The spotlight on Creative New Zealand's (CNZ) Digital Arts Service partnership with the polarising We Are Indigo does not look set to fade any time soon.
Last week, the process of how the focus group for the newly re-named We Are Indigo subsidiary Toi Hourua (previously called Toi ki Tua, a name already used by a Bay of Plenty organisation) was covered in The Big Idea, after fielding a number of enquires from the creative community.
When $5.3 million is allocated to a project from CNZ, it's a huge deal for the arts community.
Many have expressed frustrations that money hasn't gone to an organisation entrenched in the arts, while CNZ insists it's purely a case of choosing the best applicant that its independent assessors nominated for this role - an innovative four year project it hopes creates a raft of future opportunities in the digtal space for Aotearoa creatives.
But the issue that makes most of the partnership's detractors uncomfortable is the allegations laid against the digital innovation company of bullying and taking advantage of Māori and Pasifika small businesses. That former Callaghan Chief Executive Vic Crone is now suing the Maanaki Directors for defamation has also been highlighted as an alarm bell by many who have contacted The Lowdown.
At the start of the week, entrepreneur and influential start-up advocate Robett Hollis - perhaps the most vocal opposition to We Are Indigo after many conversations with those who have expressed their negative experiences with Manaaki and plenty of his own investigation - released information he gathered from Official Information Act (OIA) requests titled 'Exposed: Manaaki's $5.3 Million Dollar LIE to Creative NZ.'
If you've missed any of the backstory - the latest Robett's Ramble outlines Hollis' concerns in full, while CNZ's explanation of how the partnership came about can be found in this The Big Idea article.
Among his multiple points, Hollis states the OIA releases he includes in his blog prove that Manaaki/We Are Indigo Directors Andy Hamilton and Pat Macfie lied to CNZ during the RFP process - on several occasions - by declaring that Callaghan had 'accepted' there was a conflict of interest. Callaghan has stressed this is not the case.
The Lowdown contacted CNZ once Hollis published his latest information, offering them the chance to comment and ask if any of this latest information/commentary will see further examination of the Toi Hourua partnership with We Are Indigo.
Late on Wednesday (15 March), CNZ released a statement via its website.
As well as reiterating its "extensive, formal, two-stage procurement process, consistent with Government Procurement Rules" that was overseen by its governing board, the Arts Council was done "to ensure fairness and transparency for all parties", CNZ also restated they had confidence in We Are Indigo after working with them on last year's Pacific Creative Enterprise programme.
Of the information in the OIA, the organisation states "CNZ was made aware by We Are Indigo that they were in a disagreement regarding a potential conflict of interest during their due diligence process with Callaghan Innovation.
"This dispute is entirely separate to CNZ's engagement with We Are Indigo as a provider.
"CNZ’s summary document, published in December 2022, outlined the procurement process and shared information provided to CNZ by We Are Indigo; this stated its view that Callaghan Innovation accepted there was a conflict. We have now annotated the document to reflect Callaghan Innovation’s position that it did not/does not accept that there was a conflict of interest.
"CNZ is aware that there is now an investigation by the Office of the Auditor General into the difference of views between Callaghan Innovation and We Are Indigo. If the OAG report surfaces any material new information, then we would consider its relevance to our partnership with We Are Indigo.
"We will actively monitor the delivery of the new service, as we would for any contract of this value.”
This will certainly not be the last we hear of this partnership - and you can guarantee Hollis isn't finished with the issue.
Where taxpayer money goes in the arts and culture sector is always a hot topic, but expect it to ramp up even further being an election year.
Elsewhere in The Big Idea today, all five of the political paries that make up the current parliament were given the opportunity to reply to the open letter written by a group of heavy-hitting arts voices.
Judy Darragh, Sir Roger Hall, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Eve de Castro-Robinson, John Daly-Peoples, Professor Peter O'Connor and Roger Horrocks all put their names to it and stated "During the last election, our political parties paid almost no attention to arts policy. It is a topic that tends to arouse worthy sentiments but few realistic plans. For this election, we should demand that parties offer practical proposals."
You can find out what the response is in this article - it's an interesting first taste of what will likely become a fiercely discussed issue.
The looming budget cuts at Auckland Council has been a rallying cry for the creative community - and as the feedback submission deadline draws near (submissions must be in by 28 March), the reality of what might happen is becoming ominously clear.
The direct impact has been outlined by members of Tāmaki Makaurau's creative community in this raw and impassioned Arts Voices article, with Northart's Jessica Pearless and Jonathan Organ describing the local arts community as " on the precipice of uncertainty."
But on Wednesday afternoon (15 March), Auckland Council itself showed that to be true by announcing the reimagining of the Toi Whītiki Arts and Culture Strategic Action Plan has been paused until the new budget is confirmed in June.
With its purpose to "integrate arts and culture into our everyday lives, and create a culturally rich and creative Auckland" - this type of mahi is vital to the ongoing relationship between the creative community and the Council.
Wednesday's email came as it was originally the timeframe that Council had told the creative community it would be in touch to "provide opportunities for you to share your perspective on the sector strategy."
But as we know, the goalposts have been moving - for the arts, that's potentially to the tune of $36.5 million.
In a message signed by Senior Policy Manager Liz Civil and Senior Policy Advisor Hannah Anderson, the current budget uncertainty means that "council staff supporting the reimagining of Toi Whītiki have concluded it is not the right time to carry out the engagement. This was to include working with the likes of the sector, communities, mana whenua, iwi, council-controlled organisations, and council staff on the future arts and culture strategy for Tāmaki Makaurau.
"It has been agreed that pausing the engagement and reassessing the reimagining process once the budget has been finalised is the more appropriate approach."
While work will still continue the internal strategy work for the project, you can't blame those involved for not wanting to start conversations without knowing what they will be able to achieve.
It further emphasises the need to speak up and have your say - the submission form is here, with more details on the process covered here in last week's Lowdown.
One of the most prestigious awards in Aotearoa's visual arts community has announced its shortlist - over a year away from its winner being announced.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (AAG) revealed the four nominees for 2024 Walters Prize, which will be the 11th time since 2002 that the award has been handed out and the finalists exhibited, after this year adopting a triennial format to emphasise the development of new works to be shown at next year's exhibition.
AAG’s Senior Curator of Global Contemporary Art, Natasha Conland states "the refreshed format for the Walters Prize recognises an artist’s overall recent contribution to contemporary art (between 2020-2022), rather than one single work and positions the prize exhibition in the heart of the Gallery’s activity."
So essentially this is the art born out of lockdown and pandemic - where creativity took on new meaning.
Those given the honour of competing for the Walters prize are Juliet Carpenter, who is now based in Frankfurt, Germany for her internationally exhibited work that includes film installation EGOLANE (2022) at Städelschule Rundgang; Owen Connors for recent exhibitions including your cart and plow over the bones of the dead (2022) and Incubations (2021), both at Robert Heald Gallery; Arts Laureate Brett Graham (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura, Tainui) for the popular and well travelled Tai Moana Tai Tangata, seen in different configurations at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (2020–2021), City Gallery Wellington (2021) and Christchurch Art Gallery (2022); and Ana Iti (Te Rarawa) for recent video and sculptural installations including The woman whose back was a whetstone at Govett-Brewster (2021), Roharoha at Gus Fisher Gallery (2022), and I must shroud myself in stinging nettle at City Gallery Wellington (2022).
Iti told The Lowdown "being nominated for the Walters prize is a massive honour. Pursuing an artistic practice is challenging, and for me, making art can often feel like a solitary process so to receive this acknowledgement of the work that I have done is really special. When I look at the previous nominees and the other artists in this group I see that we are part of a strong legacy!"
Connors echoes those sentiments - "I'm stoked and excited to be showing alongside Ana, Juliet and Brett. I'm incredibly appreciative of the Jury members for selecting my practice and I'm looking forward to making work with the support of Toi o Tāmaki."
Graham adds "Tai Moana Tai Tangata took thirty years to conceive and four years to construct. Many people contributed to its success, so I’m thrilled it has been recognised."
The independent jury was made up of hugely admired curator Robert Leonard - now the director of Brisbane's Institute of Modern Art, independent curator and writer Tendai Mutambu, Christchurch Art Gallery's contemporary art curator Melanie Oliver and Hanahiva Rose, assistant curator at Te Papa and PhD candidate.
Walters Prize nominee Carpenter isn't the only New Zealander earning high praise in Germany.
Two of Aotearoa's finest makers have been thrust into the spotlight at Munich Jewellery Week - considered one of the leading international events for jewellers to be recognised and discovered.
Neke Moa was one of three jewellers awarded prestigious Herbert Hofmann Prizes from the Schmuck exhibition by an independent jury. The prize is esteemed in the jewellery community, creating exposure for winning jewellers that can lead to international dealer representation, exhibitions and residencies.
Lisa Walker was awarded a Bavarian State Prize at 2023 Handwerkmesse, the event which is the location of the Schmuck exhibition that attracts a global audience for contemporary jewellery.
On her way home from Europe, Walker told The Lowdown it was "an amazing honour" adding "and how special that two new Zealanders received awards this time.
"I’m very proud to be recognised in this way. It has brought some wonderful attention to my work, a beautiful gold medallion designed by Hermann Jünger (below) and some very helpful prize money too."
Moa, also exploring the creative sights of Europe, told The Lowdown "what a huge honour to have been awarded this prestigious prize - the Herbert Hoffman prize - even being picked for the Schmuck special exhibition was amazing and also being able to travel to Munich with the support of CNZ has been really incredible.
"The importance of being present at these events and interacting with gallerists, collectors and other artists is priceless. Experiencing Munich Jewellery Week, showing work and seeing what peeps from around the world in the contemporary jewellery community are up to is really inspiring!
"Ngāti Pukana represents Maori, Aotearoa and my mahi as an object and adornment artist! Her ahua, her form, materials and face is foremost and forefront indigenous, Māori, nesian! And she has won this prize from the other side of the world.
"It has been a real highlight for me, not just for me but toi Māori and contemporary jewellery from Aotearoa. It has been a rewarding time for New Zealand.
"For future, I think Ngāti Pukana is a role model for what's possible, for toi Māori and for NZ art repping overseas! Our work is being valued and uplifted! Ka mau te wehi!"
The Māoriland Film Festival is underway for 2023 (15-19 March) and there's a major change underway behind the scenes at the Kāpiti Coast event too.
Founding Festival Director Libby Hakaraia has confirmed she's stepping aside after 10 years - having guided MFF into a position to declare itself the largest Indigenous film festival on the planet. Her successor has also been named, with Madeleine Hakaraia de Young stepping in to Hakaraia's considerably respected shoes.
This isn't a snap decision - it's been a long term strategy that keeps it in the whānau.
Hakaraia explains "it was always my intent to step aside after 10 years - and we built a succession plan to do so. To have my niece Maddy Hakaraia de Young step into the role is something we can all be very excited about.
“Maddy is one of the original Kāhui Kākano of Māoriland; the five of us who started things off. Alongside me and Maddy are Tainui Stephens, and Patrick and Tania Hakaraia. Maddy has spent the past 10 years building the MFF and extending the networks and relationships we have around the world.
“He aroha te whakatō iho, he aroha te hua mai ai. E Maddy tēnā koe.”
Hakaraia de Young states "being a part of Māoriland is the dream I didn’t know I had. As a 21 year old, I was introduced to the world of Indigenous film and got to see the power of film to grow empathy, cultural connection and pride.
"I’ve been supported by Libby, the kāhui kakano and all the aunties and uncles of Indigenous film here in Aotearoa and across Te Ao Taketake to grow into this new role. It’s nervewracking, but the way we work has always been tuakana teina, so I know that I’m not stepping into this on my own. ”
Hakaraia's legacy will be quite the act to follow - given MFF's achievements in its first decade. Along with the festival itself, there the formation of the Māoriland Charitable Trust, the opening of the Māoriland Hub - a centre of excellence for Māori and Indigenous film and creativity, Toi Matarau Gallery, M.A.T.C.H - the Māoriland Tech Creative Hub, national and international youth filmmaking programmes, performing arts programmes and live music and theatre.
Not that Hakaraia de Young is any slouch. She has led festival programming and spearheaded the development and implementation of Te Uru Maire - the Māoriland Rangatahi Strategy, nuturing them to find their voice through film and develop the practical skills to tell their unique stories. The proof is in the numbers - more than 200 short films made with over 2,000 participating rangatahi, both here and overseas.
Hakaraia meanwhile will focus on overseeing Māoriland Productions, which has a slate of film works in development including feature films, short films, drama series, animation and documentary.
Whether it's raising funds or allowing more time for artists - the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle are still on the minds of many creative leaders and organisers.
The Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award - encourages emerging Māori artists to create portraits of their tūpuna (ancestors) - have extended the deadline for entry submissions by a week, now closing 30 March.
Director of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata Jaenine Parkinson notes “it has been an intense and disruptive month with many artists and their whanau affected by the cyclone and rough weather conditions, so we wanted to extend the submission date and give artists a fair and reasonable opportunity to enter.”
It's worthwhile for those interested - an opportunity to showcase their talent on a national stage as part of the finalists exhibition while competing for a first prize of $20,000.
Havelock North's Muse Gallery is running a series of online auctions between 14 March-14 April with nine framed prints donated by local artists Kate MacKenzie, Josh Lancaster, Jane Gray and Richard Brimer.
Bidding starts from $100 with all proceeds gong to the Hawke's Bay Foundation Cyclone Relief Fund.
And this weekend sees Tūtira Mai: Cyclone Gabrielle Relief Concert at Wellington's Pipitea Marae on 19 March with big names like Troy Kingi and Louis Baker headlining - those funds raised going to Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated's Cyclone Gabrielle recovery work in the Hawkes Bay, East Coast, Wairoa and Wairarapa affected regions.
Last, and absolutely not least, it's a big ka rawe for Aotearoa based creatives Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett for their success at this year's Academy Awards, winning part of the team that claimed Best Visual Effects for Avatar: The Way Of Water.
Not that we need any reminding, but Aotearoa punching above its weight is no surprise when it comes to the movie industry's most coveted awards - NZ has been able to stake a claim to success at the last four Oscars, with director Dame Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), digital effects supervisor David Lee (Tenet) and writer/director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit).