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Is this the Most Important NZ Music Month Ever?

Drax Project in Concert. Photo: Drax Project Instagram Account
This year's Taite Music Prize finalists.
Reb Fountain and band celebrate Nick Cave's 60th birthday in 2017 at the Wine Cellar. Image: Chris Kemp
Singers Ariana Tikao and Bianca Andrew, join the NZSO players this Friday for Shed Series – Voice, part of the Orchestra’s weekly free streamed performances.
Acting ensemble for ATC's The Seagull. Image: Supplied
Touch Compass Interim Artistic Director Pelenakeke Brown. Photo: Greta van der Star
Untitled’ 2010 Paul Cullen. Courtesy of Paul Cullen Archive.
This week’s arts news bulletin delves into the need for NZ Music Month, calls for increased funding and the battles for survival and eyeballs.


Local Music Matters

New Zealand Music Month is a broad brush promotional scheme run by the NZ Music Commission every May that’s been taken up by the many and endured. Now in its 20th year, it seems it is reaching a wider public at a time we may need it  to - more than ever.  Over on The Spinoff, Recorded Music NZ CEO Damian Vaughan writes of the “devastating” effect of COVID-19 on the industry while noting that 2019 figures showed continued growth (caveat: getting tired of the economic wisdom of use for measurement of the ‘G word’). Vaughan believes with the right support “the industry can emerge even stronger”. He’s light on details but does note “the first quarter of 2020 has seen the highest proportion of local music across commercial radio for a decade” and that “Kiwi music on radio is increasingly being played during peak periods when the most ears are listening.” 

Online there’s plenty happening. Undertheradar is giving us a vital weekend livestream guide and late Tuesday Troy Kingi and the Upperclass were announced the winner of the Taite Prize for Holy Colony Burning Acres (recognising outstanding creativity in an album or EP). The ten finalists (as outlined here on RNZ) were selected by a panel from 54 nominations submitted by record labels. Kingi talks about winning the prize and his 10 albums, 10 genres in 10 years goal on Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi here

NZ Herald have got on board with profiles of favoured musicians here and here. On Twitter, New Zealand Story are featuring a different current NZ song every day.

The big new album release for the first week of May is new Flying Nun signing Reb Fountain, with a self-titled release getting plenty of attention (an early review in on Elsewhere). Reb is one of the cavalcade of musicians whose careers were forged playing a role in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes (Delaney, Aldous and Marlon are all on that list). Here’s the album, an interview and videos on pillar of NZ live music Undertheradar

“When this happened, it sort of came at the same time as losing some really big opportunities,” Fountain says of COVID-19. “Even though SXSW wasn’t happening, we were still planning on this big US/Canada tour. So I was feeling like being hit by a truck and quite despondent and my friend Dave who I play music with, he said, “Why don’t you try writing a song a day?”, do a Woody Guthrie, and I sort of took it away and went home and thought about it and two days before lockdown I started writing a song a day.”

Reb Fountain. Image: Supplied.

Venue Love

Reb Fountain has also been busy spearheading the hugely successful Wine Cellar /Whammy Boosted campaign Save Our Venues.  This has been followed this week by a campaign for another crucial venue, Wellington’s San Francisco Bathhouse which as I write has raised something like $34,000 in less than a week, with a month to go. And in Christchurch, the Darkroom is up to $13,500, well over its aimed for $10,000.  

Bringing that all together on Monday, Reb was part of launching @saveourvenuesnz, “an organisation dedicated to supporting live music venues in Aotearoa to survive and thrive”. Recognising these as “essential community spaces” the website brings together seven venue Boosted campaigns.

On the venues front, a NZ Music Month museum initiative that deserves wider expansion: Auckland Museum’s online display of venue and band posters. Right now they number a piddly four. Step right up National Library - who have been pretty quiet on the new initiative front given their digital resources this lockdown.

Other New Zealand Music Month initiatives:  NZ Music Commission have partnered with E Noho to deliver a live stream from different regions every Friday 8pm in May on their respective Facebook pages to showcase emerging talent, hosted by Ed Waaka. 

Independent Music NZ’s Going Local seminars (rolling out from 10 May across different regions) and the NZ Music Month Summit will go ahead online. And the Two Daze compilation is set to return, with a nationwide team of musicians contributing songs in 48 hours. 

Do Heavy Hitters Measure Up?

 Singers Ariana Tikao and Bianca Andrew, join the NZSO players this Friday for Shed Series – Voice, part of the Orchestra’s weekly free streamed performances.

How are our big arts organisations responding to lockdown? It’s a good time to take a look and ask what we should and shouldn’t expect from organisations with reasonable staffing structures. 

For example, responding well, you could say are the two best-resourced - funded directly by government - the national orchestra and ballet. My challenge: given their significant public funding, shouldn’t this kind of digital access to their work continue when ticket prices remain high? Won’t this actually be pivotal ongoing to increasing their venue-based audience sizes in the future?

Kudos: the NZSO was quick off the mark with their Engage@Home streaming programme, which has been ever-inventive, well-produced and personable in introducing the programmes. They have an entire live site

The Royal New Zealand Ballet won new fans by broadcasting their exceptional 2019 NZ work Hansel and Gretel early in lockdown. Next the ‘Live in your Living Room’ series (you can watch here) has from their vaults Black Swan White Swan, 8-10 May.  The RNZB’s Facebook page has introduced many to a lot backstage not usually seen. 



Acting ensemble for ATC's The Seagull. Image: Supplied

In theatre, Auckland Theatre Company have clearly taken time to look hard at options, get their platforms right and aim to develop something of quality. This Friday they launch online a brand new production of Chekov’s The Seagull by locals Eli Kent and Eleanor Bishop, with a knock-out cast, and video and sound designers.

It could be a high profile gamechanger, delivered in 30-minute instalments for free via Facebook and YouTube. Chekhov's characters become a New Zealand family congregating over Zoom during our current alert level. Rehearsed, performed and broadcast online the actors have one week per episode to read the script, learn their lines and rehearse. 

We’ve previously highlighted BATS in Wellington’s quick smart work since NZ Fringe to start paid streaming theatre. Also in Wellington, Circa Theatre announced on 1 May they have commissioned works from Trick of the Light Theatre and Te Rēhia Theatre Company, with more details to come.

Christchurch’s Court Theatre consider themselves New Zealand’s largest theatre company. Yet they’re not doing performances online, having just provided some fun at home activities including ‘isolation improv’ and a quiz. Their greatest innovation is arguably paid education classes online for a range of age ranges. 

Finally what of our public art galleries, creating paid opportunities to visual artists for new work at this time? Surely a no brainer! The award goes to Christchurch Art Gallery who have this week recognised an opportunity that’s been waiting for a long time: commissioning an artist moving image series. Curated by Nathan Pohio, smartly Spheres is an online series exploring social distance and personal environments from a diverse dozen interesting artists, asking them to “share something of their spheres, the ideas and places they live with and around.”

Budget Looms

In announcing the winner of the Taite Music Prize, Jacinda Adern - as Minister for the Arts - acknowledged how hard the music industry has been hit and hinted more relief might be on the way. There’s no other word out there at present but budget day 14 May would make sense for such an announcement. Will the reintroduction of a pathways to employment scheme for artists - announced as in research two budgets ago - actually also finally emerge?

“Now more than ever, our artists are helping us connect with each other and remind us about what’s good in life,” Adern said (at about the 44minute mark). “We’re working hard as a government as we speak to make sure the arts are at the centre of our revitalisation.”

As RNZ reports, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi, formerly the Arts Regional Trust, commissioned a creative sector survey during the first two weeks of April (at the start of level 4 lockdown) which shows that, perhaps unsurprisingly, more than 80 percent of the 332 participating had to cancel an event or service because of COVID-19. Important evidence to back up the lobbying of government to increase funding support, as outlined in our last Lowdown

“The findings are a call to action to address the medium to long-term health of the arts sector,” says Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi. “Only 39% of respondents are confident that they will still be working in the creative sector in six months’ time.”

Who was surveyed? The report shows that almost half were creative freelancers, contractors or entrepreneurs, 16% leaders of a creative not-for-profit organisation, and 12% leaders of commercial creative enterprises. A further 12% were creatives working for an organisation. 72% were working fulltime in their roles.

Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald is asking whether the closure of Sydney’s giant arts venue Carriageworks this week - going into voluntary liquidation, as announced by chief executive and well-known New Zealand curator Blair French - is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to big effects on the arts. That said, as others have noted Carriageworks is significantly impacted as a private organisation because of its reliance on big commercial events.  

New Kids on the Block

Lockdown has given birth to several new journals. Tupuranga is a journal of new Indigenous writing with a strong editorial collective that aims to publish, advocate for and support Indigenous and People Of Colour writers. Distinctive in its indigenous reference back to modernist Māori traditions, the graphic and typographical design has a logo created by Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho and use of Churchward Māori and Churchward News typefonts by the late Samoan/Aotearoa designer Joseph Churchward. 

Stasis is another new literary journal, taking submissions during lockdown with some strong poetry content and garnering a strong reputation quickly. And Pan is a short run risograph publication you can also download or read online, produced by artist and designer Matthew Galloway (whose Silver Bulletin was a touchstone post-Christchurch quakes) and designed to be “a telegraph, a map, and an archive of the time we are living through.” Galloway looks back to the impact of that time in Christchurch in this new essay.

Big Gigs Landed

Touch Compass Interim Artistic Director Pelenakeke Brown. Photo: Greta van der Star.

Great news from leading mixed-ability dance company Touch Compass. Their new Interim Artistic Director is Samoan/Pakeha artist Pelenakeke Brown, who is founding member and recently returned from six years based in New York. She is the first disabled artist to lead the company. Pelenakeke has since worked with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Gibney Dance Center and the Goethe Institute, and is a 2020 Artist-in-Residence at the Chelsea-cool Eyebeam; “a prestigious residency among a community of diverse, justice-driven artists creating work which engages technology and society.”

New Zealand Film Commission has announced screenwriter and director Michael Bennett as this year’s recipient of Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence award grant of $50,000 to support his development and projects. Bennett’s work includes drama feature In Dark Places and feature film Matariki.

Finally, but first on your May the Fourth news feed, Taika Waititi has been confirmed as the director of a new Star Wars film. His next film is football comedy Next Goal Wins, starring Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss and Thor: Love and Thunder, following the hit Thor: Ragnarok.

Latest Online Gems

Untitled’ 2010 Paul Cullen. Courtesy of Paul Cullen Archive.

Same great content, new look! Congrats to Pantograph Punch on its new website

I’m really enjoying the City Gallery Wellington series ‘Everything Has Changed’ in which curator Robert Leonard asks friends to comment briefly on art that looks different to them because of the pandemic. A highlight this week: Elam art school lecturer Allan Smith on a small sculpture by the late Paul Cullen (pictured) of a small globe studded by hooks which looks remarkably like a take on a coronavirus virion. “Cullen’s garlanded globe bristles with a menacing conviviality,” writes Smith, “a drive to survive that turns on the capacity to connect. His cloud of cup hooks drilling into the planet’s surface enacts a global trepanning—with country colours mimicking phrenological zones—to relieve accumulated pressure by exactly co-ordinated increases in pressure through helical turns of the pain screw…” 

Coinciding with New Zealand Music Month, classical music critic Elizabeth Kerr has launched Five Lines, a collection of her writings about music. A welcome addition to the Aotearoa arts digital archive.

Written by

Mark Amery

7 May 2020

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.