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Lockdown, LOTR & Louie Knuxx

Toipoto participant Sara Moana. Image: Instagram @saramoana
When times are tough, the creative community rallies. Check out one of the most comprehensive Lowdowns TBI has ever put together.


Well, this sucks.

Let’s face it, even the ability to write or speak eloquently about the impact of COVID Lockdowns has evaporated. 

But the pain felt by so many creative organisations and practitioners doesn’t get any less real and visceral.

Nothing can top the OG Lockdown of March 2020 - we were all caught off guard, and contingency was a word pretty much reserved for rainy days at outdoor events. By now, having a ‘worst case pandemic scenario’ in place is the norm.

Not that it provides much comfort for those who have poured their heart and soul - and often money - into a creative project that is now in jeopardy thanks to this Delta dawn. 

The decision is taken out of their hands, but hits straight to the heart.

Take the world premiere run of Auckland Theatre Company’s Things That Matter - directed by Anapela Polata’ivao as featured here on The Big Idea - which is somewhat fittingly set at Middlemore hospital. Today was supposed to be opening night. The first week of the show has now been cancelled thanks to Level Four. 

ATC Artistic Director & CEO Jonathan Bielski has told The Lowdown “The cast and crew were resilient in the face of the sudden lockdown.  We all understand this is a public health emergency and we need to play our part to ensure everyone is safe.

“We hope the lockdown will end next week and we can move ticketholders into the remaining performances or look at extra performances, so everyone gets to see this beautiful show of which we are very proud.”

Things that Matter cast. Photo: Supplied.

One of the leading drivers of the digital backup plan in 2020 was the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). They’re heading back to the online domain again soon, planning digital seasons of  The Firebird and Paquita for audiences who have had the chance to see them in the flesh taken away from them.

RNZB’s confirmed the cancellation of this weekend’s performance at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre - but have held off decisions on the scheduled shows at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch and Palmerston North’s Regent on Broadway until there’s more certainty on when Alert Levels subside throughout the country.

While all our aroha goes to those whose creative endeavours have been scuttled directly by Lockdown, there’s also a huge amount of uncertainty for those who have events on the horizon.

The much-heralded WORD Christchurch literary festival is just a week away (25-29 August).

Programme Co-director Nic Low’s told The Lowdown that “the timing is awful, and it's stressful, but it hasn't caught us totally by surprise. 

“One of our key event series, The Faraway Near - which brings international writers to audience members' tables via screens in a 100-person bar--was designed to be able to run at level 2.

“We've invested in digital video and livestreaming equipment, which is sitting ready to go, either to bring guests in digitally, or broadcast events out. 

“So whether we get to run all 86 events as planned, or deliver some digitally, or postpone the whole festival for now, one way or another we'll bring Christchurch audiences something wonderful.”

UPDATE: From those list of options, postponement has won out. On Saturday, co-director Rachael King put out a statement saying with a heavy heart that the festival is on ice - for now.

“It’s disappointing to have to postpone the festival,” King says. “But this is the reality of the times we live in. It is much better to lock down and keep COVID at bay than to put everyone at risk.

“We will be back, and as much as possible we’ll retain the elements of the festival that will make it such a powerful, diverse and entertaining event.”

News dates and the new programme will be announced in the coming weeks.

NZ Fashion Week has already pulled the pin, postponing their 23-29 August schedule in Tāmaki Makaurau rather than sweat over Government decisions in the coming days.

Like all galleries and cultural spaces, New Zealand Maritime Museum’s doors are currently closed, with their anticipated upcoming exhibition I am Island and Sea pushed back from its 26 August launch to a yet to be determined date.

Tautai Gallery won’t open again until Auckland gets back to Level Two, but they’re still offering up an eye-opening experience of a different kind.

Just before Lockdown hit, applications for their 2021 Fale-ship Residency programme opened. Perhaps the forced time within their bubble may allow more creatives the time to put their name forward before applications close on 30 August. 

It was a concept conceived during last year’s peak lockdown days, so it’s already pandemic proof. 

Toipoto participant Sara Moana. Image: Instagram @saramoana

But it’s still a time where arts organisations are crying out for leadership. And credit where it’s due, Creative New Zealand filled that role in the trying circumstances last year.

In a blog post put out Wednesday night, CEO Stephen Wainwright had the following to say:

“We’re thinking of you all – the arts community is always among the first to be hit by lockdowns, with upcoming gigs, events and projects immediately affected. 

“However, as an arts community, we’ve become familiar with responding to whatever COVID-19 throws at us.

“We appreciate that providing as much certainty and consistency as we (CNZ) can in this COVID-19 context is important.

“While we’ve got contingency plans in place (and as we’ve done throughout our COVID response we’ll make adjustments if needed), we don’t foresee a need to make radical changes to our offerings at this stage, and we’ll continue with our funding programmes as planned. 

“For example, round 2 of Arts Grants (project funding) and the Toi Ake – Mātauranga Māori Te Awe Kōtuku Fund will open next Monday 23 August, and assessments for round 1 of Arts Grants will continue as scheduled. We’ve been asking applicants to provide COVID-19 contingency planning in their applications and we’ll continue to make funding decisions based on the alert level of the time.”

The blog also outlines that a wage subsidy will be available from this Friday (20 August) to all businesses and self-employed people that meet eligibility criteria (click here for details) before the COVID-19 Resurgence Support Payment (RSP) applications open on 24 August (info here).

Given Takapuna’s Pumphouse Theatre is on the list of places of interest for the current community cases, there’s still plenty of trouble ahead.

But at least we can rely on creative minds to distract us from the form-filling and hand-wringing. The unwanted return of COVID is best summed by comedian Chris Parker on his Instagram page - with the dirty old virus manifesting itself in that annoying friend you thought you’d finally got out of your life.  

Lockdown is usually a boom period for the social media savvy - perhaps the best-known exponent of which is Tom Sainsbury.

Tom Sainsbury on Instagram - "Get fucked the rest of youse...". Photo: Instagram.

Visual artists are often to the fore as well - like Sara Moana currently taking part in the creative mentoring programme Toipoto, whose work you see at the top of the story. 

Scorched middle earth

It hasn’t been a good week, if we’re being honest.

The screen industry has been digesting the news of Amazon’s pull-out of Aotearoa as home of the huge budget Lord of the Rings TV series - the show full of special effects carrying of plenty of knock-on effects.

This was the deal that had the Government offering up eye-watering sums in rebates, with the promise of thousands of jobs over a period of years. Sure, the Government’s removed about $33 million of that since the departure was announced, but Amazon is still walking away with millions of taxpayer dollars from one season of the series.

There’s been a fair amount of reaction to this - the best wrap up coming from Johnathan Milne at Newsroom. Our strict border policy and limited MIQ spots are seen as a major factor for the shift to the UK for the next season, which Amazon says will help lower the budget.

The repercussions are not just for the studios and locations here, but also for individuals.  With a long-running series (seemingly) locked in, there was suddenly a whole new group of production staff who had something is a barely used phrase in the industry - job security.

Having LOTR as your employer could have been enough motivation for a creative to be confident enough to step into a mortgage - and to have a job the bank is prepared to back. Imagine the anxiety that stepping back into chasing gigs to cover a mortgage could cause.

Screen Industry Guild president Brendon Durey told RNZ’s Standing Room Only that there’s a good chance skilled workers here may be lured to follow the production to the UK - or try their luck overseas. It makes sense, if a New Zealander did a good job, why wouldn’t the producers ask if they wanted to keep their job?

The likes of Weta Digital could still find themselves being involved in the series - it’s commonplace for such post-production to be shipped overseas. But nothing is a given any more. 

Tourism could well be impacted too, with a UK location sure to water down the title of “home to Middle Earth”. Post-production continues here until next year, with the show around a year away from hitting our screens.

Remembering Louie Knuxx

Todd Williams aka Louie Knuxx. Photo: Scott Sinton.

There’s been an outpouring of grief, love, memories and support following the sudden and tragic death of Todd Williams, better known to many as by his rapping moniker Louie Knoxx.

News of the 42-year-old’s passing in Melbourne quickly hit social media - with a Givealittle page set up to raise money to bring his body home and support his whānau. The original target of $20,000 was reached in just a few hours. At the time of publishing, it was about to hit $50,000. The page is still open for those who want to contribute to supporting his family. 

There have been some incredible tributes to Williams - many of them wrapped up in this comprehensive article from The Guardian, which referred to him as an underrated linchpin of the Aotearoa hip hop scene.

Touring the world with hardcore group Deez Nuts, Knuxx began his music journey with New Plymouth hip-hop outfit Dirtbag District, before moving on to record label Breakin Wreckwordz, and then forming part of the Young, Gifted and Broke artist collective.

Toipoto mentor Dominic Hoey first met Williams at a rap battle in 2001 - they went on to live together for a period and forge a 20-year friendship.

Todd Williams and Dominic Hoey. Photo: Instagram.

Speaking to The Big Idea, Hoey says of his best friend’s musical abilities - “technically, he was quite ahead of his time, his lyrical prowess developed after that. 

“I’ve been down with his whānau, listening to his music. He became a really amazing lyricist. He kinda straddled that arty, underground hip hop with the more thug style - he could walk in both worlds. He had that style where he could just jump on any track and make it work. 

“For him, rapping was kinda effortless. He’d just write, jump in the booth and just do it. I know a lot of rappers say they do that but for Todd, it just kind of flowed out of him.”

“If you met him, you’d never forget him,” Hoey tells The Lowdown. “Because of the way he looked with the tattoos on his face, people would expect him to be gruff and closed off but he was really open and vulnerable, he was an emotional person. I think that would disarm people, he’d win people over instantly.

“He was almost contradictory in a lot of his nature. He was the kindest person but he’d kick your arse if he didn’t like you. He was really lazy but if he loved you, he’d do anything for you - he’d drive across town to be with you if you were sad but probably wouldn’t pass you the remote if it was right next to him (laughs). 

Artwork of Louie Knuxx by @highdoctornick - selling copies to raise funds for Williams' whānau via Instagram.

“He was such an amazing guy, the funniest person you’ve ever met and as my mate pointed out, he always saw the best in people that others didn’t. A lot of our mates are struggling in various ways and he’d always encourage everyone and point out what was amazing about them. He was so excited about people.”

Which is what made him such an impactful youth worker. He’d been in the shoes of troubled rangatahi before and he wanted to make a difference for others.  He did a lot of work in his home town with START Taranaki - as shown in the below Vice feature.

Before heading to Australia to be part of his brother’s Chin Up project, Williams was also a mentor at Auckland’s Ngā Rangatahi Toa - who shared their sadness and paid tribute to him in a Facebook post.

“He left a significant imprint on our heart and his legacy continues on through the mahi he done alongside our babies.

“We had made a pact to always put our babies first  - whatever it takes. This often meant going against the grain and rattling cages. Cages we were prepared to tear down if necessary.”

Tribute to Louie Knuxx by PKAY and VESIL. Photo: Instagram.

The creative community is mourning several other loved figures this week, with Dunedin artist Marilynn Webb passing away at 84. 

She’s been remembered in Waatea News for her work which included focus on land, ecology, politics, women in art, and Māori and post-colonial history.

And former Shortland Street actor Frankie Mossman has passed away tragically in lockdown across the Tasman at just 33 years old. 

His heartbroken family have issued a statement saying Mossman “had been struggling with the resurfacing of old scars and trauma from high school, which he acknowledged in his last [Instagram] post to the world was a pain he had endured from a young age.” 

Creative spaces criticised

“Art therapy is not an established cure for COVID-19.”

And the award for most ridiculous sentence of the week goes to...the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Of course it’s not an established cure, not sure I’ve read anyone suggest otherwise. Neither is spending all your time trolling and berating people, amazingly enough.

This latest ‘pearl of wisdom’ is part of the inflammatory organisation’s latest attack, this time on the recently announced recipients of $11 million of Government funding for Creative Spaces

It entirely and deliberately misses the point of the funding - which has removing barriers of entry and providing opportunities for disabled people and people with mental health needs at the top of the list.

Of course, they’re looking for a rise. 

Name calling and funds shaming are their go-to devices for attention. We’ve highlighted their dirty politics approach to the arts in the past, as well as recently highlighting being given a taste of their own medicine by documentary maker David Farrier.

We’re sharing the quote not to give their ill-informed comments credence, rather to give it context.

Union mouthpiece Louis Houlbrooke takes aim at the overall $374 million Arts COVID recovery programme, but says previous funding has at least been related to the pandemic.  

He says “now Creative NZ is just taking the piss. They’ve announced $17 million for ‘creative spaces’ (note: was announced in February, this week is just the confirmation of second round of funding recipients) so wannabe artists can ‘build up their confidence and self-esteem’ and gain ‘a sense of fulfilment’.

“Sorry to say it, but art therapy is not an established cure for COVID-19. Nor does art therapy work as an economic response to the pandemic when there are more vital projects in health and infrastructure.

“If the Government really wants to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at art projects, so be it – but at least drop the pretence that this has anything to do with the pandemic. This is simply a slush fund to reward a special interest group.”

First off, the funding comes direct from Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage - not dispensed by CNZ.

It should also come as no surprise they place no value on the mental wellbeing of the people of Aotearoa - abuse online flies in the face of that. 

If the Taxpayer’s Union can’t see the pandemic and lockdowns as reasons why having creative spaces that help give New Zealanders a sense of belonging and an avenue for breaking down anxiety and isolation, then perhaps some deeper investigation would be helpful.

Creative space Jolt. Photo: Arts Access Aotearoa.

Arts Access Aotearoa’s Executive Director Richard Benge gave his feedback on Tuesday’s funding announcement to The Lowdown.

“We’re working alongside the creative spaces as they develop their outreach programmes and employ more staff. 

“We’re also working with them to strengthen their infrastructure, develop funding strategies, and collect data and stories to measure the impact of what they’re doing.

“In Blenheim, Creative Kids Trust will receive $415,872 (all figures over 3 years) to meet a need in the eastern top-of-the-south region. After the lockdown in 2020 (and through extensive community liaisons, pilot programmes, and research), Creative Kids Trust found there was an urgent requirement in their community to increase their services. A pilot programme was created where youth in the Marlborough area came together and created a performance piece based on their experience of lockdown. Part of its new funding from Manatū Taonga will support them to make this programme permanent.

“In Dunedin, Artsenta will receive $431,125 to extend the Waitaki Creative Wellbeing pilot project (delivered in Oamaru, Palmerston and Kurow) and to develop a new Central Otago Wellbeing project (delivered in Alexandra, Cromwell and Wanaka). The sessions combine art-making activities and peer support for adults experiencing mental distress and isolation in this uncertain COVID environment.

“Whanganui Creative Space (ExplorArtz) will receive $102,804 to expand its opening hours to work with high-need communities with mental health distress and intellectual disability. The focus will be on art-making activities to explore creativity as a means of recovery and resilience and to maintain wellbeing; sharing the space with others and finding a sense of community in creative practice together. 

“In Coromandel, Artists in the Making will receive $244,509 to extend its focused art programmes for participants who are socially isolated, live in poverty, and who often have a mental health diagnosis or history of drug and alcohol abuse. Reaching these isolated communities will be a focus for Artists in the Making as current and impending lockdowns occur throughout Aotearoa.”

A full list of recipients from the second round of funding can be found here.

Who let the dogs out?

A quick footnote to last week’s Lowdown where we mused about where or when we’d be able to see Taika Waititi’s new hit American show Reservation Dogs.

Well, we have an answer via this NZ Herald article - it will be available on our shores via Disney + from 15 September. Lock it in - sorry, poor choice of words….