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Lowdown: Precious Artwork, Creative Leaders On The Move

13 Jun 2024

Generous donations of Aotearoa art taonga, big announcements from experienced arts leaders, awards, residencies and big career steps detailed in this week's arts news bulletin.

A capital creative cornerstone is set for a change at the top.

One of Pōneke's most admired and respected arts leaders, Meg Williams, has announced she's relinquishing the reigns as Chair of Arts Wellington.

The Chief Executive Officer of the World of Wearable Art - and former Executive Director of Tāwhiri and the NZ Festival of the Arts - explains that the process of transitioning the Chair position has been in the Board's scope for several months.

"I have been in the role for over five years, and it is important that there is both fresh leadership and a sensible transition plan.

"Through our discussions at the Board we established several key considerations - sharing the workload of the Chair role so it is manageable alongside other mahi; increasing the visibility and impact of independent practitioners within TOTAW; ensuring we have strong existing relationships at the Chair level at a political and administrative level (central and local government), and with the arts community (both locally and with regional/national networks).

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Meg Williams. Photo: Supplied.

"Therefore, the Board has decided that we will transition to a Co-Chair structure which we feel will best serve our community of members: one Co-Chair from a larger organisation and one Co-Chair from the independent sector."

One half of that equation has already been sorted, with Board member Kirsten Mason unanimously appointed to take over as Co-Chair in the interests of a smooth transition and retaining institutional knowledge - while the recruitment hunt is underway for the independent Co-Chair position, with the caveat that only Arts Wellington members can apply ahead of the 3 July deadline.

As for Williams - "I’m going to continue my work in the advocacy space in a different way as of next year but will remain a member of Toi o Taraika Arts Wellington and continue to be a passionate champion!" 

Piano man

There's a change at the helm of a Christchurch institution as well.

A replacement has been named for The Piano's outgoing Director Bronwyn Bijl - who has been involved with the Ōtautahi organisation for 23 years - with the Board of Trustees announcing the appointment of Marcus Norman as of early July.

Norman has experience on both sides of the stage - the trained musician has a CV filled with senior leadership positions in the UK and here in NZ, most recently as General Manager of The New Zealand String Quartet and Dust Palace Circus Company and School, and presenter for RNZ Concert.

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Marcus Norman. Photo: Supplied.

“I’m excited to return home to Ōtautahi Christchurch as Director of The Piano - a world-class, accessible venue that’s for and of the city. My vision is to build on The Piano’s reputation as a destination venue and welcome a broad range of activity, from performances to workshops, teaching, conferences, talks and events of all kinds. 

"I look forward to working with the vibrant whānau of audiences, artists, organisations, and patrons who call The Piano home, and inspiring new communities to discover what The Piano can be for them.”

Rebecca Lindo, Chair of The Piano’s Board of Trustees, paid tribute to Bijl’s immense contribution. 

“Bronwyn leaves The Piano with the sincere gratitude of not only the Board, but also of the wider arts community. Under Bronwyn’s guidance, the organisation has achieved remarkable success. Navigating challenges and opportunities with clear focus, Bronwyn has developed our vision of bringing performers and audiences together. The Piano is in a strong position for the future and we have Bronwyn to thank for that.”

Good as Goldie

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Charles Fredrick Goldie, Indecision: An Arawa Child (1938). Photo: Supplied. 
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Verna Adam with her late husband Denis. Photo: Supplied.

The New Zealand Portrait Gallery has just come into some taonga of Aotearoa art, thanks to a donation from the private collection of esteemed art collectors and philanthropists, Denis and Verna Adam, courtesy of The Adam Foundation.

Among the six donated works from some of New Zealand's most renowned artists is one of the country's most treasured artists, Charles Fredrick Goldie. His 1938 portrait, Indecision: An Arawa Child would be coveted in any collection.

Also included in this incredible intake is Portrait of a Māori Chief (c. 1970s) by Peter McIntyre, Raymond McIntyre's Study for Portrait of the Artist’s Sister, Doris Mulgan (c. 1920s), Girl Dreams (1976) by Jaqueline Fahey, Portrait of a Young Woman (c. 1940s) by Olivia Spencer-Bower and Richard Killeen's Woman in Room (1968).

It's just another example of the patronage the Adam Foundation has given the New Zealand arts community for decades, including supporting artists through the biennial Adam Portraiture Award.

Reflecting on the donation, Verna Adam says, “It’s good that the New Zealand Portrait Gallery now owns a Goldie. He was a fine portrait artist and deserves his place in our art history.”

Jaenine Parkinson, Director of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, expressed her gratitude. 

"The six portraits are drawn from the Adam’s extensive collection, built up and enjoyed over their lifetime. They add a richness and breadth to the Gallery’s collection we could never achieve by our own means. The Gallery, its Trustees and wider arts community of Aotearoa are eternally grateful to Denis and Verna for this gift that communicates their passion for the arts and shares that passion with the nation for posterity.”

The unveiling of these newly donated portraits will be conducted by Adam Foundation trustee Hon Chris Finlayson, with Associate Professor Linda Tyler providing insights into the significance of arts patronage in New Zealand and its influence on the visual arts on 17 June. 

Aotearoa - coming to a screen near you

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I am a Dark River. Photo: Clifton Firth.

Film Festival season is almost upon us - with Doc Edge opening next week, the upcoming and the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) not far behind it.

The lineup of New Zealand-made content that will hit 10 centres across the country for NZIFF (31 July - 4 September) has been revealed with 12 full-length films and 19 shorts making up the Māhutonga strand of the programme.

The honour of kicking off the festival will be given to director Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu with her acclaimed We Were Dangerous, fresh from winning the special Jury Award for Filmmaking in the Narrative Feature Competition at SXSW.

Stewart-Te Whiu told The Lowdown “I’ve daydreamed about opening the NZIFF with a film I’ve made, but never once thought I’d get the opportunity to make it a reality. What a privilege! I’m absolutely stoked.” 

The rebellious feature will open the festival in all regions except Christchurch. That honour has been given to Head South, directed by Jonathan Ogilvie and set and filmed in Christchurch, following sell-out screenings at the Sydney Film Festival. It's sure to get a loyal following from Benee fans, with Stella Bennett making her acting debut.

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Stella Bennett AKA Benee in Head South. Photo: Supplied.

New Zealand audiences will also get to feel the international buzz that surrounds locally made feature A Mistake - adapted from Carl Shuker’s Ockham shortlisted novel of the same name - directed by Christine Jeffs.

Theatre fans will also be excited to see Katie Wolfe's big-screen adaption of arts festival darling The Haka Party Incident, as well as Whetū Fala's insightful Taki Rua Theatre - Breaking Barriers.

Also included in the Māhutonga section are Sasha Rainbow's directorial debut with Grafted; The House Within, directed by Joshua Prendeville, Kent Belcher's music documentary Alien Weaponry: Kua Tupu Te Ara; Tessa Mitchell's investigation into her creative grandfather Bob Lowry with I Am a Dark River; Marimari, directed by Paul Wolffram; Bridget Sutherland's Night Piece; and the previously announced Lucy Lawless directed Never Look Away. 

New Artistic Director Paolo Bertolin says, “Aotearoa cinema has reached a defining crossroad. The twelve features and four combined programmes of shorts in Māhutonga reflect the diversity and wealth of subjects and styles in local storytelling. 

“In this selection, our audiences will discover films that are entertaining, thought-provoking, and deeply affecting. Most of all, they will find a space for conversation and exchange on the beauty and complexity of life in Aotearoa. It is our privilege to provide a platform for these inspired and inspiring filmmakers to meet our audience in the communal experience of cinema.”

There will also be a special Aotearoa Film Focus weekend in August where Auckland audiences can enjoy films, a new exhibition by the New Zealand Cinematography Society, panel discussions, a workshop, a masterclass, filmmaker Q&A events, and a tribute to cult filmmaker Garth Maxwell, showcasing his recent MoMa purchase Naughty Little Peeptoe and the remastered version of his early work Come with Us.

Fane Hawai'i bound

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One of Aotearoa's most popular performers and creative minds has joined a list of luminaries after landing a much-coveted residency.

Dave Fane - one of the founding members of the trail-blazing Naked Samoans who found acclaim for his work on Sione's Wedding and 'Bro Town - has built a huge reputation as an actor, director, producer, radio DJ and writer.

His impressive CV now includes the 2024 Pacific Writer’s Residency - an award given to an established New Zealand writer of Pacific heritage to carry out work on a creative writing project exploring Pacific identity, culture or history at the University of Hawai’i for three months.

Fane states "I am incredibly grateful to have been honoured as the recipient of the 2024 Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency. I am greatly looking forward to spending time in Hawai’i and reconnecting with the many Hawai’ian creatives that I have had the pleasure to work with in the past – also to take up the opportunity to learn and to faafesuiai le malamalama (expand understanding), practice and skills with the communities there."

Fane will spend his time in Hawai’i networking with the local creative community through writing and workshops, undertake research within the Tagata Moana community in Hawai’i, and work on a new piece.

The names who've been given this opportunity in the past include some of Aotearoa's most celebrated writers, like Fane's long-time collaborator Oscar Kightley, Tusiata Avia, Karlo Mila, Makerita Urale, David Eggleton, filmmakers Sima Urale and Toa Fraser, and playwright Victor Rodger. 

Smart Alex

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It's not just the established names that need a boost, and one of the awards that looks to help raise younger talent to that next level has been dished out too.

Tāmaki Makaurau emerging actor and writer Alex Medland (Kai Tahu) has been awarded the $1,500 top prize in Playmarket’s 2024 Playwrights b4 25 competition for her satirical thriller Becoming Jeff Bezos. 

Judges describe the play as “a crazy, crazy ride” which “sings with originality and incisive wit” - involving a fugitive with a ‘10% off your first purchase’ UberEats voucher, handcuffs, swinging axes, blood bodies and the pleasures of late-stage capitalism.

Medland - who produced work through her company Half Trick Theatre and has previously been part of Auckland Theatre Company’s Youth Company and Writer’s Table -  told The Lowdown "To have my mahi formally acknowledged is really buzzy. Writing this play took me a good while: I wrote the first draft of Becoming Jeff Bezos in lockdown, and then for two years I just sat and thought about it, before properly picking it up again. 

"I was nervous submitting because I’d thought about this play for years and then for hours and hours across months, I’d tried to articulate those thoughts onto paper and so when I finally finished it I was like 'man, I sure do hope that someone likes this'. 

So that Playmarket liked it is a huge, huge win and means a lot for having the confidence to back my work. I feel incredibly grateful to Playmarket, Auckland Live and everyone who has helped me to develop Becoming Jeff Bezos - my amazing friends who did a reading of the first draft while we were delayed at an airport, my whānau and all of the wonderful tuakana who have passed on their tips and tricks. 

"From here, I’d love to get Becoming Jeff Bezos on a stage in front of audiences. Having a season of Becoming Jeff Bezos would be the absolute dream, so I’m hoping to make that happen!"

The cash prize to help develop new work is a godsend to any writer, especially a young playwright looking to get some traction in a promising career in the current sector conditions. 

"For me, one of the biggest challenges is having the time (and therefore money) to dedicate to writing. Making theatre is hard work and it’s difficult trying to balance the theatre-making grind with the classic survival hustle. 

"I spend a lot of time thinking about money and whether or not I have enough of it: Can I pay the rent? Am I able to feed myself? Will I be okay in an emergency? It’s hard to prioritise making art when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, especially when writing a play doesn’t have an immediate payoff, if a payoff at all. 

"I find it a challenge to prioritise writing alongside full-time work and second jobs and living admin and getting enough sleep. Having the time to write is a privilege and a luxury, when it should be something that we all have the spare time to do." 

Former Playwrights b4 25 winner Jack McGee received Highly Commended for Edit the Sad Parts while Melanie Allison (Daylight Savings), Leroy Nurkka (Run Coyote Run), Mia Oudes (The Nine Paintings for Maisie Grey) Tom Smith, Jimmy Williamson and Kathy Keane (Limbo) and Poe Tiare Tararo (Raru e Maruakaītā) were shortlisted for the award.

More than meets the eye

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Jared Wikeepa's AR sculpture, Kotahitanga. Photo: Naera Ohia Photography.

As Matariki draws closer, Aotearoa's in for some real creative treats to be unleashed.

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Tauranga Mayoral candidate Ria Hall, Kereama Taepa and Julie Paama-Pengelly. Photo: Naera Ohia Photography.

Among them, Tauranga's just-launched matARiki Sculpture Trail, an augmented reality art experience where scanning a QR code sees digital artworks come to life - allowing the public to interact with the sculptures and learn more about the meaning of Matariki, in particular the twin stars Waitī (fresh water) and Waitā (salt water).

Exhibition curator Kereama Taepa states “This first-of-its-kind exhibition event for Aotearoa provides an opportunity for our digital artists to showcase their mahi in a way that is more in tune with their medium as it uses digital technology to present their digital artwork. 

"Overseas there are a multitude of opportunities like this for digital artists however, here in Aotearoa they are non-existent…. so it’s really about opening up that space and creating that opportunity… and creating that exposure for our digital artists that are actually quite accomplished in this space.”

Taepa is one of seven Māori artists featured, alongside Jared Wikeepa, Chris Bailey, Reweti Arapere, Rangituhia Hollis, River Jayden and Julie Paama-Pengelly.

The trail runs along across The Strand Reserve, Tauranga CBD and Te Papa o Ngā Manu Porotakataka, Mt Maunganui until 30 June.

Stephenson seizes the clay

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Todd Stephenson and his clay creation. Photo: Supplied.

Tauranga has also been a step in ACT spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage Todd Stephenson's looong road to winning over the creative community after his less than dazzling start to the portfolio.

After being caught out for a lack of knowledge of the creative community by the acerbic Steve Braunias, fair to say Stephenson's got some ground to make up.

Tauranga's Incubator Creative Hub took particular note of the Newsroom article's quote; “ACT understands the true cost of taxpayer money being spent on the arts. Every dollar allocated to the arts is a dollar that can't be spent on education, health, infrastructure, or returned to taxpayers to spend on the things they value.”

Incubator Director Simone Anderson approached Stephenson with the invitation to learn more about what investment into arts and culture looks like at a community level. 

She states “The challenge for us was to demonstrate that the ‘Arts’ is not a tax-sucking spectre always referred to in inverted commas, but an essential nutrient required to maintain and develop culture.   

"As a creative sector, we have evolved into an agile bunch, but we can’t just sit back and imagine the country the way we want it to be and expect it to magically be there. It’s our job to positively engage, tweak mindsets, continue creative advocacy and lobbying to enact the positive vision we see.

“We need to be encouraging leaders regardless of their personal or party politics into our creative spaces, giving them an opportunity to see and experience what the arts actually looks like in our community, and how supporting grassroots arts experiences can transform careers, wellness, diversity and social connectedness.”

In this case, that included throwing Stephenson below deep in clay and learning the ins and outs of a pottery wheel during his tour of the Incubator Hub. Reports suggest he picked up the basics quickly - many in the sector hope he's a fast learner on a few other fronts as well.

Safety Net

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Mandalina Stanisich, Safety Net. Photo: Supplied.

Travellers walking through Britomart train station are finding themselves part of an art installation with a message.

Safety Net features a dummy covered in crochet, symbolising the vulnerability and invisibility of many elder abuse victims. The installation - which runs until 16 June to promote Elder Abuse Awareness Week - is suspended high above the main terminal and is accompanied by an easel that encourages passersby to look up and spot the signs of abuse. 

Creative projects that address social issues and encourage conversations and contemplation are nothing new to installation artist and filmmaker Mandalina Stanisich. 

Stanisich explains the reaction - and motivation - to The Lowdown.

"Seeing a figure with crochet skin in Britomart train station has been unexpected for many. Carrying the figure around has prompted gasps of 'That looks incredible!' from the public, driving curiosity and conversation about the project. This reaction shows that while many know elder abuse happens, it is often not discussed.

"Growing up close to my grandparents, I deeply appreciated their patience, love and support. Hearing stories about elder abuse – emotional blackmail, mistreatment and financial exploitation – motivated me to raise awareness. Highlighting these hidden issues encourages conversation. 

"Public art installations create a space for people to talk about important issues, reflect upon and open up. The positive ripple effect that happens when art is made open and accessible can be incredibly powerful. In this case, Safety Net reminds people that elder abuse often hides in plain sight, so we must help vulnerable Kiwis before they fall through the cracks. We can all be the safety net for our elderly loved ones.

"If this project saves even one person from elder abuse, it will be a success."