wrote the waiata 35.”

Rob Ruha. Photo: Supplied.

This song’s inclusion continues a trend of both award acknowledgment and mainstream music embracing te reo Māori. 

Ruha remarks “my Māori people have been fighting for years for our language to be recognised in this country. This year marks 50 years since Nga Tama Toa marched onto Parliament with the Reo petition and 50 years of Te Matatini. 

“The maturing of this country to be embracing of Waiata Reo Māori was no accident and comes as no surprise to me. It is a result of powerful movements like Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori and resilience in the face of constant racial and legislative violence against my people. 

“It is through the fearlessness of Māori creatives, leaders and their unyielding vision and activations that this country inherits a new musical landscape featuring our Reo. How do I feel about it? I am in perpetual awe of their fortitude and how we have arrived at this juncture.” 

Kingi and Williams aren’t the only former Scrolls winners in the running to stand on top of the mountain again - with the irrepressible Tami Neilson also a contender to back up her 2014 success.

Beyond The Stars has made a big impact already (see The Big Idea's detailed feature by Chris Forster), a heart-felt love letter to her late father written by one of the busiest collaborators in the country, Delaney Davidson - and of course performed in duet with the icon of country music himself, Willie Nelson.

Repping the indies in this year’s final five is There’s a Tuesday's Girl At Night from their six track EP, Boy Scout.

It’s been a remarkable rise up the musical ladder for Natalie Hutton, Minnie Robberds, Angus Murray and Joel Becker (above) - who only three years ago were celebrating victory in the launch-pad institution that is the Smokefree Rock Quest.

Hutton told The Lowdown “I remember telling my mum about the SIlver Scrolls when I was in highschool and showing her The Barrel as Aldous Hardding had won that year. Being a songwriter and knowing what an honourable achievement being selected for the Silver Scrolls is, being a finalist has always been a dream of mine. 

“The four of us were so taken back and grateful to be selected this year in the first place but to be named a part of the top five, feels unbelievably rewarding. 

“It especially means so much to us, being a band with two-front women. We hope that we can inspire even just one wāhine or female presenting individual to be confident in such a male dominated industry.” 

The pride she has in the song is matched by the frustrating reality of its theme,

“Sadly, what I think stands out the most to us about this song is that the majority of women and female presenting individuals can gather what it is about from reading the title alone. 

“We believe that Girl At Night is the most important song we have released to date, raising awareness of the well-known and all too familiar fear that we as non-males have of being out at night time, especially alone.”

The wait should hopefully not be as long as last time - 2021’s prize for Kingi’s All Your Ships Have Sailed wasn’t presented until earlier this year thanks to a certain pandemic - with the 2022 awards due to be dished out on 18 October.

 

Other recognitions like the Hall of Fame inductees and the Maioha Award finalists will be announced in the coming weeks.

Laureates looming

2021's Art Foundation Laureates - who will be in the class of 2022? Photo: Supplied.

Speaking of accolades, there’s only one more sleep until the next batch of Arts Laureates are revealed.

The Arts Foundation will tomorrow (Friday 2 September) announce the 2022 laureates, where creatives from a broad range of fields are elevated to a new level of recognition for their talent and tireless mahi.

Much like the scrolls, it is elite company to join and is both a financial and status boost for those selected. The $30,000 that comes with the honour is nothing to be sniffed at - and Laureate is a title that sticks.

Arts Foundation Kaiwhakahaere Jessica Palalagi told The Lowdown “we could not be more excited” about tomorrow’s awards. While understandably tight-lipped on details, Palalagi adds “ these artists reflect the strength and breadth of the arts in Aotearoa right now. As always, expect some heavy hitters! Our selection panel was rigorous and each laureate this year was fought for passionately, but when we got down to it – those selected seemed obvious.”

The selection panel itself is an impressive one - with previously mentioned Scrolls finalist and 2015 Laureate Delaney Davidson, photographer and 2009 Laureate Anne Noble, Auckland Art Gallery’s Ane Tonga, writer Rachael King, Playmarket’s Murray Lynch, dancer and choreographer Dolina Wehipeihana and Justine Olsen from Te Papa.

Included in this year’s Laureate reveal for the first time is the Toi Kō Iriiri award - highlighting “an outstanding queer artist whose mahi is representative of the queer community and is making a contribution to social change.”

The Big Idea will keep you posted on the Laureate class of 2022.

Crossroads for craft

Cheryl Lucas, Subterfuge, Installation View, Christchurch Art Gallery. Photo: John Collie.

 

It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a time for the Aotearoa craft/object community.

 

Christchurch Art Gallery is playing host to a full scale, solo exhibition from one of the country’s pre-eminent ceramic artists Cheryl Lucas, opening late last week.

 

Shaped by Schist and Scoria  presents four significant multi-part works from celebrated local artist’s 40-year career - pride of place given to her latest installation, Subterfuge.

You won’t find anything of its size and nature anywhere else in the country right now - and is being lauded by creative supporters and craft/ceramic enthusiasts alike.

This event was only made possible by the Craft Object Fellowship that Lucas received from Creative New Zealand back in 2019- providing $100,000 over a two year period. 

But news has filtered through this close-knit community that the Fellowship has been suspended by CNZ - causing something of a shockwave.

Lucas (profiled here on The Big Idea) told The Lowdown “The cessation of Craft Object Fellowship funding is a real blow for other senior practitioners like myself. 

“The award allowed me to concentrate solely on my work for two years, enabling the production of my large solo exhibition currently showing at the Christchurch Art Gallery. 

“There is no way this exhibition would have happened without the Fellowship. 

“Financially, it was a game changer to be able to make an installation on this scale, assisted by a professional gallery team putting it all together, plus a publication!  My confidence and determination was fueled by knowing the curator and gallery staff believed I could deliver well and on time. 

“Underlying it all was the Fellowship which made me feel obligated to perform and to justify my performance, in a good way...

“There is a lot at stake when one is singled out for monetary awards, not least of which is the pressure to not disappoint anyone, especially oneself. This pressure and sense of urgency cannot easily be replicated by ordinary self-imposed limitations and deadlines. It needs the public acknowledgement. 

“For me, it enabled the production of work that has probably always been ‘in the wings’ waiting  but was never going to happen without this final collision of the Fellowship and public exhibition at this later stage of my life.

“I am forever grateful.” 

Cheryl Lucas, Subterfuge, Installation View, Christchurch Art Gallery. Photo: John Collie.

The contemporary craft-focused Blumhardt Foundation "was recently shocked to learn that CNZ has suspended - indefinitely - its two principal initiatives for the craft/object sector, along with other unnamed activities," Blumhardt Foundation chair Philip Clarke explained when approached by The Lowdown

"The Craft Object Fellowship and a replacement to the former Blumhardt/CNZ Curatorial Internship are major, and very visible resources for the craft/object sector. 

“We've conveyed to CNZ our view that the simultaneous suspension of both initiatives will have a huge negative impact on the sector, the severity of which we don't see other artform sectors experiencing in terms of major CNZ initiatives.  

“Existing initiatives such as NZ representation at the Venice Biennale have proceeded as usual and 2022 has seen the inauguration of brand new awards by CNZ. From our perspective this decision seems inequitable."

Clarke continues "it would be interesting to know what other initiatives have been suspended and the rationale for doing so at a time where other activities continue and brand new activities have been established." 

With funding sources under pressure on multiple fronts - this could be just the start of headaches coming the creative community’s way.

Along with Lucas’s exhibition, it’s a great time for creatives in the Garden City, with WORD Christchurch in full swing.

Opening last night and running through until Sunday, the popular festival features plenty of the country’s leading literary lights - including newly crowned Poet Laureate Chris Tse, Mohamed Hassan, Noelle McCarthy, Megan Dunn, Dominic Hoey, Whiti Hereaka, Coco Solid and Rachael King.

A whole lot of creative minds crammed into five days - it’s set to be another memorable week for this southern institution.

Going West leaving legacy

Shadbolt House. Photo: Auckland Council.

Wins can feel few and far between when it comes to cutting through red tape and pushing new initiatives for the arts into reality.

So it’s good to celebrate them when they happen.

Auckland Council has voted unanimously to transfer the Titirangi house of esteemed writer Maurice Shadbolt to the Going West Trust - who operate the longest running literary festival in Aotearoa - for the purpose of rehabilitating the building and establishing a new literary residency.

James Littlewood, Going West’s Director told The Lowdown “the residency will provide a valuable platform for new, innovative literary work.”

An increased investment in commissioning in the last few years has seen the establishment of two short film programmes: Different Out Loud poetry films and Moving Portraits documentary shorts. 

“These put collaboration front and centre, and we'd like to do something similar with the writing residency,” Littlewood explains. 

“We're also talking with some interesting publishing partners, with some really strong potential for genre specialisation. Of course we'll always bring people together to celebrate literature, and that means we've got an established, recognised event to platform our writers' work. 

“For audiences, this residency has the potential to create a large body of new, innovative and unique new literature.”

It also helps protect a piece of Aotearoa’s cultural history - the house itself. As well as being the scene of virtually all of Shadbolt’s creative career, it’s a venue that has been frequented by many other admired names. 

Littlewood details “Colin McCahon lived nearby, and the two spent a lot of time together in the ‘50s. There was a succession of cultural luminaries coming through the house for decades: Don Binney, Lois McIvor, John Cassleberg, James Baxter, and more. Gretchen Albrecht lived just up the road.”

But this will not be treated like a museum - Littlewood hopes it’s about creating new pathways.

“We celebrate Shadbolt not by enshrining him, but by looking to the present and the future. And his output was both extensive and wide ranging. In addition to writing some of New Zealand's most acclaimed novels, much of his income came from journalism for international titles like National Geographic. 

“With the emergence of post war academic writing, many literary types looked down on him for his hustle. We think it's something to celebrate.”

Much of the credit for getting this across the line is being thrust at two of the arts greatest allies in Waitākere, long time local politicians and advocates Naomi McCleary (a Going West Trustee)  and Sir Bob Harvey. As Littlewood points out, the pair “were the driving force of almost every significant arts organisation in west Auckland.”

Going West Trust will now enter a four-year lease with Auckland Council for the Titirangi property during which the Trust can finance and undertake rehabilitation of the buildings, including a house and studio. If successful, the Trust may then renew the lease for a further ten years, with the option for more.

LIttlewood acknowledges “it was extremely gratifying to see the council decision meet unanimous support, but now our real work is just beginning: we have a mountain of fundraising to achieve in quite a short space of time. 

“So once the house has been rehabilitated, and the residency is established, I think there's going to be a truly unique resource for writers, and a significant body of new work for readers.”

Drum 'n' Bassoon

The slow return of larger scale events is heartening - with one of the increasingly popular collaborations between classical and modern music set to go to its biggest stage yet.

The pairing of electronic dance music with a full orchestra will expand into the iconic Pukekawa - better known as Auckland Domain - for a full day festival on 1 April next year (not a prank, we promise).

Synthony in the Domain has been launched with renowned conductor Sarah-Grace Williams guiding the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in front of what will be far from their usual audience and behind an eclectic range of vocalists.

Among them, hip hop heavyweight Savage, the Potbelleez’s Ilan Kidron, vocal powerhouse Ella Monnery and Bella Kalolo so far confirmed in the line-up.

Monnery (above) - known to many for her stint on The Voice Australia - could barely contain her excitement about being invited back for her fourth involvement at the event across both sides of the Tasman. 

She told The Lowdown “The outdoor Synthony shows are definitely my favourite. There's something about the summer, sunset vibes and being outside that just hit different.

“Being on that stage backed with the orchestra, the lights, the music is such an electrifying feeling." 

Collaborating with creative forces both on stage and behind the scenes brings a particular joy to Monnery.

“Everyone plays their part and comes together to deliver such a phenomenal show. Whether it’s the production side of things, the orchestra, singers or crew - we all play such a vital job that's needed to pull this show together. The team are all so supportive of each other and there really is that whānau feeling here in New Zealand.”