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Lowdown: Calling Out Lack Of Art Policy As Election Nears

06 Jul 2023

Do you know what political parties stand for when it comes to arts and culture? Your arts news bulletin looks at the latest call to action, a major creative departure and NZ success stories both locally and globally.

Image: Shutterstock.

18 weeks - that's how long until the election.

Doesn't sound far away when you put it in that context - but for anyone who will consider how potential governments view or treat arts and culture, there's an awful lot that needs to happen in that time.

Back in March, The Big Idea published an open letter from a decorated and well-credentialed group of arts leaders calling for the creative community to look for answers from Aotearoa's political parties when it comes to their lack of arts policy in an election year.

It was even met with a right of reply taken up by most of the parties, published here days later.

Almost four months later - progress in this conversation isn't moving fast, despite the election campaigns ramping up all around us.

That doesn't sit well with the collective of Judy Darragh, Sir Roger Hall, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Eve de Castro-Robinson, John Daly-Peoples, Professor Peter O’Connor and Roger Horrocks, who have again put the call out "to everyone involved in the arts."   

They write "We wanted to promote the idea that before the election on 14 October, each of the political parties should be expected to offer some ambitious, long-term policies for the arts. 

"During previous elections, the parties have tended to pay little or no attention to our sector. Today, other sectors are busily lobbying for their requests, and they tend to have stronger and more unified campaigns.

"Our initial letter had an amazing response from the arts community. Our thanks to the dozens of organisations who sent messages to express their agreement with our concerns. We have also received some moving reports from individual artists of hard times they are experiencing. 

"As for our request to the political parties for arts policies, some have provided some ideas (particularly the Greens and Labour), but none has offered future-proof arts planning which does not rely on lotteries funding.  

"One politician replied that 'We are working on a position for the Party but it is new territory for us' (!) With the election now 18 weeks away, it seems important to keep up the pressure, for everyone to keep writing to politicians asking for their position on the arts.

"Since our letter went out, there have been some developments:

  • A report on the income of creative professionals in our country, sponsored by Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air, appeared recently. Like the previous report in 2018, its findings are deeply disturbing. The median income for creative work is only $19,500 per year. More than half of our creative professionals have a second job, but even then, their median income is only $37,000 compared with $61,800 which is the average figure for salary and wage earners in New Zealand. Among the groups in trouble are the 47% of music and sound artists whose income is even lower now than it was in February 2020. 



  • Resale Royalties: From 2024, all artworks sold in our country in the secondary market will pay 5% to the artist or an artist estate, with payment shared between the seller and auction house, with 2.5% each. Most European countries have had this scheme for many years, we are now aligned with music and writers re royalty payments. The policy has been put before parliament and will start operating next year.  It has taken more than a dozen years of activism to achieve this result, but it is proof that lobbying can have an effect! It is also a reminder of the possibility of other forms of tax support for the arts (as happens in other countries).



  • There continues to be a serious threat to arts organisations in Auckland in next year’s Council budget, although the lobbying we all did on this issue does appear to have made the Council more cautious.

"The study of the arts and practical experience of the arts in schools remains haphazard and at the mercy of a relentless focus on literacy and numeracy skills.  The contraction of the arts in schools will accelerate if some political parties are elected into government.  The dismantling of the arts and humanities at university level (as covered again today in The Big Idea) is a direct result of successive governments’ narrow vision for higher education, and the collapse of the ideal of the university creating critical, creative citizens.  A healthy arts education is vital to the wider arts ecosystem. 

"Two other issues which continue to receive much discussion in the arts community are: (1) How can Creative NZ and MCH be made to function better? And (2) Why do we not yet have any clear plans for the future of Radio NZ and TVNZ?

"Our group is an informal one and is not aligned with any particular party. We simply share the aim of encouraging the arts community to be as energetic as possible in its lobbying. We urge all organisations and individuals to seize the opportunity presented by the coming election."

The open letters are bringing the topic to the table for many - including political commentator Chris Trotter writing an arts-focused column not long after the last letter, stating "nation-building isn’t just about erecting hospitals, schools and hydro-electric schemes - it’s about resourcing New Zealand’s artists to create and shape the development of a unique national character." 

Calling out political parties and government policy can hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as opera heavyweight Simon O'Neill discovered - forced into an apology after his "unfiltered and ill-advised statements" in a leaked email regarding the funding of Māori arts and studies in the heated debate around Victoria University of Wellington's funding cuts.

There's nothing leaked about this distinguished group's message - it's open and a call to action.

Horrocks told The Lowdown: 

It really does feel as though the arts infrastructure is collapsing. 

Horrocks continues "We are astonished that, as yet, there has been no political interest that we are aware of in the Australian arts reforms or the latest CNZ survey of artist incomes."

Their focus has been on contacting politicians - and they don't plan to let up. 

"Some politicians do reply - (Green MP) Chloe Swarbrick has been the most responsive. We’ve had zoom meetings with some National spokespeople.  But that sort of thing often feels perfunctory. We would like to hear more from Labour – they certainly gave some support during the pandemic, but don’t they have any new ideas or long term plans for the arts? 

The Big Idea is approaching all the parties currently in parliament to ask them where their policies stand and when they plan to outline their plans for arts and culture for 2024 and beyond.

Jack hits the road


A major blow for Atamira Dance Company, with its founder and creative inspiration Jack Gray (above) parting ways with the organisation.

Gray, a hugely admired choreographer and creative community thought-leader and advocate, is so much more than just the Artistic Director - he is the founder of the dance organisation that went from a concept in his head in 1999 to becoming an internationally admired dance company that's just completed another successful trip to the United States earlier this year.

Over the last 24 years, Gray has held several positions within the organisation in between a couple of OEs - including as a performer - and has been a rock as Atamira's Artist director since 2017.

Gray told The Lowdown “It has been a realisation of a dream for me to dedicate my vision to the strengthening of our art form of Māori contemporary dance globally. 

In the future, I see myself exploring other international, Indigenous and interdisciplinary collaborations, furthering my own skills with a range of artists and communities. It will be refreshing to see where things head as the world continues to adapt and transition”.

Gray finishes up on Friday (7 July) with huge shoes to fill and much to continue to give the creative community - whatever lies ahead of him.

Tibble on top

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Tayi Tibble in Paris. Photo: Twitter/@paniaofthekeef

Tayi Tibble's talents and drive knows no bounds.

Readers of one of New Zealand's leading young creative's poetry will know this already, but the rest of the world is catching up - fast.

The unapologetically authentic Tibble has been the toast of Aotearoa's literary world this week - with praise flowing freely on social media - after her poem Creation Story was published in the famed New Yorker magazine.

It was the little touches too - she was described as "an Indigenous writer from Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa" - not by its English monikers. The te reo in her poetry wasn't given a translation for the American and global audiences not accustomed to Māori.

Applause has come from countless esteemed literary corners - including Aotearoa's current hottest property in fiction Catherine Chidgey - as it should for the first Māori writer and fourth NZer ever to feature in those esteemed pages. (Janet Frame, CK Stead and Bill Manhire make up the rest of that exclusive club)

Tibble told Newsroom's Steve Braunias "I’m just happy they selected this poem because it’s pretty buzzy, long tbh and I’m proud of it. I think it's a full representation of my Māoritanga, perspective and artistic kaupapa."

When discussing her "dream placement" with Stuff's Jody O'Callaghan, Tibble remarks "It’s very validating, because what I feel like I do is try and share our stories, but these stories can take you all over the world.

“I hope that I might represent to some rangatahi that our stories and our culture matter, and it can take you anywhere.”

With another book due out this year, Tibble is no 'best kept secret' - rather a diamond shining bright on the world stage. And pleasingly, that shine doesn't look like it's about to dull any time soon, so grab your sunglasses and soak it in.

Pacific spotlight

Sam V. Photo: Supplied.

Several local musicians better start preparing multiple acceptance speeches- just in case their names get called on the regular during the 2023 Pacific Music Awards next month in Manukau.

The finalists have been revealed - with 24 artists and groups up for the 13 categories - including 10 first-time finalists and 13 previous award winners.

Three creatives are each nominated for four award categories at this year’s awards.


Hip hop talent MELODOWNZ (above) is nominated for Best Pacific Male Artist, Best Pacific Hip Hop Artist and Best Pacific Music Album for his album Lone Wolf as well as Best Pacific Music Video for Pray For Me, featuring Lisi and Mikey Dam (directed by Connor Pritchard). 

Dancer, director and musician Olivia Foa’i (below) is up for Best Pacific Female Artist, Best Pacific Language and Best Pacific Song and Best Pacific Music Video (with director Shae Sterling) for her song Sunlight

olivia foai.jpg

And RnB artist Sam V is in the running for Best Pacific Male Artist, Best Pacific Soul/RnB Artist for The one, the lonely EP, and Best Pacific Song and Best Producer for Come Through - while his work with fellow producer Edward Liu with Sex & Pain, Love Again and I Tried To Tell U is also nominated.

Not far behind in the nominations tally are soul singer Lou’ana (Best Pacific Female Artist, Best Pacific Soul/RnB Artist and Best Pacific Music Video for Lost & Found alongside director Anna Rose Duckworth) and singer-songwriter Victor J Sefo (Best Pacific Male Artist, Best Pacific Song and Best Producer for self-produced tracks 685 and 685 Remix) with three each. 

Alongside the 13 award categories,  additional awards like the Phillip Fuemana Most Promising Pacific Artist, the People’s Choice Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award will also be dished out.

You can check out all the nominee's mahi in this playlist.

Choral conquerers

More Pacific music recognition with the winner of the 2023 SOUNZ-NZCF Choral Composition Competitions after a record number of entries.

And in case you're wondering which schools are the leading light in choral competition - Westlake has it on lockdown.

Westlake Girls' High School student Matilda Faamausili has been crowned the top of the class for her composition - with Westlake Boys' Declan Squire sharing second equal with Rangi Ruru Girls' School's Ameera Woods.

Faamausili states “Finding out I gained first place in the competition was such an amazing feeling, especially as I was a runner-up last year. I knew at that moment that all my hard work and determination had paid off. 

"My passion for music and composition has grown massively this year and I plan to study music at the University of Auckland next year and major in Composition."

Westlake Girls made it a double with Bella Allan-Moetaua winning the SOUNZ-NZCF Te Reo Māori ​​​​​Choral Composition Award. The pair will be presented with their trophies at The Big Sing Finale in the Auckland Town Hall on 27 August. 

Bella Allan-Moetaua (left) and Matilda Faamausili (right). Photo: Supplied.