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Lowdown: Arts Conversations That Can't Be Ignored

05 Oct 2023

With some big, confronting headlines coming out of the creative community - your arts news bulletin looks into the importance of kōrero, career-altering announcements for NZ performers and those helping shape the future of the sector.

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Scenes from Creative New Zealand's Nui te Kōrero 2023 in New Plymouth. Photo: iStudios. 

There's never a dull moment in the creative sector - but the last week has made sure that kept said moments at bay more than usual.

Even the most seasoned of arts journalists and officials - including those on the ground who had heard whispers - had their minds blown by the depths of the off-stage drama engulfing Christchurch's Court Theatre, as the lid was lifted into some hefty allegations against Chief Executive Barbara George by The Press reporter Shannon Redstall. 

It honestly needs to be read to be believed - the allegations of a toxic environment, unsettled and crying staff amid huge turnover and an armed police call-out. Hopefully - with sunlight being the best disinfectant - big changes can now be happening at the long-standing and iconically Canterbury institution, along with other organisations using it as a moment to take stock, look at their own backyard and set up protocols that may stop similar situations from occurring.

The same can be said for the creative community's emotions - ranging from unease to furious anger - at the return of the once-loved Pop-Up Globe, despite many still being out of pocket after the company's liquidation in 2021.

Sam Brooks from The Spinoff documents the backstory as well as the reaction from hugely respected industry figures like Elephant Publicity's Michelle Lafferty.

“When I saw the comms that they had put out, celebrating that the Pop-up Globe is back, I felt that it was a slap in the face to the people that were out of pocket,” says Lafferty in the article. “There is an uncomfortability for anybody who didn’t get paid that this was a problem before COVID hit, and then to be told it’s all about COVID, and you run a small company, where you’ve dealt with those impacts, it feels like you’ve been blindsided and mistreated.”

It has left a sour taste in the mouth - and one that doesn't look like going away.

These stories are what make events like Creative New Zealand's (CNZ) Nui te Kōrero even more important. The recently completed conference brings together both leaders of the industry and those who are deeply rooted and invested in its practice.

Multiple sources who attended this year's event found fresh inspiration, motivation and desire for collaboration from being around their peers - and the environment created by the region's hosts, delivering rich Māori context and content.

"We were so warmly welcomed by local iwi and the mood was of transformation and a focus on collective advocacy and incredibly enriching kōrero," one attendee told The Lowdown.  "It was so inspiring to hear Māori academics, leaders, artists, performers and rangatahi leaders. It is great to know the future is in good hands." 

"It was great to get the sector together, we truly need more events like this," another noted. Others praised the ability to be able to curate their own attendance schedule, while others were glad to be able to tune in digitally when commitments meant they couldn't make the trip.

CNZ isn't without its own headlines, of course, and a few of those were brought up by those who spoke to The Lowdown.

One pointed out that it was "A great effort by the wider CNZ team", with another highlighting "The CNZ advocacy team are superb people. Despite the shit they have been through lately, they really do want the best."

Some expressed disappointment there "Seemed a lack of senior acknowledgement about how challenging things had been recently for the sector - or CNZ - with no indication of the recent review outcomes or where CNZ is heading in terms of sector support and enhancement."

That included the still-unpopular digital agency partnership with Toi Hourua, with one source expressing their belief that it is "unclear what they are doing or how the sector can engage or increase capability." 

Unsurprisingly, there were reports of "a little verbal argy-bargy in the 'real art' vs digital art space" with any AI discussion in the creative sphere always sure to be polarising. 

But these conversations and debates have to happen - they can't be sterilised out of the public forum. Which is why these events, while not everyone's cup of tea, are vital to our creative community being able to find answers (or at least common ground).

Attendees noted there were some inspiring speakers and talks - with everything from climate crisis/environmental sustainability to the dark arts of how to do publicity covered.

It's important not to let the stories that have a detrimental impact on the creative community slide - but it's also important to applaud the less controversial, but vitally important ones that occur as well. 

Funny five

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As exceptionally talented and burgeoning as the current comedy circuit in Aotearoa is right now, the most famous name remains someone who passed away more than thirty years ago.

But the incredible Billy T James continues to be the rising tide that lifts all ships - as those who stand out as the best up-and-comers are recognised in the awards that bear his name.

The Billy T Award nominees for the 2024 NZ International Comedy Festival have been revealed, after a stand-up showdown at Te Pou Theatre in West Auckland at the weekend. The 14 contenders have been whittled down to five acts: Advait Kirtikar, Lana Walters, Liv McKenzie, Rhiannon McCall and the duo of Ben Cleland and Matt Parker AKA Tough Tiger Fist.

The Lowdown reached out to all the finalists to get their reaction to this highly sought-after nod.

Wellington-based festival veteran Kirtikar declared he's delighted. "It means so much to know that I’m on the same path as some of the greatest New Zealand comedians and that my hard work over the last few years is paying off! Maybe I can make it too!? I’m looking forward to sharing my comedy on this new, big, shiny stage and representing the Wellington scene! I hope I make them proud!"

Walters is no stranger to the Billy Ts and has put together a strong CV on shows like 7 Days and The Project. “It's so exciting to be nominated! I let out a "whoop!" on the phone when I heard. Then I had so much energy I had to run around the block just to calm down. It's my second time being nominated but this time I really wanna take home that yellow towel.”

A pair of Christchurch comedians with strong on-screen presences as well. Liv McKenzie hosts TVNZ+'s new show, Cubicle Confessions among her many credits, with Rhiannon McCall a regular on Seven Sharp and on Viva La Dirt League's Youtube channel which has over 5.5 million subscribers.

Winner of Best Newcomer at the 2019 NZ Comedy Fest, McKenzie explains “Since I started out in stand-up, it has been one of my biggest goals to get nominated for the Billy T award. This is a dream come true, and I’m really stoked for myself and the other nominees.”

McCall, part of the improv outfit Snort and co-director of improv company Heartthrobs is over the moon. "It is such a prestigious award and I feel humbled to be in the company of comedy legends who have been nominated before me. This is my third time applying for the Billy T, and my first time being nominated. Don't give up on your dreams, kids!"

High school besties from Waiuku and multi-instrumental comedy tag team Cleland and Parker have been a staple in the Auckland comedy scene since 2019. “We are really proud of our nomination and extremely excited to perform our new show in next year's Comedy Festival. We've flown under the radar in the Auckland comedy scene for the last five years of performing as a duo, and we are stoked to be given this amazing opportunity to step into the spotlight and show New Zealand just how funny we are.”

Each of the finalists will perform their one-hour shows during the Comedy Fest in May next year, with the winner announced after a final performance at Last Laughs on 26 May. The panel of judges include former winners Kura Forrester and Brynley Stent, Auckland Pride's creative powerhouse Nathan Joe, Silo's Executive Director Tim Blake, top-notch allrounder Perlina Lau and one-third of the hugely innovative and funny Downlow Concept, Nigel McCulloch.

There's no one in comedy who wouldn't want to add their names to a list of talents that includes Ewen Gilmour & Cal Wilson, Rose Matafeo, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement, Dai Henwood and Justine Smith.

Care over competition makes Scrolls special

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Victoria Kelly celebrates her win at the Silver Scrolls. Photo: Stijl.

One of New Zealand's biggest nights for music is in the books for another year - with songwriting and storytelling honoured above radio play and downloads at the Silver Scrolls.

The winners from the vibrant night are covered in detail here on The Big Idea - with the Beths finally adding the Silver Scroll to their incredible indy resume on an awards night decided by the music community itself - the finalists decided by APRA members before the winners are picked.

But among those getting a moment in the spotlight, Victoria Kelly explained to The Lowdown the feeling of winning the SOUNZ Contemporary Award for her orchestral epic Requiem.

“Recognition from your peers is a beautiful side effect of trying to be honest within yourself. And if your peers recognise you being honest, then that makes you feel like maybe you and your peers are connected... a sense that you aren't alone in the same place, trying to do the same thing.

“I think that in New Zealand, we all understand that being creative is a privilege and also a hard-fought honour. And that if we get to be part of a community, we also recognise that struggle and each other and that we support each other's work in that way. 

"Like when I think about the work that I've just made, the people who made it possible for me were other composers or other creators. You would think that these people would be your competitors, but they're not. They're the people who care as much about your work as they care about their own. And you care as much about their work as you do about your own. And I think that that's a beautiful benefit of being in a small and intimate community of people making things. 

"But there are disadvantages too. We’re not well-resourced economically. It's hard to gather scale. It's hard to make big things. It's hard to sustain ourselves, but at the very least, we all have each other's backs. And there's really something incredibly important and beautiful about that.”

Heading South by SouthWest

There's plenty going on to uplift the Aotearoa music community right now.

The first of the industry-recognised South by Southwest (SXSW) festivals to be held out of the United States will descend upon Sydney next month, with over 100,000 people expected to attend. And Te Ao Māori and contemporary NZ culture will be there, shining bright. 

Aotearoa NZ @ SXSW Sydney is a three-day activation (18-20 October) hosted within the festival precinct in Darling Harbour and developed through a partnership between CNZ, Te Māngai Pāho and the New Zealand Music Commission.

More than 30 acts set to perform showcases including musical acts FYI: 0800, ASHY, Daffodils, Daily J, Foley, Huia, JessB, Jordyn With A Why, Jujulipps, Mazbou Q, MELODOWNZ, Mim Jensen, MOHI, Mousey, Paige, PARK RD, PERE, Rebel Reid, Rei, RIIKI REID, Soaked Oats, SWIDT, Swizl Jager, Te Kuru Dewes, There's a Tuesday, Tipene, Vera Ellen, WHO SHOT SCOTT and Will Swinton.

Pop duo Foley told The Lowdown “It’s an absolute pleasure to be amongst the Aotearoa NZ contingent this year at the first-ever SXSW Sydney. We are so inspired by our fellow Kiwi artists, and to stand alongside them to perform at Aotearoa NZ House is incredibly exciting - it's going to be one for the ages.”

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Rebel Reid (above) expressed her joy to The Lowdown. “This is my first solo adventure so it’s a really big deal. To be seen and invited to be part of this Aotearoa cohort is both shocking and exciting! I can’t wait to sing my waiata and for people to feel my heart and hear our voice.”

The diverse programme will also highlight waiata reo Māori and cultural content - including Te Matatini stand-out kapa haka group Angitu (Tāmaki Makaurau), esports and gaming media.

CNZ’s International Services & Initiatives Manager Amanda Hereaka highlights that it’s a chance to showcase Aotearoa culture in front of an audience of international talent and content buyers, programmers, curators, technologists, thought leaders, and cultural representatives.

“Showcasing in front of an audience of practitioners and media is a proven method of fast-tracking an artist’s career,“ says NZ Music Commission’s International Manager Alan Holt.

“SXSW Sydney’s commitment to create a specifically Australasian event with a big focus on the Asian industry gives Aotearoa artists a chance to tap into this under-utilised but growing market”.

Return to Nest

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There's a feel-good story on the local festival front too - with much loved Nest Fest confirming it will return to Hawke's Bay for 2024 (5-6 January).

It comes after having to make the gut-wrenching decision to cancel the 2023 event - but festival organiser Harry Pettit told The Lowdown "We are thrilled to be back in the driver's seat, ready to deliver another unique musical experience" at Hastings' Tomoana Showgrounds.

The cancellation of this year's event was "traumatic", he explains. "It has taken its toll on our team, wanting to rebuild our reputation and confidence in having the guts to deliver an event that requires so much time, effort and love from our artists & community. 

"We got sucked up last year by the global economy of how events/festivals work.

"We have gone back to the roots - keeping NZ music, new music and indie music at the core of what we do. We contribute about $2,000,000 a year to the creative/Hawke's Bay community and it's these communities that have suffered the most over the last few years. 

"We feel very honoured and privileged to stick by our followers and supporters, for everyone to benefit from each other in a collaborative manner -  as well as keeping our income on our shores as much as possible. We have noticed the local artistic community is very supportive of this and everyone is itching to have their turn at performing on our special Nest Fest stages."

While there are some cool overseas acts like  Genesis Owusu, Suo and Malice K, there is also a strong representation of local acts like The Exponents, roots-reggae headliners Katchafire, soul/funk supergroup Leisure and hip-hop Arts Laureate Ladi6 - with more to be announced.

Pettit underlines "We are super stoked to be able to offer a new experience and stage for New Zealanders wanting to perform their arts and music to a crowd of 'discovery' lovers. 80% of our lineup and budget goes towards New Zealand artists and helps them put bread on the table and towards their future recording/touring costs - leaving NZ hopefully in a place of sustainability as we navigate these times through growing our creative outlets. 

"New Zealand has so many amazing and talented musicians. Due to being at the bottom of the world, we are constantly hamstrung by this. So Nest Fest strives to put our artists and performers at the forefront and to create attention, not just in New Zealand, but as we look to grow our brand and reputation across Asia Pacific and industry internationally."

Speaking on festivals with something to celebrate, the longest-running music and arts festival in Aotearoa has released the lineup for its 25th edition at Auckland’s Tāpapakanga Regional Park (23-25 February).

Splore 2024 will see the festival debut of the iconic - and reformed - Strawpeople, along with performances and sets from Che Fu + King Kapisi, Lady Shaka, Melodownz, Estere, Yoko Zuna, Grecco Romank, the Harmonic Resonators and  Samoan heavy metallers, Shepherds Reign, as well as DJs Half Queen, Paige Julia, Flamingo Pier, Dylan C, K2K and the house sounds of Sanoi.

Boosted X Moana

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Boosted X Moana campaign Moruroa. Image: Supplied.

It's becoming an October creative tradition - and one that could be a game-changer for a host of Pasifika creatives.

Boosted X Moana launched for a fourth year on Wednesday (4 October) - which sees a month-long spotlight put on 18 Pasifika-led creative projects via crowdfunding platform Boosted.

Each project has one month to raise its target, with every dollar donated to be doubled by the pairing of The Arts Foundation and CNZ- there's up to $110,000 available to be split across the projects.

Over the last three years, the initiative has raised a total of $476,000 for Pasifika creativity and supported 50 projects - as well as engaging Pasifika creatives for the campaign.

The project tallies range from $30,000 for The Art of Black Grace - the iconic dance group's collaboration with Britomart Group for a Pasifika digital art installation which is the second of five pieces - to $10K projects like On God, a production about faith and spirituality, specifically the introduction of Christianity and its conflict with indigenous spirituality. 

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On God (above) Involves a host of young artists from Toi Whakaari, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) and early career artists. Project lead Kaisa Fa'atui told The Lowdown "Boosted x Moana is an amazing initiative, and I'm honoured to be a part of this year’s cohort. Seeing all the different Pasifika arts on display on the front page makes me so happy – the drive for social change for the sake of bettering our communities through the arts feels empowering. 

"It keeps me frivolously optimistic that the arts will forever be the river that helps the world flow into new perspectives and deeper conversations led by our people, to every part of the world."

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KÜĪ , a short film that tells the poignant story of a 10-year-old girl who learns the harsh reality of her absent mother when their father forgets to pick them up after school, is seeking $25,000. 

Project leads Kahu Kaiha and Carrisse Uta’i told The Lowdown “As Pasifika artists, it feels good to be supported, be seen and valued the way we are. The Pacific Islands within themselves have so much diversity - but sometimes it is not seen that way, due to the lack of opportunities and platforms. 

"Our industry can make us feel lonely but with this campaign, we definitely felt like we are part of a big tribe. We want to say keep supporting Pasifika artists, our art is also yours.”

Make art, not waste

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 Junk Art Robot creation “USHER – Souls Searching Robot” Photo: Sean Boyd, Octalien

The creative community has always known how to take something undesirable and turn it into something special.

A new initiative is about to open to help those artistically and environmentally minded take advantage of turning one person's trash into another person's treasure.

The Tāmaki Community Recycling Centre opens this Friday (6 October), set to be one of Auckland’s largest community spaces for recycling and zero-waste education.

If the item is beyond repair, it could even find a second lease on life as part of a robot or artworks.

Operated by social enterprise Localised as a Zero Waste Hub, the Pilkington Road site processes around 90 tonnes of items every month, including fridges, tools, furniture and appliances.

Six community groups work on-site repairing and recycling many of the items brought in.  One of these is the Octalien - run by Sean Boyd, a junk artist, whose robot artworks have captivated many. He also teaches art at a local school.

Boyd told The Lowdown "Junk art is an affordable way to engage with artistic and creative expression. Imagination and creative problem-solving are all it takes to create valuable works of art from discarded waste that is otherwise costly to recycle. 

"I take mundane, discarded, everyday items and reassemble them with other items they’re not usually associated with to make the onlooker believe it is a complete and operational object. Further inspection brings child-like wonder and delight as they recognise the pieces used to create the illusion - some may be items with a personal memory or connection. 

"There are no limits to creative solutions for waste - the more focus we put on it the more creative solutions will surface. I would like to see every local business have an engaging sculpture of their industry waste products on display, such as a quirky robot made from coffee machine parts and coffee cups cleaning the inside of a cafe window. 

"I hope other artists and businesses support this initiative to turn costly waste into admired and valuable art."

Put a pin in it

Some of the brightest lights in the design world get their chance to shine on Friday night (6 October) - with the Best Awards dished out in a glitzy do in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Among the many talented finalists are Creative Commerical Essentials alumni - a course supplied by The Big Idea's Topioto career development programme and Tātaki Auckland Unlimited - Kahu Gore Kahukura Taiapa-Johnson Hurae.

The Media Design School student is the running for recognition in the Student & Academic Toitanga category for his stunning animation Māuipōtiki (Māui the last born).

There will be hot competition for the gold, silver and bronze pins that reward excellence in Graphic, Spatial, Product, Digital and Moving Image categories, along with three special awards - Value of Design, Public Good and Toitanga. The very best piece of design in each discipline is given the supreme Purple Pin and held up as work that raises the bar of New Zealand design, while the most coveted acknowledgement of all is the Black pin, awarded to individuals for outstanding achievement.

Pick of the pods

Everyone's got a podcast these days, right?

Then that puts a whole lot of creatives in the running to nominate for the New Zealand Podcast Awards - with entries just opening and closing on 26 October.

While there are plenty of categories, ones that may be of interest to the creative community include Best Arts and Culture Podcast - which saw Mai FM's Aotearoa Hip Hop: The Music, The People, The History win Gold last year, with silver going to He Reo Tawhito - conversations about Mōteatea by Toi te Arapūoru | SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music and bronze to Kadambari Raghukumar's Voices - Best Fiction Podcast, Best Māori or Pasifika Podcast or Host, Best Entertainment Podcast and the Rising Star Award. There's also a Listeners’ Choice award.

So if you want to have a chance of getting national recognition for your pod on 30 November - best get cracking.

Board youth

Big changes are afoot at Youth Arts New Zealand (YANZ) - an organisation with the sole focus of representing the often-underrepresented stage of the creative journey.

They've announced two new Trustees to their board - one who is already well-steeped in the organisation's kaupapa.

YANZ 2.jpgCreative writer, student, and rangatahi advocate West Aucklander Zak Devey (above) was already instrumental as a co-founder of YANZ  before joining the Board of Trustees, currently studying towards a PhD in Education at the University of Oxford with support from the Rhodes Scholarship. Devey's stated mission is to realise equitable and safe access to self-expression for Aotearoa’s rangatahi.

 

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He's joined by Waikato performing artist Kauri Tearaura (above), who is already an experienced governor with experience in the creative sector. They have been involved with organisations like RainbowYOUTH, the Young Workers Resource Centre, and Seed Waikato, as well as driving the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy for the Department of Corrections in Te Waipounamu, the South Island.

YANZ Chair Tania Jones told The Lowdown “We are very excited to welcome Zak and Kauri as new Trustees to add their lived experience as young creatives and leaders to the YANZ whānau. 

"They bring different skill sets and viewpoints to complement the current Trustees and are committed to equity of access for creative expression and the development of an enabling arts ecosystem for rangatahi throughout Aotearoa. I look forward to working with them as we continue the journey of our youth-led organisation into youth-led governance.”

YANZ is also still looking for a new Chief Executive (job listing here) with the well-regarded Matthew Goldsworthy moving on after 5 years, as is Operations Manager Harrison Sugrue.

So you want to be a filmmaker?

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25 Kiwi films will be on display as the popular Show Me Shorts begins its 18th addition on Friday (6 October) - with more than 100 screenings of 86 short films to take place in over 35 venues nationwide, starting at Auckland's The Hollywood Avondale before heading south next week. 

Just as important as the screenings - Show Me Shorts is kicking off a new initiative as part of the festival - its first annual Industry Day - a day of workshops, networking, film screenings and awards this Sunday (8 October) in Auckland.

It's conceived as a baby Big Screen Symposium for emerging filmmakers - perfect for anyone interested to learn about short filmmaking from those with experience, how film festivals work and ask questions of international programmers. 

For those outside of Tāmaki Makaurau, there will also be Filmmaker Talks in Wellington and Christchurch to help encourage and develop the next generation of Kiwi filmmakers.