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Funding, Confrontations & Tragic Controversies

Movement of the Human’s Belle.
Industry reaction, celebrations, tributes and triumphs - the Lowdown on the big arts news of the week.


There are presentations, conferences and endless emails, but it’s not often that the heavy hitters of the Auckland arts community get the chance to mix directly with those at the helm of the sector’s major funder.

Those who attended Tuesday’s informal gathering at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki spoke of the energy in the room as they rubbed shoulders with the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa (Creative New Zealand's governing body). In attendance was newly appointed Chair Caren Rangi and members of the board as well as CNZ staff. 

With CNZ based in Wellington, it’s rare for these opportunities in the country’s largest city. Reports to The Lowdown suggest the vibe among this collection of around 200 leaders was remarkably upbeat, especially after needing to overcome some traditional industry scepticism; being called to a gathering without a clear outline had several quietly questioning the motives. The window to make sure those who set the framework for make-or-break decisions in the creative community know the lay of the land - the good, the bad and the ugly - meant for some honest and frank conversations. 

A special focus was placed on hosts Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei, with General Manager of Toi Whātua (Arts & Culture), Te Kurataiaho Kapea outlining their cultural directions and aspirations to an influential audience.

Rangi, whose position as Acting Chair was made permanent a few weeks ago, had a warm and dynamic presence stating that she was a mere 28 days into the role.  She expressed her pride in being the first Pasifika chair of the Arts Council (and only third woman) in an interview with Lynn Freeman on RNZ’s Standing Room Only - as well as proclaiming more Pacific leaders will be given the opportunity in the future. 

Caren Rangi speaking at Tuesday's gathering.

Buck stops and starts here

Movement of the Human’s Belle. 

It’s been a busy week for CNZ on the funding front as well - announcing the successful Round Six Arts Grants, closing Round Seven after reaching its limit of 200 applicants and opening Round Eight - the last of the financial year (here are the guidelines for those wanting to know how to apply). 

Of the latest grants announced, the highest recipients include:

  • A new work by choreographer and director Lemi Ponifasio ($74,239) 

  • Gisborne’s Hoea! Gallery and project space for public programming & exhibitions ($74,799)

  • Performance company Movement of the Human’s remounting of Belle for next year’s New Zealand Festival ($75,000)

  • Tahi NZ Festival of Solo Performance in Wellington ($75,000) 

  • The Dust Palace putting on production Ithaca in Invercargill & Taranaki ($75,000) 

  • The Takatapui Collective for creating spaces that empower QTIBIPOC artists and work toward decolonising Aotearoa's creative culture ($72,186).

Check out the full list here

While we should celebrate those who have been given the nod, there’s a usual large serving of heartbreak out there in our creative ranks as well. Of the 168 eligible applications, only 54 grants totalling $2,252,187 were awarded.

Top gigs comings and goings

Martin Sutcliffe.

One of the arts tireless figures is calling the end to a wonderful innings.

Martin Sutcliffe has decided to step down as Director of the Corban Estate Arts Centre from the end of June. The West Auckland institution has played a crucial role in the development and careers of so many creatives, including the home of Te Pou Theatre, with the much loved Sutcliffe playing a vital guiding hand.

He’s told friends in a Facebook post “I have been in this role for 14 years now and for the last two I have been thinking about leaving my role.  In my mind I have been thinking, ‘I will leave at the right time.’.  But have come to realise there is no right time, or rather this is the right time.”

Another leading figure has had her time at the top extended, with Dr Ruth Harley has been reappointed as the Chair of NZ On Air Irirangi Te Motu for another three years.

While her background is unsurprisingly in the screen industry, Hartley’s also been heavily involved in the wider arts community, sitting on the boards of the Wellington Sculpture Trust and Len Lye Foundation.


Kia kaha Toa

Toa Fraser’s been responsible for some brave storytelling in his impressive and impactful career as a director and writer for both screen and stage.

But perhaps his bravest has come on social media, going public this week with a burden he’s been carrying for the last five years. 

The man behind acclaimed NZ plays and films like No. 2 and The Dead Lands announced he has Yong Onset Parkinson’s, an (as yet) incurable brain disease.  

“People used to say I look cool. These days, people ask me why I look so serious,” Fraser writes in a series of tweets on Twitter. “It hasn’t been easy. It’s hard on relationships, it’s hard on my kids. Those closest to me have been unfaltering, discrete and kind. I’ve also learned not everybody can come on this journey with me. For the last five years I’ve kept it quiet. Buried it as much as I could.

“The disease makes me a better director. I focus on what’s important. A producer in LA said I’ve got a “quiet power”. I like that. But on this, I’m not going to be quiet anymore.

“It sucks but it doesn’t define me. It affects my movement, but over the last few years of living with it, I’ve worked with some the world’s best actors, dancers, stunties and athletes all over the world in the pursuit of stories to transcend this bullshit.”

Support and aroha has been flowing since his announcement. Among the tributes, Lisa Taouma on Coconet praises his involvement and support in developing Moana directing and writing talent. “For so many Pacific writers, directors and filmmakers, Toa has been a shaman-like figure of inspiration - guiding the way by osmosis because of the sheer extraordinary fact that a Pacific person was at the helm of all these amazing projects.”


Going all-in on Vegas

An intriguing confrontation has taken place on The Spinoff, sparked by new Aotearoa TV show Vegas. 

Ātea editor Leonie Hayden put forward her view on the TVNZ series, praising the performances and hard work of the Māori creatives involved, but laid out her argument against continuing the “centuries-old” gangster stereotype.

Hayden writes “if you put those 12 talented Māori creatives in a room and told them, ‘Here’s $6m, you can make anything you want. What will you do with it?’ I doubt the answer would be ‘Another production about Māori and gangs’.”

Image from TVNZ show Vegas. 

It’s a compelling read - as is the passionate and strongly worded response/defence from the show’s co-creator, writer, showrunner and executive producer Michael Bennett following a noisy reaction within the industry to the essay. He outlines his path to being involved and challenges Hayden’s view on story sovereignty, stating “To me these are the most compelling hero stories of all. The stories of those with the greatest distance to traverse in their journeys of transformation.”

Kudos to The Spinoff for encouraging both sides of the argument: there are many media outlets that would have shut down the feedback that takes aim at their original article - but they chose to publish it.

It’s a conversation that you would hope funding decision-makers are watching as well.


Tragic end to controversy

A controversial topic has become a tragic one, with English choreographer Liam Scarlett’s unexpected death at the age of 35 this week.

Scarlett was once one of the rising stars of the industry before sexual misconduct allegations brought his career to a shuddering halt. While the investigations into his behaviour at England’s Royal Ballet “found there were no matters to pursue in relation to alleged contact with students of the Royal Ballet School”, he was still released from his position and other ballet companies around the world began to distance themselves from Scarlett.

Scarlett’s connection to New Zealand came in the form of a relationship with Royal New Zealand Ballet, who brought him to our shores to collaborate in 2015. As reported in The Lowdown in February, NZRB was one of the few companies still supporting his work and looking to reproduce A Midsummer Night’s Dream in October.

In a statement, RNZB sent their condolences “the company was privileged to work with Liam... He was, quite simply, a joy to work with, and inspired everyone to give their very best. 

“We are truly proud to be bringing A Midsummer Night’s Dream back to New Zealand this Christmas, but the performances will be bittersweet, knowing that Liam will not be with us again to share the magic.”

The whole situation is a sadly uneasy one. The Spectator in the UK has a piece examining if lessons can be learned from Scarlett’s death, with experienced dance writer Graham Watts challenging “Scarlett’s career was effectively ended without a trial or any transparent due process. An independent inquiry took place in secret and concluded that there were no matters to pursue but nonetheless ended his ability to work. Of course, safeguarding and a duty of care to students should be at the highest level of secure robustness, but a duty of care to the accused is also required.”

Celebrating creativity

51 - Love, Peace & Unity by Muhammad Waqas.

As you are reading this arts news bulletin, it suffices to say that every day is likely a creative one for you. But yesterday it was an official one - World Creativity and Innovation Day.

It is in fact part of a full-blown World Creativity and Innovation week (15-21 April, not your usual calendar week - creative in itself) and for the first time, New Zealand was one of the 92 countries to officially register to the WCIW movement.

NZ Ambassador Amy Malcolm explained to The Lowdown why we signed up. “There is so much creative spirit and energy in Aotearoa’s diverse communities and the celebrations give us an opportunity to let the world know how important creativity and innovation are to our past, future and of course every day.”

On the feedback she’s received, “there's great interest in what New Zealand is doing and I’ve been inspired by the range of groups and individuals who have got involved. One of the benefits of being part of World Creativity and Innovation celebrations is to learn about projects like yours around the world and also to find out what else is happening in our own backyard.”

There are many projects to be impressed by, including an artwork currently on display in the Beehive 51 - Love, Peace & Unity, a painting done in Arabic Calligraphy by Muhammad Waqas “to commemorate the 51 Martyrs of Christchurch mosques attacks.”


Fountain of talent

Reb Fountain receiving the 2021 Taite Music Award.

It’s one of the most coveted awards inside the music industry - and the Taite Music Prize is now in the hands of Reb Fountain.

Rather than the sometimes garish accolade judgements on most Spotify listens, Youtube hits or money grossed, the Taite Awards kaupapa of celebrating the creativity of our musicians is always uplifting.

Fountain’s work on her self-titled album saw her take the edge on last year’s winner Troy Kingi and fellow finalists Anna Coddington, L.A.B, Nadia Reid, Ria Hall, Tami Neilson, The Beths, The Phoenix Foundation and Wax Chattels

So many genres, so much talent.

Special tribute was paid to the groundbreaking Patea Māori Club for their iconic 1983 single Poi E with the Independent Music NZ Classic Record Award.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

22 Apr 2021

The Big Idea Editor