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Lowdown - Creative Leadership on Merry-Go-Round

19 Jan 2023
The leading arts news bulletin is back for 2023 - and rips straight into the big issues. Who's leaving their gigs and what happens next plus farewells and congratulations are in order.

The year is barely out of the starting blocks - but a trend is already raising its head in the creative community.


In less than three weeks, the turnover of arts leadership roles is quite phenomenal.


The Big Idea repeatedly looked into the changing of the guard in key creative organisation roles in 2022, with concern about the knowledge that was leaving the sector.


So far in 2023, there has already been some experience lost from our shores, including Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Artistic Director Patricia Barker returning to the States and taking her 43 years in the dance sector (the last five and a half of them at RNZB) with her.


One of the most promising members of the next generation of arts leaders, Max Tweedie has called time on his four year stint as Executive Director of Auckland Pride - two weeks out from this year’s anticipated month-long festival.


Bringing the festival to life after the devastation of last year’s cancellation remains his sole focus before he eventually hands over the reins (with the hunt already under way for his replacement - see the job listing here).


Tweedie told The Lowdown he’s not sure what his next destination will be - or in which sector.


“I'd be really open to another role in the arts. It's been one of the great joys of the job, learning and understanding the arts industry, the arts communities, the intricacies of the sector and its really pivotal role in our society.


“I've learned so much about myself in the last four years - there's obviously a lot else in this world for me to learn and I am interested in changing gears.”


He’s far from alone.


With the announcement of Tauranga Art Gallery’s Stephen Cleland resigning as Director (with Megan Cleverly taking over as Acting Director), Andrew Clifford leaving Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery for the vacant Director job at Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery and former Creative Capital Arts Trust Chief Executive and Venues Wellington events booker Gus Sharp named the inaugural manger for the under-construction Waikato Regional Theatre - there’s plenty of movement happening at the moment.


But it feels more like a leadership merry-go-round than an overall talent drain.


Tweedie agrees there are definitely still winds of change sweeping through arts leadership right now.


“We got swept up in that last year when we had a change of Creative Directors with Elyssia (Wilson-Heti) resigning and Nathan (Joe)  joining. It was very evident throughout the sector and as we emerge back out, I think that will continue to be the case.”


Nathan Joe (left) and Max Tweedie. Photo: Supplied.


Tweedie is somewhat of a leadership prodigy, taking over the Auckland Pride as a 21 year-old. Now just shy of his 25th birthday, he’s given insight into the impact the role can have, especially when the job and your social life become intrinsically intertwined.


Despite the cancellations and the very public funding challenges, Tweedie insists there was no ‘breaking point’ - he always considered the four year mark as the ideal milestone to assess his future.


“There wasn't a moment where it was like, ‘screw this’ or ‘I can't do this anymore’. I think it's just a realisation that where the organisation needs to go deserves to have some fresh energy and someone that hasn't been focused on putting out fires for the last four years.”


There won’t be a single arts leader or decision maker who wasn’t nodding their head at that last statement. Some fires were too big to put out over the last three years, and many good people got burned - or just burned out.


Change isn’t just needed for the organisations in some cases - those who have been through it need a change of scenery to recharge their creative batteries.


“It has absolutely been taxing and I don't think that's a surprise to anyone - I think it probably would have been more surprising if I said it wasn't,” Tweedie laughs.


“We have had significant and constant challenges as an organisation, as a community, as a sector. To some extent, I knew that there would be a challenge taking on the role but I didn't perceive that there was going to be a global pandemic in the middle of it.


“At times, it felt like I was just a COVID-19 response and risk manager - a contingency planner. But I was just really inspired by our queer ancestors who obviously continued to deliver Pride events and queer community events amidst an epidemic of our own.


“My mental health went through the wringer in February last year (when Auckland Pride had to be cancelled), constantly thinking ‘well, we should be at this right now’. That was quite tough, not just for me, but our whole team. It's just so exciting to now be two weeks away from a Festival that will indeed happen live and in person.


“It wouldn't surprise me if there's other people like myself that are wanting to make sure the ship has a good next captain and is in clear waters before a changing of the guard - that was my priority.”


Tweedie has a bright future, wherever he lands. Fingers crossed the right role can keep him in the creative sector once the dust and glitter settles on what should be another successful Pride Festival.

Tautai triumph

Aanoalii Rowena Fuluifaga. Photo: Helena Fuluifaga.


Another piece of the leadership jigsaw has fallen into place with the confirmation of Aanoalii Rowena Fuluifaga as the new Director of Tautai Contemporary Pacific Art Gallery.


With two decades of experience in the arts and education sectors both here and internationally, Fuluifaga comes into the role after a highly regarded stint at Unitec, where she was lecturer in Theory and Contextual Studies for the Department of Design and Contemporary Arts. 


Her research into contemporary Pacific art and design, tatau (tattoo) and the Samoan notion of vā (space) within an Aotearoa spatial context will be of huge importance in her new gig.


Fuluifaga enthuses “I’m blessed to be surrounded by strong women - the Samoan saying ‘e au le inailau a tamaitai’ talks about the woman's legacy, resilience, and perseverance in achieving the required tasks and refers to the leadership of women in the Pacific. My appointment here at Tautai would not be without the women in my life and the men who allow them to lead.”


Among those attending her welcome ava ceremony this week was Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni, who posted on Facebook “you will be exceptional in this role - go well my West Auckland Pacifica sister!”


Rebel remembered


We’ve also begun the sad process of farewelling some of Aotearoa’s great creative contributors for the year.


The music industry is mourning the passing of Larry Morris - the powerhouse frontman for Larry’s Rebels.



A real personality, Morris was a distinctive performer who helped propel the group into the charts with a history-making five consecutive top 10 hits in the 1960s. He lived a colourful life with four wives, five children and a stint in prison for LSD possession - even once referred to as a “degenerate” by former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.


But for many, they’ll remember him how another ex-PM, Helen Clark, described him - a “true Kiwi music icon.”



AudioCulture - always a wonderful source of our music history and backstories - have a great deep dive article from 2016 by Murray Cammick, as well as a tribute from Simon Grigg on their Facebook page.


“Larry Morris was one of the great figures of New Zealand music: talented both as a singer and a songwriter, absolutely unique and a man who defined his era”. 


Steve Braunias’s New Zealand Herald 2017 character profile on Morris is a must-read - and singer/songwriter Rietta Austin told Stuff that Morris “was one of those people who inspired you, he could be himself in a world of music where nobody is allowed to be themselves any more.


“He was a rebel to the end.”


Morris was playing gigs up until very recently at the age of 75. As Morris said in the band’s induction into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame,“you can live a long time with music” - his musical legacy will live on.


That's all folk


Butter Wouldn't Melt. Photo: Supplied.

The Auckland Folk Festival returns next weekend after last year’s COVID cancellation and will be the location of the first music award handed out in 2023.


The finalists have just been named for the Best Folk Artist Tūī. 2020 winner Mel Parsons is in the final three for the fourth time in her career for Slow Burn, alongside first-time finalists Butter Wouldn’t Melt - whose debut album Eve of 31 include songs about the Napier earthquake and the ghost of Wellington’s tunnel - and quintet T-Bone, after their album Good ‘n Greasy debuted at number two on the NZ Album charts.


Status update


Another set of finalists have been named for a proudly Cantabrian event.


The Ashburton Art Gallery will host its seventh Zonta Ashburton Female Art Awards with 87 entries whittled down to 42 - 29 in the Premier Award and 13 in the Young Generation Award (aged between 16-20).


The awards are open to all emerging and mid-career female artists - or those who identify as female artists - residing in Canterbury, with the goal of “raising the status of female visual artists and recognise excellence in fine arts practice."


Last year's Awards exhibition installation. Photo: Ashburton Art Gallery.


There are no previous winners in the field, but it could be fifth time a charm for collaborators Edwards + Johann, who have been finalists for the last four years. Ina Johann (2019-2021), Amie Blackwell (2021-22), Kate Cairns (2022), Rebecca Smallridge (2020) and Rebecca Stewart have all been finalists before as well.


The judging panel consists of contemporary artist Professor Jane Venis, Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Kairauhī Curator Lauren Gutsell and contemporary visual artist and Senior Lecturer in Photography at Whiti o Rehua School of Art Massey University’s School of Art Caroline McQuarrie.


The Premier Award finalists are competing for a cash prize of $3,500, as well as the chance to hold a solo exhibition at the Gallery the following year, fully curated and professionally installed.


The Young Generation award winner will pocket $500.


The awards will be dished out at the finalists exhibition opening on 10 March with the show running through to 23 April. Last year’s winner, Audrey Baldwin will have her exhibition opening on the same night.


Byrt in earnest


Anyone can make big plans at the start of the year - it’s another thing entirely to land a residency that forces you to make them a reality.


Highly regarded author and art critic Anthony Byrt (below) has a huge 2023 planned and it will be the focal point of his freshly-minted position as University of Waikato’s 2023 Writer In Residence.



Over the next 12 months, Byrt will spend time on the road with artist Shane Cotton for his new book, begin his interview-based collaboration with painter Judy Millar at her West Auckland studio and launch a book he’s been researching for over a decade, The Forty Days - the standoff with New Zealand and Yugoslav forces over Trieste, Italy, in 1945. 


All while spending time on campus and engaging with students and colleagues.


On tackling his three major projects, Byrt states “Hamilton is an ideal base for me, where I can have the time to consolidate and process the material I’ve gathered on the road.


“While it’s ambitious to take on three projects in a year, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to contemplate that level of ambition without the support of the University.


“There are a limited number of residencies in the country with this length of time attached to them, so 12 months in an academic setting with research resources at my disposal is a super rare gift to be given.”


The stage is calling


ATC's Youth Company 2022. Photo: Megan Goldsman.

Auckland Theatre Company’s putting the call out to aspiring theatre artists to attend an open youth audition later this month.


It’s part of ATC’s two initiatives for young people aged between 16-25 looking to build a career in the theatre. They’ve opened registrations for Youth Associates, a new, entry-level programme for 50 rangatahi to sample professional theatre life, or the Youth Company, a free, part-time training programme for emerging actors that is designed to inspire and champion the next generation of performers. 


After piloting the Company programme last year, ATC states that it’s led to many of those involved taking their next professional steps, including joining national theatre tours, moving into full time artistic tertiary study in Aotearoa, and a further four members going overseas to vocational training institutions in the UK, USA, and Australia. 


Both programmes are set to see the next generation get hands-on experience and support from established professionals in the hope of building the creatives of tomorrow.