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Lowdown: Devasting Lows, Hopeful Highs For Arts Institutions

20 Jun 2024

A much-loved gallery closes its doors for good, others make progress to opening them again after decade-long breaks, historic news, new funding boosts and creative opportunities.

Another beloved arts institution is putting up the closed sign - permanently.

It's been revealed that AVID Gallery in Wellington will be shutting its doors after a potential sale fell through for owners Judith and Peter Carswell.

The pair had always planned to bestow the legacy of the 32-year-old gallery (of which they've been proud custodians for the past decade) onto a new kaitiaki.

In a letter to their clients, the pair wrote "Following our decision to retire this year, we had hoped to pass the gallery onto a new generation of owners – and until this week this seemed to be the most likely outcome. 

"While we’ve had a strong response from a number of people interested in buying the gallery, unfortunately the current recession in New Zealand - and the dire economic outlook for Wellington in particular - has shaken the confidence of potential new entrants into the world of art dealership.

"The late withdrawal of the likely new owner has coincided with the end of our lease in Victoria Street and unfortunately that means that AVID will be closing. 

"This is a tragic outcome for a gallery with such a long and proud history and one which has always been a strong and profitable business.

"We know that the closure will be particularly hard on the wonderful artists we have been privileged to represent and will leave a big gap for the many clients who have formed such a special relationship with AVID Gallery over the past 32 years."

Judith - who in April wrote an insight on the misunderstood role of dealer galleries in Aotearoa for The Big Idea - was still coming to terms with the news when contacted by The Lowdown.

"The response to the news has been quite overwhelming," she expressed.  

"We’ve been contacted by literally hundreds of people around New Zealand – and from places as far afield as the US, China, the UK, Sweden, Singapore and Australia -  expressing their sadness at the loss of such an important cultural institution. 

"To say that there’s been an outpouring of grief would not be an over-statement."

Glass sculpture creative Lalya Walter is among those feeling the impending loss.

She reflects on social media “This is a sad moment - personally, professionally and communally (with my Mahi ā Ringa - Craft New Zealand Aotearoa pōtai (hat) on, and personally as a maker. AVID has represented my work since the 1990’s).

"Through a warm-hearted series of owners, a lifetime of representation and shared enthusiasm for well-made craft. An exuberance for style, texture, form, function, context, Aotearoa, this is home, wear it well, use it, love it, pass it on to family and friends, receive it, feel it. 

"Craft. Object. Jewellery. AVID was the place to go”.

Walter is just one of many exceptional artists who had their careers enhanced and their mahi represented by AVID over the decades.

Commercial realities bite for us all - and this particular reality will bite hard for many in Wellington, as well as the national craft/object community.

Sarjeant's major news

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Image: Courtesy of Te Whare o Rehua Sarjeant Gallery.

While one much-loved gallery is coming to an end, another iconic one is on the countdown to its return.

Whanganui creative treasure the Sarjeant Gallery gave the creative community a date to put in their calendars. 9 November - the day the well-established institution will be re-opening its doors after a decade.

One of Aotearoa's oldest purpose-built galleries (originally opened in 1919) has been reimagined, set to span more than 4,500 sqm and is part of an incredible expansion and earthquake-strengthening that will include 10 exhibition spaces, a photo studio, workshops, a west-facing atrium which serves as a new entrance and a carved totara waka walk bridge, which links the original heritage gallery to the new wing - the new state-of-the-art Te Pātaka o Tā Te Atawhai Archie John Taiaroa.

Throw in the now must-have event space facilities like a family room, a reading room and library, retail space, a café, and publicly accessible event and meeting rooms - you get the sense of how big a deal this will be for the region.

Its nationally significant collection of over 9000 items is the largest held in a public gallery outside of the country's main centres, now better protected with a temperature and humidity-controlled storage area.

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 Artist render of the fully completed park and gallery. Image: Supplied.

Gallery Director Andrew Clifford told The Lowdown "The announcement of our opening date, which is still roughly five months away, might seem like a small detail for much later in the year. But we’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the wave of excitement and positive responses we’ve received. 

"For our community, who haven’t been in the heritage building for ten years now, this announcement provides certainty and a light at the end of the tunnel. 

"The much-talked-about launch of Te Whare o Rehua Sarjeant Gallery is real and will happen before the year is out, which will be here before we know. The current phase of our long-anticipated project is drawing to a close and the next chapter in our story is about to start."

Locals will be excited to see the scaffolding finally come down from its signature 14-metre-high dome and Oamaru stone exterior in a few months time.

This has been an extensive, exhaustive process costing around $70 million. With the government throwing in $42.4m and local council contributing in the vicinity of $17m - nearly $11 million has been donated by community and private trusts and individuals, showing what this gallery means to so many.

“This significant project for Whanganui and New Zealand has been nearly 30 years in the making, and I know the opening is eagerly awaited by many,” Sarjeant Gallery Trust Chair Nicola Williams states. 

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the Gallery’s many nationwide supporters and benefactors, Whanganui ratepayers, Iwi, local and central government. Their collective support, generosity and unwavering commitment comes from a united appreciation of art’s profound impact on society and importance to national and local culture." 

$400,000 boost

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Rotorua Museum. Photo: Rotoura Lakes Council.

Another historic venue that has been closed to the public for an extended stretch has some positive news too.

The Rotorua Museum has been shut since November 2016 due to seismic vulnerabilities - but the Rotorua Lakes Council has been given a New Zealand Community Trust (NZCT) multi-year grant of $400,000 to aid in its strengthening, restoration, and redevelopment with construction due to begin this month.

The estimated completion is 2027 - which would see culture lovers through the doors for the first time in 11 years.

Mayor Tania Tapsell says “We heard from our community how well-loved this building is and that there is strong support to re-open. The support from NZCT and other funders is yet another step towards reopening the doors of the Rotorua Bath House and Museum to everyone”

Rotorua Lakes Council, Arts, Culture & Mahi Toi Manager Stewart Brown adds “When it was open, Rotorua Museum attracted around 100,000 to 120,000 visitors each year, sharing the stories of the Rotorua region and its people.”

The project - expected to cost $73.55m - is now fully funded, with fundraising for exhibition work ongoing.

The museum houses a nationally significant collection of over 55,000 objects, including social history artifacts, art, photography, and more than two thousand taonga Māori.

Historic addition

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William Strutt, War Dance at Taranaki, New Zealand, Mount Egmont, in the distance exhibited 1857, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased with assistance from Andrew and Jenny Smith, the Lyndsay Garland Trust, Graeme Maunsell Trust, Dr Ian Wilson bequest and R H Berryman bequest, 2023. 

Auckland Art Gallery (AAG) is also no stranger to hosting special items in Aotearoa's rich artistic history.

Now they're able to add a couple of new firsts to its list of accolades.

AAG has acquired what is believed to be the earliest oil painting of a haka. War Dance at Taranaki, New Zealand, Mount Egmont, in the distance - by English artist William Strutt - was first exhibited in 1857 in Melbourne. While it's been around for 166 years, it's rarely been seen in public and is said to be in excellent condition for a work of its age. Now it hangs on the walls in Tāmaki Makaurau, in the Taimoana | Coastlines: Art in Aotearoa display.

The Gallery purchased the painting from Art+Object by a private treaty sale for $885,000 with funding from several trust funds dedicated to supporting the Gallery’s collection, contributions from private individuals and the Gallery’s collection development budget.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited Gallery Director Kirsten Lacy states “War Dance at Taranaki, New Zealand, Mount Egmont, in the distance is an incredibly rare artwork and a major addition to the Gallery’s collection. A small painting with a huge story to tell, this work holds immense historical importance, and I am delighted to be bringing this into a public collection where all can enjoy and learn from it.

“Artworks of this calibre are rare on the market – the last time the Gallery purchased a historic New Zealand work of this significance was 34 years ago in 1990,” adds Lacy.

Curator Historical New Zealand Art Dr Jane Davidson-Ladd says the painting is an imagined scene based on the artist’s sketches of the Taranaki region, Māori and men doing haka which he observed during his brief residence in New Zealand.

“Strutt was in Taranaki during a critical time in its history, capturing moments and events that still resonate today. While the painting predates the New Zealand Wars in Taranaki by three years, it shows the tensions among Māori that the unceasing Pākehā demand for land caused. The painting is like a portal to our past, allowing us to confront this history.”   

Poumatua Head of Kaupapa Māori Joe Pihema details “Te Toi o Tāmaki is pleased to have facilitated a process that brings this significant taonga back into the public domain. The Taranaki iwi connected to this painting have been kind and generous in sharing their knowledge and mātauranga to provide a more fulsome historical context.”

In another big step, AAG has also announced a partnership that marks the first time an iwi has funded a nationwide New Zealand contemporary art exhibition.

Opening on 6 July, Aotearoa Contemporary provides a platform for new art and ideas in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Lacy declares it's an opportunity to showcase a new generation of artists, as well as our diverse artistic environment.

“Set to occur every three years, the exhibition provides ongoing representation and pathways for new artistic voices, bolstering the future resilience of New Zealand art. 

"Aotearoa needs a contemporary art triennial and it now has one.” 

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust Deputy Chair Ngarimu Blair explains the partnership, “Our tupuna Apihai Te Kawau gifted 3000 acres of land on the Waitematā on 18th September in 1840 to become a city which welcomed people, cultures and ideas from afar. Our relationship with Auckland Art Gallery is founded in the shared goal to foster the arts reflective of our multi-cultural community in Aotearoa.”
With an emphasis on artists not previously exhibited at the Gallery, the exhibition presents 27 artists and 22 new projects, ranging from painting to textiles, sculpture, ceramics, photography - and supersized soft toys.

Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, Natasha Conland says, “Aotearoa Contemporary reveals a new cluster of artists who work afresh with ritual and storytelling, mythology, rhythm, indigenous space and materials. There is also a special emphasis on art’s relationship with choreography through the commission of four dance works.”

Those performances integrated into the fold, will come from the talents of Pelenakeke Brown, Xin Ji, Amit Noy and Jahra Wasasala.

Aotearoa Contemporary has been scheduled to coincide with New Zealand’s leading contemporary art award, The Walters Prize 2024.

CNZ's big week

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Kent Gardner (right) welcomed into Creative NZ. Photo: CNZ/Facebook.

It has been a huge seven days of news and change for Creative NZ (CNZ).

Along with the announcement of Claire Murdoch as its new Senior Manager, Arts Development (the role vacated by Gretchen La Roche) and yesterday's $3.8m drop of two new funds (detailed here on The Big Idea), the big appointment came in the form of Kent Gardner taking on the mantle as the new Chair after Caren Rangi's departure.

CNZ posted on Facebook that he's already getting to know his new surroundings and colleagues.

"Our new Chair Kent Gardner was welcomed to Toi Aotearoa this morning (Wednesday 19 June) by Council members Shane Te Ruki (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato, Ngāti Porou)  and Whetū Fala (Ngā Rauru Kītahi, Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Maru ki Taranaki, Samoa, Rotuma). 

"In response, Kent spoke of his intention to make CNZ the best organisation it can be as it continues to encourage, promote and support the arts."

Music to artists' ears

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Rita Mae performing. Photo: James Ensing-Trussell.

The latest round of NZ On Air’s New Music Project (NMP) funding stream opens today (20 June) and it's bringing a new level of financial support with it.

NZ On Air announced that after their recent funding review, there has been a raft of changes to NMP funding - ending the requirement for financial co-investment, a $10,000 increase to take project funding to $50,000 – in addition to January's 10% mandatory Artist Creation Fee – and changing the drawdown process from reimbursement to predominantly advances.

The news has gone down well.

“We have received so much feedback - both from individual artists but also from artist managers, labels and other industry figures – all really pleased to see these changes put in place,” Teresa Patterson, Head of Music at NZ On Air told The Lowdown.

“Individual artists have messaged and thanked us, and talked about the impact these changes will have on their ability to plan and execute projects – as well as manage cashflow – in what is a super challenging market.”

Consultation with the industry indicated that the NZ On Air music funding has not been sufficient to meet the needs of the music industry. 

Patterson adds “In the current climate, it has been difficult for artists to cover the costs of recording and releasing their work before being re-imbursed. Now they can access advances to cover these costs.”

Prior to these changes, to be eligible for NMP applicants had to also financially co-invest in the project. That too has now been changed.

“We recognised that there is considerable spending around a release in areas that NZ On Air does not fund, such as touring both domestically and internationally, international marketing and promotion, creative direction and branding.

“We are really pleased to be able to bring a new range of changes that further recognise that career, financial stability and long-term sustainability are a huge challenge for artists in Aotearoa New Zealand as they seek to make their mark with audiences.”

Creativity takes flight

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Dominic Hoey has recently been extolling the virtues of seeking artistic residencies on TBI's Learning Network as part of his excellent module on selling yourself (click here to watch).

Now he's backing it up - and packing it up for another overseas trip to get his creative juices pumping.

Hoey has been selected as one half of the 2024 New Zealand-Australia residency exchange, an international residency programme held by Varuna, the Australian National Writers House in collaboration with the Michael King Writers Centre in Auckland.

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Hoey's home for four weeks in Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Hoey will be heading to New South Wales during October and November for a four-week stay at Varuna to work on his latest novel and appear at the Blue Mountains Writers Festival. Concurrently, Australian writer Kathryn Heyman will stay at the take part in the Verb Wellington Readers & Writers Festival during her stint at the Michael King Writers Centre.

A creative with many strings to his bow - novelist, poet, playwright, performer, co-founder of Dead Bird Books and writing programme Learn to Write Good - this is another golden opportunity for Hoey.

He told The Lowdown "The residency is a chance for me to reset after finishing my latest novel and begin working on the next big project. I've been lucky enough to do a few residencies in the past and it's a great way to produce shit loads of work (and lose your mind a bit). 

"I'm hoping to come home with a first draft of a new book and some contacts for doing more performing over in Australia. I think anytime artists are given space, funding, like any recognition of their work it's a positive. So often you're expected to create in the cracks of life, which isn't ideal."

It's a residency that's proved successful for the last NZ recipient - Emma Hislop used her time at Varuna to write Ruin and Other Stories, which went on to win Best First Fiction Book at this year's Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Hard work goes Farr

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Tracy Farr. Photo: Supplied.

Another New Zealand writer with something to celebrate this week is Tracy Farr - named as the 2024 Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize winner. 

Run by the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA), it's awarded to new writing of "unique and original vision'"with a cash prize of $2000 and a publishing contract with The Cuba Press - with Farr's winning manuscript, Wonderland, set to be published in 2025.

"I am over the moon – and a little overwhelmed, though in the best of ways," enthuses Farr, already an author of two internationally published novels and an award-winning short fiction writer.

"It’s hard for me to put into words just how much this means to me, particularly at this point in my writing career. Wonderland is a weird, multi-voiced, odd-on-the-page alt-historical novel about sisters and scientists, identity and reflection, about grief and loss and finding wonder. It’s taken me down many rabbit-holes in its writing, and it’s garnered support – including from CreativeNZ and Michael King Writers Centre – for which I’m truly grateful. 

"And yet, there’ve been dark moments when I thought this novel might never see the light of day. So I’m beyond thrilled that my very Wellington novel has found a home with wonderful Wellington publisher The Cuba Press."

Runner-up Abigail von Ahsen is also recognised with $1,000 for her manuscript Flawless.

NZSA has also announced the inaugural recipients of its Kaituhi Māori Mentorship and Kupu Kaitiaki Programmes.

Five emerging writers have been selected for a six-month opportunity to work closely with an acclaimed Māori writer as their mentor - Jessica Hinerangi Thompson-Carr (paired with Emma Hislop), Aroha Te Whata (paired with Steph Matuku), Jorja Heta (mentored by Kiri Piahana-Wong),  Miriama Gemmell (mentored by Arihia Latham), Te Ura I Te Āta (mentored by Vaughan Rapatahana in the Kupu Kaitiaki programme).


New Zealand's only contemporary art award that has ecology at its core has announced its 2024 finalists.

Over 75 proposals were put forward for the Estuary Art and Ecology Awards at East Auckland's Uxbridge, with 22 selected to be shown in the 18th annual exhibition starting from 6 July.

Among the finalists are Toipoto alumni Hannah Arnold, Niki Simpkin-Hill, Judith Lawson and Alysn Midgelow-Marsden - competing for a total prize pool of $10,000.