Accolades and awards are often seen as the measuring stick of a creative.
But there’s one even more important litmus test - legacy.
Those who don’t just create and curate but also cultivate an environment for other artists and creatives to flourish.
These are the ones who leave a lasting impression - long after the trophies lose their shine and the titles gather dust.
Aotearoa’s creative community lost one of those leading lights this week with the passing of Luit Bieringa, aged 79.
His family described him as “A lover of art and ideas. An art historian, gallery director, film maker, writer and educator who was a champion of artists and culture locally and internationally.”
Director Stuart McKenzie was among many who took to social media, remembering Bieringa as “beautiful, generous & joyful” adding “he will be so deeply missed, even while remaining a powerful presence & inspiration in our lives.”
Gallerist Hamish McKay is among many mourning a friend - and paid tribute to a remarkable man for The Lowdown.
“I first met Luit when working at the now defunct National Art Gallery in the late 1980s where he was director. I had a job in the Registration department and at first I found him intimidating.
"Not one to suffer fools, he was rakish, confident and subject to irascibility, but this soon gave way to a warmth and kindness I came to know him for, with an impish sense of humour to boot.
“He would sometimes round some of the staff up at lunch-time and we’d be off to the cricket down at the Basin Reserve, or down to the Dominion pub for a pint. While taking his responsibilities very seriously he also showed us all how to have fun. He always had time for you and was incredibly generous of spirit.
“Luit developed the forward thinking - and sadly also defunct - Shed 11 (Temporary Contemporary) on Wellington’s waterfront in the 1980s, where I also worked. It was an extension of the National Gallery and an exhibition space for the most advanced local art and ideas to be seen in New Zealand. He also staged ground-breaking international shows including heavy hitters like Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Daniel Buren.
Luit Bieringa. Photo: The Whale Trust.
“It was a thrilling experience to be part of this exciting project and a testament to the insightful nature of Luit’s vision. There is still nothing like it in New Zealand.
“Luit and his wife Jan were incredibly supportive of me when I opened my gallery on Willis Street, Wellington in 1993. They would come to every opening, supporting the younger artists I was showing at the time - Shane Cotton, Ronnie Van Hout, Séraphine Pick, Tony de Lautour among others - and making me feel that what I was doing was important.
“Luit would sometimes arrive at an opening early just to tell me he couldn't come to the opening - I’ll never forget their unwavering support of me as a fledgling dealer - it meant a great deal to me then as it does now after 30 years.
“Luit has been described as a maverick, insightful, erudite, sensitive and acutely aware of the big picture. He was all of these things and more.
“He truly cared about the arts in this country and was a tireless promoter and key advocate of many of its practitioners, opening the doors for so many, providing guidance and support along the way to many of today’s most prominent artists. He believed in the importance of a strong and cohesive arts community and was a great champion of art education.
Luit Bieringa speaking at the Eastern Southland Gallery. Photo: Eastern Southland Gallery/Instragram.
“His most recent project with Jan was the brilliant film on the bohemian artist Theo Schoon. Luit was always a champion of the underdog and his and Jan’s efforts have led to a wider understanding of this controversial and often misunderstood artist.
“Luit was relentless in his belief in art’s transformative power and the joy and nourishment it can give us and tireless in its promotion through his various projects. A non-conformist and never a fan of bureaucracy he rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.
“His contribution to the arts and culture of this country has left it a far richer place for all of us and for generations to come. A mentor and friend to many, he will be greatly missed.”
Ron Brownson, Curator of NZ Art at Auckland Art Gallery said of Bieringa on Instagram “What a wonderful friend to artists in Aotearoa.
“As director of the Palmerston North Art Gallery and then the National Art Gallery, Luit was a key advocate for artists living here,”
Brownson went on to describe Bieringa as “supportive of diversity and promoter of the known and unknown, and that “he would never be silenced because he had beliefs that he would battle for. A bloke with acute sensitivity and a person with rare vision.
“Luit intuitively understood what is now called - three generations later - stakeholder relationships. He did this better than most other of his museum cohorts. Witness the acquisitions he made for the NAG; as he called it.”
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson - a former Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, it should be remembered - speaks highly of Bieringa as a person and as a documentary maker, with his wife Jan. “The HeART of the Matter was an inspiration and a revelation. It drove our Creatives in Schools policy and programme that is reasserting the role of arts and artists in the classroom.”
Robertson added Bieringa will be remembered as “a towering figure in arts and creativity in Aotearoa for decades, from gallery director to film maker and much in between.”
Bieringa will be laid to rest on Monday.
Another supportive and adored creative champion was farewelled last weekend in Havelock North.
Bronwynne Thorp passed away at the age of 68 but not before carving a lasting reputation as “one of the greats of the Hawke’s Bay art scene, well respected by many established NZ artists and collectors,” as described by Annabel Sinclair-Thomson of Paperworks Gallery on social media (photo below from their Instagram account).
After moving to Havelock North with no experience running an art gallery, it took a matter of weeks for her and partner Kim to turn Black Barn Gallery from an idea into a reality. Thorp used her contacts and those she had bought art from to bring some of the country’s leading artists to town.
Long time friend and leading New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell told The Lowdown “I felt for her when she said she was going to open a Dealer Gallery. Great to be on the other side of the biz with patronage and all the social carry-on - but buying and selling the stuff?
“But she did it - and with her usual generous and open-hearted spirit, she did a great job. The vicissitudes of the art racket even wore Bron’s mighty defences down a bit. I’m obviously speculating a bit here…but the politics of the biz are pretty rough. Remember - this is an insanely unregulated occupation and issues like loyalty and truth can get sorely tested. I remember her looking at me with her head on a tilt and a frown on her forehead as I explained yet another ‘unwritten rule’ of an unruly business.
“But Bron always shone - worked hard at making everything she could make right…right. The openings at the Black Barn gallery were the social highlight of every Hawke’s Bay month.
“We were very lucky to be there.”
Contributions like Thorp’s make a huge difference - and will be sadly missed.
The comings and goings inside the creative community at the moment are enough to put Heathrow to shame.
If you’re finding it hard to keep up, you’re not alone.
The Big Idea has taken a look at what is seeing so many of our arts leaders leaving their roles in such a short space of time - with a deep dive from many sources on whether we are facing a leadership crisis or the dawn of a new era.
If your livelihood depends on the creative sector, who leads that sector matters - this is an important read.
But it’s important to note the incoming as much as it is the outgoing.
In a clear sign of succession planning, Red Leap Theatre have named Ella Becroft as their new Artistic Director - after a 12 year, evolving apprenticeship.
Becroft has been part of the organisation since it was established in many roles, and that legacy pathway has been realised, carefully managed for Julie Nolan’s departure from the role.
On her new appointment, Becroft states ““Red Leap's dedication to collaboration and wild creativity has allowed me to stretch every creative, physical and mental muscle as both a performer and director. Working with this company to devise original, bold and daring theatre is an absolute gift.
“I am incredibly excited to continue this work with the support of the formidably talented artists that form this company. Julie has left an amazing legacy, and I have learnt so much under her guidance. I am committed to continue to tell vital stories that set the audience's imaginations alight, while always restlessly interrogating the potential of live theatre.”
As well as roles being filled, some new ones are being created as well.
Creative New Zealand has inserted writer and actor Ali Foa’i (above) as the first CNZ Principal Adviser, Pacific Arts.
The West Auckland-born Foa’i is from a family of artists and educators. A graduate of Unitec’s School of Performing and Screen Arts and the International Institute of Modern Letters at Wellington’s Victoria University.
Foa’i told The Lowdown he's thrilled to step into this leadership role.
These roles hold mana in terms of decision-making, and I feel grateful to be able to use my 15 years’ experience as a writer and actor to be of service to the Pasifika Arts community.
“Opportunities like my newly-created role have been made possible by the Pacific Arts Strategy 2018-2023, and is a sign that CNZ have heard the sector’s call for having Pasifika artists in these important positions. I’m excited to continue building on the tireless work of the giants that have been instrumental to the development of Pacific Arts in Aotearoa.”
It’s a good time to be paying close attention to the needs and wants of the creative community - and there has been several points of interest coming out of The Big Idea’s Audience Survey.
Thanks to the over 600 TBI readers who took the time to give us their opinion on where the vibe is currently and what’s needed for the future, there are some insights worth noting.
One of our core kaupapa is to help Aotearoa creatives have sustainable careers - the survey showed that’s something the respondents are eager for more support with.
The majority of respondents are asking for more tools to help them be successful, more connection opportunities with others in the sector and the chance to learn from others successes.
Clearly, the pandemic era has been a defining factor in how connected people feel - for some the burst of Zooms offered a community they hadn’t experienced before. But it’s clear from the feedback that nothing beats building stronger, more personable connections.
In terms of career development, only one in five respondents were certain they currently had access to enough resources to grow their creative careers, with the most requested of those resources were more articles to make access to funding easier, closely followed by in-person mentoring.
When asked to describe how they felt working in the creative sector, the reaction was strong - on both sides of the coin.
Words like challenging, undervalued and frustrated were evenly matched with excited, inspired and passionate - in fact the feedback was almost a 50/50 split of positive and negative.
We’ve heard you loud and clear - and we’re making sure the highest offices in the country hear it as well.
Speaking of surveys, there’s an important one that’s calling for your input right now - as it looks to shine a light on - and confront - one of the biggest threats to creativity.
Driven by stories of how tough Aotearoa creatives are doing it through the current housing crisis, Point Chevalier Social Enterprise Trust are looking to build data that gives a raw and honest reflection of where things are at.
The Housing for Artists Survey (which took less than 10 minutes to fill out, with five $100 vouchers up for grabs for participating) has been created with the hope that better information would lead to an improved chance of achieving better, affordable community arts housing options for creatives and/or a campaign to trial a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for artists.
Find out more about it and how to participate in the survey by clicking here.
Trustee Graeme Bennett told The Lowdown that this is an issue the creative community must take seriously - with a longstanding, uncomfortable undertone.
“Creativity is not a competition, and many of the actors of creativity work in silos. Sharing our expertise is necessary for our own mental health and the next generation of creatives, so if we are forced out because we can't afford to rent a house or a room, then there will be nothing left.
“It's not just about housing, it's also about income stability hence why a UBI (Universal Basic Income) is so important. We need new sustainable funding models for the arts, and not be reliant on the profits of gambling, especially given that over 80% of gambling revenues come from those that can least afford to gamble.
“Lotteries and pokies are the last vestige of hope for financial independence for many kiwis. There are many organisations in the creative sector (and sports) that prefer not to be funded from the profits of gambling but have no other choice. As a sector we are silent and complicit.
“If we as a sector do not stand up, nothing will change. We need an alternative funding model, UBI, and new housing stock (with studios) which will all diminish along with our creativity.”
I am Hine, I am Moana by artists Tina Ngata and Terri Crawford. Photo: Jeff McEwan.
As we settle in for our first ever Matariki long weekend, it’s good to remember it’s more than just a public holiday.
There are plenty of creative events throughout Aotearoa to help educate you on the importance of the Māori new year or to come together as a community.
You can find a comprehensive Matariki Event Guide here on The Big Idea.
Matariki is proving to be a catalyst date for starting many creative and cultural events.
Matariki ki te Manawa (above) will see 25 super-sized lights and sculpture events and installations brighten the evenings in downtown Tāmaki Makaurau until 16 July.
Mana Moana, the artist-led collaboration between Māori and Pacific visual artists, musicians, writers, and choreographers will add a high visual energy to both the Dunedin (24-26 June) and Wellington (30 June - 4 July) waterfront - addressing climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s also the launch of the Sounds Of Our Streets winter youth performance festival in Auckland, starting Friday and running thorough until 3 July.
Run by Youth Arts New Zealand, a diverse range of talented young artists - ranging from 18-24 years old - will get the chance to show off their words and music as well as earn a share of $20,000 worth of artist fees paid directly to the creatives themselves.
Given how hard it can be get a “break” and to get meaningful paid gigs - this is a wonderful launching pad for fledgling careers.
Project Lead & singer-songwriter Danielle Hao-Aickin, who is also performing as part of musical duo Ersha Island 二沙岛 (pictured above), says “Aotearoa has always lacked equitable opportunities for emerging creatives, especially in the music sector.
“It’s awesome to be working with a team of rangatahi leaders dedicated to creating these opportunities and giving myself and other youth a platform to showcase their talent.”
YANZ Chief Executive Matthew Goldsworthy adds “the benefits of having local performers activating public areas cannot be understated. If you go to cultural hubs around the world like Rome, Paris and New York, creativity is everywhere, on every street corner - it builds a powerful connection between people and their community.
Adrian and Alex, performers at this year's Sounds On Our Streets. Photo: Supplied.
“If Auckland is truly going to be a global creative capital as set out in Auckland Unlimited’s 2030 Creative Industries Strategy, we need to think differently about the ways that we can embed creativity into the design of this city.
“We need more visible, accessible and equitable creative pathways. It all starts with recognising, valuing and supporting the next generation - they’re the ones building our future.”
There are a few timely movie offerings to keep on your radar to celebrate Matariki as well.
Whetū Mārama - Bright Star is the story of Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi - Hek Busby - and “his significance to Te Ao Māori, in rekindling their wayfinding DNA and for all New Zealanders in reclaiming our place as traditional star voyagers on the world map.”
Co-directored and co-produced by Aileen O’Sullivan and Toby Mills, the documentary took three years of filming and involved some hugely respected figures of the creative community.
Moana Maniapoto and Paddy Free put together the music for the film, with artist Michel Tuffery providing a vibrant visual touch.
O’Sullivan told The Lowdown “Michel’s work is integral to Hek Busby’s film, his maps guiding us around the vast Pacific and illustrating the expanse of Hek’s connection to the biggest geographical country on the planet.
“When we recreated Kupe’s voyage, Michel worked with us sketching the key characters so that Sir Ian Taylor’s Team at Aimated Research in Dunedin were able to weave them into the story.
“Whetū Mārama - Bright Star would not be the compelling beautiful film it is without him!”
Already in general release is Whina, the biopic of one of Māoridom’s most admired and staunchest advocates, the late Dame Whina Cooper.
It’s getting strong reviews and has two of the country’s finest actors - Miriama McDowell and Rena Owen - playing Dame Whina over the course of her remarkable life, alongside the talented Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, who embodies the teenage version of this groundbreaking New Zealander.
It’s wonderful to see this film pick up on the momentum of Cousins and offer such strong, leading roles for wāhine toa in this country - and with so many Māori and Aotearoa creatives involved in this project, it’s worthy of support for that alone.
The 2022 finalists have also been named in the prestigious National Contemporary Art Award.
Judge Reuben Paterson has selected 34 of the country’s brightest contemporary artists - including Toipoto creatives Janet Mazenier, Ekaterina Dimieva and Jana Wood - through a blind judging process, meaning he reviewed the images, video, and artists’ statements without knowing the identity of the creators.
Paterson will curate the exhibition of finalists at Waikato Museum, where he will use the blind judging system to select the prize winners - including $20,000 for the overall prize - ahead of the gala opening before it opens to the public on Saturday 6 August.
A couple of high profile awards application processes are open - but one deadline is coming up quickly.
The Copyright Licensing New Zealand/ New Zealand Society of Authors Writers’ Award is regarded as one of the highest non-fiction prizes in New Zealand literature - and comes with a cool $25,000 to help bring your research project dream into a published book reality.
It’s designed to provide financial support for writers wishing to devote time to a specific project, and to cover reasonable research expenses relating to it. Writers with work in a broad range of non-fiction genres, including educational works, are encouraged to apply before Wednesday’s 29 June closing date - click here for the details.
Entries for the 2022 Aotearoa Music Awards have just opened - meaning musicians, producers, engineers, and visual artists can be nominated (including self nomination) for a Tūi until 1 August.
With a few exceptions, awards are open to New Zealand artists who have recordings commercially released between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022.
But it’s been announced this year’s awards do won’t be televised - with the 20 awards handed out on the night now an in-person, invite only celebration.
As an explanation, Recorded Music NZ’s Sarah Owen says “in 2022, the traditional awards show format is under pressure around the world, and event organisers are facing a different market for commercial sponsorship post COVID-19.
“Against the backdrop of social change, the pandemic and audience shifts, we feel the time is right to pause our annual awards ceremony for a year.
“This will give us the time and space to reflect and review the Aotearoa Music Awards and make a plan for 2023 and beyond. As part of this process, we will be engaging with artists, partners and the music community to find out what’s important to them."
It was great to see this year’s Pacific Music Awards finalists get together this week (above) - after years of being forced online for the announcement of who is in the running for the 13 categories.
There was a healthy mix of established artists and rising stars feeling the love at Onehunga’s The 312 Hub - as they find out who punched their ticket to the Awards show on 4 August.
Popular reggae group Tomorrow People top the nomination count with four nominations including best Pasific Group and Best Album, with hip hop performers Kings and SWIDT each earning three a piece.
Of the 26 finalists, nine were recognised for the first time - including House of Misfits with nominations in both Best Gospel Artist and Best Pacific Music Video.