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Lowdown: Hard Decisions, New Directions & Last Calls

14 Dec 2023

Creative announcements ranging from bitter to sweet, a must-see opportunity for NZ curators, finalists found and new leaders step up - all in a busy week of arts news.

One of Aotearoa's longest-standing literary festivals is on shaky ground, with a troubling announcement this week.

Going West Festival has been connecting the country's writers with the community since 1996 - but won't be delivering a 2024 edition.

In a message from the Going West Trust - headed by co-founder Naomi McCleary - supporters were met with something to dampen their Christmas cheer, with an undertone that will be far too familiar for far too many creatives.

"COVID and its flow-on effects have cut a swathe through much of the arts world in Aotearoa, and Going West is no exception. Arts funding is at crisis point. Over the last three years, the Trust has staged a number of smaller-scale live events; built a strong online presence with podcasts from the Going West festival archive; published a book; and commissioned two seasons of poetry videos and two short documentaries. 

"However, right now Going West as a festival is going to take a break. We need to reinvent ourselves in the face of these changing and very uncertain times. The arts funding landscape has changed, in particular, and we need to assess the best way forward for us."

That uncertain future is also the case for Festival Director James Littlewood - whose role, like the festival, is going on hiatus. The Trust board singled him out for his tireless work after picking up the role during the pandemic with "unflagging enthusiasm and dedication."

Going West Trust will now focus its short-term attention on its Shadbolt House project, a writers' residency in the former Titirangi home of Maurice Shadbolt.

Pushing ahead

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NZ Fringe Festival. Photo: Roc Torio.

Thankfully, the show is still going on for many others - not that it has been easy. 

Festival announcements are in full swing, with New Zealand Fringe Festival the latest to reveal its 2024 lineup - dropping a programme that includes over 800 artists presenting more than 160 diverse events over its three-week season (16 February – 9 March).

Festival Director Vanessa Stacey told The Lowdown "New Zealand Fringe is where I cut my teeth as an artist many years ago post drama school, it kind of a rite of passage for most artists of note in Aotearoa, who often return throughout their careers, to test the waters with new works, It's not called the birthplace of brilliance for nothing. 

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Audience enjoying NZ Fringe. Photo: Roc Torio.

"Because Fringe is accessible price-wise, most audiences are generally a little more adventurous and forgiving, so it’s a wonderful place for artists to develop work, take some risks and be innovative. 

"With 25 years of practice as a multi-disciplinary artist and arts curation and education under my belt, I was excited to step into this role as the Festival Director using all of my skills and experience to help develop and diversify the festival. More space for more genres of arts and more inclusion of Indigenous works, while further developing our artist capabilities programme.

"The last three years have been interesting and at times challenging. Delivery of an entire festival of 170 + events during RED restrictions in 2022, venue capacities cut in half and our amazing team working in ‘bubbles’ so we could safely support our artists in sharing their work. But it was also the year we introduced our new “Most Promising Pacifica Artist” in our awards programme and the FATU Fund to support our Pacific artists alongside our Kākano funding round, with thanks to our good friends at CNZ Pacifica. 

"I also believe that it resulted in the community coming out in force to support the festival in 2023, with a record registration of amazing events, ticket sales up by 131% and the delivery of our most diverse, inclusive and successful festival yet. 

"This year we were also fortunate enough to have been successful in our bid for additional support from The Ministry of Culture and Heritage to assist with the development of our artist capabilities programme another record registration and we are in for one hell of a season! With 26 different genres of arts and events happening at 50 Performance spaces across the greater Pōneke region...come and get amongst it."

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CubaDupa in full swing. Photo: Amandala Photography.

It's been a big seven days for Wellington's creative community - with Aotearoa's largest street festival CubaDupa also confirming its return for 2024 (23-24 March).

Festival Director, Drew James explains “There is a big focus on bringing our audience along for the creative ride, with opportunities to take, participate, perform, dress-up and 'Find Your Wild' (the theme for next year's festival). 

"The audience will be encouraged to join dance parades down the streets. We are working with BodyFX to host BodyPalooza, a national bodypainting competition that will include a public parade and final showdown on the Main Stage. We are also creating the first ever Uke-a-Dupa, featuring over 20 ukulele groups throughout the festival streets, culminating in a mass performance.”

The first official line-up announcement is due in January, it's been confirmed Five-piece Polynesian Metal Band Shepherds Reign, Other Futures Big Band - a 20-piece put together with a wealth of Wellington talent - WHO SHOT SCOTT, polyhill and Jordyn with a Why will all take their place in the 2024 edition.

Silo bounces back

Silo Theatre is an example of 'taking a pause' and finding your feet again.

This time last year, The Lowdown covered Silo's news that “the stage lights will be off for a period in 2023 as the company resets its future.” That saw a nine-month period dedicated to the most significant investment in artistic development in the company's history.

One year on, one of Auckland's best-established theatre companies has launched a full 2024 season with four works, one of which was devised during that nine-month off-stage attention shift.  Artistic Director Sophie Roberts declares "This time, focused on creating, was an opportunity for us to refocus after the complexities of the last few years, and to strongly invest in our own storytelling."

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ScatterGun: After the Death of Rūaumoko. Photo: Toaki Okano.

Roberts, delivering her 10th programme in the role and the largest collection of work from Aotearoa that Silo has ever presented, told The Lowdown "The challenge I thought about a lot putting this season together was what do people need right now from storytelling? The world is very hard at this moment. The big question I considered was how do we face all this existential uncertainty without losing our sense of joy? How do we create experiences for audiences about things that really matter but ensure those experiences are life-affirming and playful and keep us all curious about the world and each other?

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Scenes from the Climate Era. Photo: Toaki Okano.

"These four stories are created by artists who have a deftness of touch and the capacity to speak to complex or difficult things with a sense of levity. That was what I was looking for this season, stories that will lift you up and make you feel better but also offer you a new perspective and a clear-eyed vision of the world we live in."

She underlines "They are stories about what it feels like to live in Aotearoa right now."

The 2024 season begins with ScatterGun: After the Death of Rūaumoko (18 April - 4 May, Q Theatre) - a solo work created and performed by award-winning artist, Ana Chaya Scotney that incorporates song, poetry and storytelling.

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A Slow Burlesque. Photo: Toaki Okano.

That's followed by the first collaboration between Silo and Auckland Theatre Company - the NZ premiere of Scenes from the Climate Era (2-24 August. Q Theatre), fresh from a critically-acclaimed world premiere season with Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre.

October sees the world premiere of one of those 2023 Silo developments - A Slow Burlesque (Basement Theatre), directed by freshly-minted Topp Prize winner Jo Randerson with Freya Silas Finch exploring the performance of gender through a collage of physical theatre, burlesque, absurd comedy and many, many costume changes. 

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Camping. Photo: Toaki Okano.

The season is capped with the return of a popular favourite to round of the calendar, Camping (14 November-7 December, Q Theatre) with Roberts directing the riotous quartet of Chris Parker, Tom Sainsbury, Kura Forrester and Brynley Stent.

In another sign of the times - Silo are also trading their Season Membership programme for a Silo Super Pass that lets holders see shows as many times as they like, sit in any available seat, and book whenever it takes their fancy. Further proof that those in the creative sector are doing what they can to offer more value and flexibility in the current (and foreseeable) climate.

London calling for Kiwi curators

Emerging and mid-career creatives can give themselves an early Christmas present - but it's going to need to be done Christmas Eve shopping style.

A 12-week, fully funded Residency in London is being offered up to New Zealanders interested in interested in how art can work outside of the traditional gallery setting. The deadline for applications is 5pm Thursday 14 December (NZT) - you can apply at this link.

It's put together by East Auckland-based creative institution Te Tuhi and London-based counterparts Delfina Foundation - with support from British Council Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific - and takes place from 2 April to 22 June 2024. The residency includes return travel to London, accommodation at Delfina Foundation and a daily stipend, as well as a chance to be embedded in the curatorial workings of Metroland Cultures for 2-3 days a week. 

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2023 curatorial resident James Tapsell-Kururangi with Metroland Cultures and Other Cinemas team members at a screening in Brent of moving image works by artists from Aotearoa. Photo: Supplied.

An arts charity based in the Borough of Brent, Metroland’s programme sits at the intersection of art and community. The residency can provide unique professional development opportunities related to exhibition organisation, project management, artist liaison support, research and public programming.

For the remainder of the week, the successful applicant will pursue their own research through a bespoke programme delivered by Delfina Foundation as part of their ‘open’ Spring 2023 residency season. This programme will include guided visits to museums, galleries, non-profits, artist-run spaces and studios, as well as trips to institutions outside London; opportunities to meet and engage with artists, curators, academics and researchers through organised presentations, studio visits, events and meals; and professional development activities including: presentations and crits, portfolio reviews, and mentoring activities. The resident will also benefit from career growth, mentorship as well as peer-to-peer exchange with other practitioners in residence.

Alongside the opportunity for the selected curator to research and learn in London, both Metroland Cultures and Delfina Foundation are interested in what the selected curator will bring with them from Aotearoa.

Māori curator and artist James Tapsell-Kururangi was the inaugural recipient of this incredible opportunity this year - with those who applied to the inaugural residency in 2023 welcome to re-apply for 2024.

Jolly news for Molly finalists

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.  Molly Morpeth Canaday Award 2023 exhibition with Angela Rowe's Selfie with Teacup in foreground. Photo: Supplied.

One of the most coveted contemporary arts awards in Aotearoa has whittled down its huge pool of entrants from 495 to 63 finalist works.

The Molly Morpeth Canaday Award 2024 (MMCA 2024) contenders have been named - with 59 different finalists found through the blind judging process where entries were assessed through digital images and accompanying artists' statements only - the creatives' identities were kept anonymous to the selection panel.

Four artists have the special recognition of having two artworks included in the final exhibition to be held at Te Kōputu a te Whanga a Toi, Whakatāne Museum, Library and Gallery - Taranaki's Elliot Collins (One Million, Two Hundred Forty-four Thousand and Three Hundred Acres and Did you get the watercress I left you?), Jennie De Groot from Hamilton (OK, Boomer and Cold Comfort), Kerikeri's Jane Molloy-Wolt (It was a sad day when I left Loppersum and My Father's Journey) and Charette van Eekelen from Christchurch (Breathing in Spring and Big Magic).

There are several former finalists back for another crack at the $10,000 top prize including Ming Ranginui, Moniek Schrijer, Liz Sharek and Constanza Briceno, while Oliver Cain and Wesley John Fourie have graduated from winning the Youth Award in previous years to be in the running.

The standard as always is exceptionally high, with a panel of preliminary judges Dr. Jeremy Mayall, Darcell Apelu, and Emily Hartley-Skudder working across 2D and 3D genres, as the MMCA Painting & Drawing and 3D merged and accepted all art forms this year (for those keeping count, this year's split is 24 3D works and 40 2D works).

Mayall notes "What I've come up with are things that resonate with me, explore themes of family, place, self, hope, joy, and play, and/or explore materials in an interesting way. They seemed to be works that connected with things I'm thinking about, or ideas that connected with the world and my current place in it." 

The responsibility is now handed over to Guest judge, Sarjeant Gallery Director Andrew Clifford to select the winners ahead of the main award ceremony and exhibition opening on 17 February.

Aloha, Aotearoa

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Te Kapa Haka o Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, 2023 winners of Te Matatini and part of the delegation to the 2024 Festival of Pacific Arts in Hawai’i, Honolulu.

85 artists and performers - spanning 11 art forms - have been selected to represent Aotearoa at the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPAC) in Hawai’i next year.

The Arts Council’s Kōmiti Māori co-Chairs Bonita Bigham and Kura Moeahu head the delegation, with Creative New Zealand (CNZ) providing travel and living costs while in Hawai’i and some project funding ahead of the June 2024 event.

FestPAC is the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders, drawing artists, cultural practitioners, scholars, and officials from 28 member nations of the Pacific community, aimed at revitalising traditional arts practices through cultural exchange. Hawai’i was set to host the event in 2020 but the Covid pandemic saw its postponement. 

The vision for the New Zealand delegation focuses on uniting treasures and people to Hawaiki –’ He Herenga Kura, He Herenga Tāngata ki Hawaiki’. It’s theme, ‘Taku Hoe’, aims to unite talent and mana across the ocean as paddlers, navigators, and guardians of indigenous knowledge. Aotearoa's traditional waka practices will be to the fore with the delegation, with ten representatives led by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr working with local communities in Hawai’i who lost their waka due to the Maui fires. 

Another prominent feature is the Youth Ambassador Leadership programme, with Poroaki Merritt-McDonald and Annafinau Tukuitoga Ponita chosen to represent Aotearoa.

“We’ve selected two rangatahi as our youth ambassadors, both remarkable young people who are already making their mark as artists and leaders,” Moeahu states. “As well as looking back across our time-honoured Pacific ways of being, FestPAC also looks toward a sustainable future. The Youth Ambassador programme helps our rangatahi make connections as they face the challenges to come.”  

Te Matatini champions Te Whānau-ā-Apanui will perform at the event, with ngā toi Māori represented through tāonga pūoro, (musical instruments), raranga (weaving), whaikairo (carving), uku (pottery), and tā moko. Contemporary Māori and Pacific artists in the delegation will also share their skills in theatre, dance, literature, visual arts, and multi-disciplinary arts.

Young guns

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 Darius Martin-Baker. Photo: Supplied.

A couple of noteworthy appointments have come at the end of the year.

Youth Arts New Zealand (YANZ) has announced Darius Martin-Baker (Ngāpuhi) as its new Chief Executive Officer, replacing Founder Matthew Goldsworthy in the role

Born and raised in Te Tai Tokerau, Martin-Baker has a background in Rongoa Māori, music, theatre, leadership, business and finance studies. He was awarded the most outstanding performer at the SGCNZ 2021 Shakespeare Festival, going on to participate in the Young Shakespeare Company’s delegation to the Globe Theatre in London. Martin-Baker has also represented Aotearoa at the University Scholars Leadership Symposium at the UN centre in Thailand.

Stating a desire to help create a country where youth and their creativity are nurtured, supported, and celebrated, he adds “The arts and creativity provides rangatahi a chance to share their true selves and bring back a sense of wonder that sometimes gets lost in our fast-paced, digital world. It's not just about expressing themselves; it's also about building a stronger sense of community and understanding of each other.”

Goldsworthy has stepped into a Strategic Advisor role to support YANZ's transition until the end of March 2024 and will continue in a trustee capacity after that.

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Ellie Smith. Photo: Supplied.

And Tauranga City Council has appointed Ellie Smith as Community Arts Advisor, working in the Arts, Culture and Heritage team.

Smith has just started the role this week and says “I can't wait to get started and work alongside the talented array of artists and dedicated arts and culture organisations we have in Tauranga Moana. I am also delighted that my Museum Studies background will enable me to be part of the team delivering Te Manawataki o Te Papa, and especially a new Museum for our community.”

Smith is no stranger to the Tauranga community, having completed a range of arts-related projects and establishing strong relationships throughout the sector in the city already.

Like a Moth to a flame

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Margaret Moth standing in front of an oil fire. Photo: Joe Duran.

She may be best known for a fictional character in the world of mythology, but Lucy Lawless is making waves in her shift into reality.

The actress with a worldwide cult following is getting high praise for her shift into documentary-making, with her directorial debut, Never Look Away, set to premiere at the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival. 

It's no mean feat - there were a record number of 17,435 submissions from 153 countries or territories to make the cut for the iconic cinema event, with Lawless's debut being one of just 82 feature-length films representing 24 countries to show in Utah next month.

Lawless is also credited as a co-writer along with Matthew Metcalfe and Tom Blackwell for the film chronicling the life of trailblazing New Zealand-born CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth, who - as the film synopsis details - "fearlessly risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confounding those who perpetuate it."

Lawless states “I really wanted to tell New Zealanders the story of one of our least-known famous people. Now it seems the whole world is ready to fall in love with Margaret Moth. It’s a rollercoaster ride - she’s no angel but her life story makes you feel that you too can go out and move mountains with whatever tools you have right now. She’s hugely inspirational.”

Scriptwriting success

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Left to right: Ken Duncum, Ros Fogel, Tenzin Casey-Waters, Jennifer Wilton, Robin Laing. Photo: Supplied.

Two aspiring scriptwriters have been given a spotlight - including a “creature feature” set in the Port of Auckland.

Jennifer Wilton's screenplay Contained was written as part of her 2023 Master of Arts folio at the University’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) - and it's been awarded the $5,000 David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in Scriptwriting at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW).

Wilton says, “I am thrilled to receive the David Carson-Parker Prize, topping off a remarkable year of learning and growth alongside such an amazing and talented group of writers. The MA in Scriptwriting certainly lived up to its reputation, and while intense, it's been worth every minute, giving me that much-needed boost of confidence to embark on the next stage of my screenwriting career.”

An examiner of the winning script wrote, “I hope someone will make this film. If they do, I’ll be there to watch it and be applauding loudly at the end”.

Fellow Master of Arts student Tenzin Casey-Waters won the $4,000 Brad McGann Film Writing Award for her animated feature film script Psychopomps.