Just a couple of months into his new position as Creative Director of Auckland Pride, award-winning playwright, actor, performance poet, producer and arts administrator Nathan Joe was one of many who received some tough news on the back of the Creative New Zealand Arts Grants funding round.
In an open letter shared with The Big Idea, Joe explains the impact and the resolve that steels his approach in these trying times in the creative sector.
With some sense of urgency, or rather a sense of transparency, I write this to the wider arts and culture community. To our queer community.
It is an astonishingly difficult thing to step into a role and realise there is no infrastructural support from your main arts funding body.
On Friday 30 September, Auckland Pride received news that our funding for the role of Creative Director had been declined by Creative New Zealand - who first enabled the role back in 2021.
This was a surprise to both Max and I. While there was no guarantee of receiving funding for the role, we were disappointed with the results nonetheless.
This is the reality of navigating the no man’s land of contestable funding. Those are the rules - that nothing is promised.
There is no project Auckland Pride is inherently or objectively more deserving of funding over. Therein lies the impossible situation we find ourselves in.
I am aware that this is an industry-wide phenomenon. We are hardly the only organisation in the country faced with this problem.
The place where we find our arts and culture sector in, wounded and complaining.
Complaining to what end? Well, the complaint kills joy because the complaint reveals the fundamental gap between what we hope things to be and how things are. That is to say, the complaint is entirely necessary.
In a way, there is no more perfect time to speak the story of why the Creative Director role exists and why I took it.
I entered the role because I believe that the queer and takatāpui artists of our country will lead us towards our vision and reshape our culture. The hope with the Creative Director role was to build scaffolding and long-term vision around how Auckland Pride could support Arts & Culture going forward.
As it stands, it is just another arts project denied and struggling to justify its own existence.
I write this letter, this complaint, because I believe there are ways of doing things we have only grazed. That good art demands deep integrity, radical empathy and terrifying amounts of vulnerability.
So why should arts leadership or arts administration be any different?
I want to lead the same way I make art. Sometimes dreaming things into existence. Sometimes failing. Sometimes succeeding beyond one’s wildest hopes. Sometimes with a willingness to take risks. Often with the help of my friends. Often with the support of my community.
That to make art is to be constantly fighting for your own existence. This is something that the queer and takatāpui community know well. So who would know it better than our queer artists?
To demystify Auckland Pride feels deeply important to me. Feels deeply hopeful. Auckland Pride isn’t a monolith. There are currently two full-time employees, myself and the Executive Director Max Tweedie. There is also a board behind us and a strong arm of contractors during the Festival period, but otherwise - it’s just us.
I don’t want to be too proud to say my job is in danger. We have every intention of ensuring my role can exist with or without the funding. We have every intention that our next Festival will not have its vision compromised.
But, in a strange way - now more than ever - with this strange obstacle in my early days at Auckland Pride, I am galvanised towards making sure the tiny victories are achieved.
Nathan Joe. Photo: Supplied.
Without fetishising resilience, I’m conscious Auckland Pride has been through much worse.
Without fetishising resilience, I think this testing time for our Arts & Culture sector will prove instrumental in demanding we really uphold what we believe matters. What we purport to be our values.
Without fetishising resilience, as emerging artists fall through the cracks, it will be up to our arts administrators, arts leaders, arts gatekeepers to throw their best life rafts, to throw out their best lifelines, to open up their doors and resources, to make the stepping stones and pathways clearer than ever.
Without fetishising resilience, this is a Pride that has fractured itself into oblivion and somehow rose from those cracked ashes into something. Something more glorious than ever.
With time, with understanding of our intrinsic differences, with a deep found desire to grow and change and heal. We are here. Somewhere between the past and the future. Somehow presented with a present that is always passing us by. What I mean is, it is hard to stay present when the future is under threat.
Without fetishing resilience, I’ll be alright.
But even if I’m alright, I’d like to leave this Creative Director role with something for another person to step into. To say, it wasn’t always a dead thing. That it had life and potential. That it wasn’t dead before it began. Yes, it wasn’t crushed, no. Just threatened. But we found a way. We always do.
Without fetishing resilience, we can’t wait to realise our vision of an Auckland Pride Festival that upholds the Arts and Culture of our community; during a time where our Arts and Culture need it the most.
Our priority at this time is attempting to fill the funding gap that we’re now faced with in our budget.
We are exploring a range of options including additional funding from our funding partners and other funding bodies, new corporate partnerships for investment into our organisation and festival, and undertaking more fundraising to encourage donations as a charity.
Furthermore, we urge you to support the artists and creatives who populate and fill our city with colour. Attending their shows, productions and exhibitions is truly the best way to express your support.
Thank you for your continued support and faith in Auckland Pride.