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Lowdown: World First For Aotearoa Art

22 Jun 2023

A deal that breaks down barriers for local creatives, a $3m gallery upgrade, a new Pacific residency and funding details announced - plus much more in your arts news bulletin. 

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Zena Elliott, Lines, lines and more lines, (2011). Image: Supplied.

Who says art and politics don't mix?

Well, technically, they don't - but they are now sharing the same space and for once, it's the arts who will receive the lion's share.

A new deal has been struck that's seen New Zealand become the first country in the world to showcase art 275 days a year on a parliamentary owned TV channel.

Urban Art Foundation (UAF) - founded by award-winning composer and sound designer Andrew Hagen - has spent the last five years taking works usually confined to museum archives, municipal art galleries, corporate and private collections and sharing them digitally in locations like shopping malls, on streets, at the both Wellington Railway Station and International Airport.

The charitable trust has signed an exclusive agreement to show Urban Art Exhibitions on Parliament TV (Freeview 31, and Sky Channel 86) when the House is not sitting.

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John Puhiatau Pule, Vaikona, (1993). Image: Supplied.

That equates to 275 days a year - over 6,600 hours of programming dedicated to local art, accompanied with music by New Zealand composers and featuring interviews with artists, curators, judges, and gallery directors.

Given the long battle to knock down barriers of accessibility and to increase the opportunity to promote our creatives to the wider public - it's a great move.

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Clerk of the House, David Wilson (left) and Urban Art Foundation's Andrew Hagen with the historic agreement. Photo: Supplied.

“This is a transformational change in the New Zealand art environment making art more accessible, breaking down the socioeconomic barriers, and making the expectation to view art a right of every Kiwi,” Hagen proudly proclaims.

“New Zealand ratepayers own half a billion dollars’ worth of art. These precious works are collected, catalogued, and cared for by our council-owned collecting institutions. These museums, art galleries, archives and even libraries exhibit the works, when and where available space permits. 

"Available local government figures show the collection consists of at least 173,269 pieces, worth more than half a billion dollars. But like many countries, a lack of exhibition space means only a token amount, around 7 percent, is able to be shown. We're proud to be changing that with our unique collaboration." 

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Rita Angus, Iris (1953). Image: Supplied.

Among those providing access for the channel will be the Barry Hopkins Collection, Wellington City Council Art Collection, Melvin Day Centennial Exhibition, The 2023 Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award, the Parkin Drawing Prize, MFAT and National Library Exhibition, the Contemporary Art Awards, the Ringa Toi Student Awards (NZQA), as well as works from the Auckland Art Gallery, the Wellington Sculpture Trust and the Adam Art Collection (Courtesy of Victoria University).

Collections and Curatorial Manager for Waikato Museum Anita Robertson points out "It is great to have national exposure for our collection and for people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit us see some of the gems in our collection.” 

It's not the first time UAF and Parliament TV have combined - having previously provided arTVox over the summer adjournent in 2021/22.

Francis McWhannell, curator of the Fletcher Trust Collection is excited "to share many taonga that are ordinarily accessible to just a few people. While the presentation was running on Parliament TV, we received a great deal of positive feedback. Some viewers watched more attentively, while others treated the programme as a slideshow, leaving it to run in the background as they went about daily tasks.”

Beats the hell out of Google screensavers.

$3 million gallery upgrade

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Tauranga Art Gallery in its current form. Photo: Sam Hartnett.

Big changes are on the horizon for Tauranga Art Gallery after announcing it will be redeveloped as part of the city's future civic precinct, Te Manawataki o Te Papa - with work set to begin later this year.

A total project budget of $3.38 million is being jointly funded by Tauranga City Council and Tauranga Art Gallery Foundation.

It will remain at its site on the corner of Wharf and Willow Streets, but the orientation will change, including a new entrance - as well as a separate one for the gallery's education centre - a cafe and "expanded retail experience." 

It will mean closing the doors during the redevelopment - although just how long that will be for is yet to be confirmed - there will be a temporary pop-up space at nearby Devonport Rd that will include an exhibition and a multi-purpose events and education space. 

While closed, they'll take the opportunity to upgrade lighting, air- conditioning and an interior fit-out for the first time since it opened in 2007. This will enable it to maintain international museum standards, a requirement to be able to loan artworks from institutions such as Te Papa.

Tauranga Art Gallery Director Sonya Korohina states “How our artists exhibit and community connects with art has changed. This redevelopment is an exciting opportunity to take us into the future as both a great space to experience art programmes and a more social space too.”

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Tamariki Painting Workshop at Tauranga Art Gallery. Photo: Alan Gibson.

The education programme at TAG is a cornerstone for many school students in the area - and will shift to the pop-up space from mid-July until the main building project is complete.

“Many local children grow up coming through the art gallery’s education programmes. Today’s youth are already experts in visual culture," Korohina adds. "The creative tools they learn here hones their skills as young critical thinkers, innovators, and empathetic humans.”

Time to shine

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“There is a shortage of Pasifika producers in New Zealand."

Producer, director, writer and actor Teherenui Koteka speaks from first hand knowledge. "I self-produce a lot of work and have also noticed a real lack of Cook Island producers.” 

But she's hoping that's going to start to change, after being named as the inaugural repicipent of the new Pacific Producer Residency - put on by Creative New Zealand and BATS Theatre.

Koteka - born and raised in Raratonga - told The Lowdown "“I am honoured to be the first recipient of this residency. I think Pasifika art and artists are underrepresented in the New Zealand creative community. Pacific works that do make it to the stage are beautiful insights into the experiences of a community that spans the biggest ocean in the world. 

"Throughout my residency I’m aiming to hone the production skills needed to bring more of these special stories, my peoples’ stories, to the forefront of New Zealand theatre. 

“As of late, my work has been focused on issues around sexuality and gender and exploration of sex as a young person.

“I’m trying to build better conversations for our young people, especially in some Pasifika communities where these topics are still seen as taboo.”

Jonathon Hendry, Chief Executive of BATS Theatre expects Koteka to make the most of her 3 months working at their Wellington headquarters - developing new work, engaging with artists, building new contacts and connections.

 “Teherenui’s work to date has been highly impressive and speaks to the incredible strength of artistry emerging from Moana Oceania. We look forward to doing all we can to amplify the positive impact she will undoubtedly make.”

Koteka has experience across a wide range of creative disciplines – she’s worked with Tawata Productions and Auckland Theatre Company, has a Masters of Creative Writing and has directed, produced and acted in several of her own shows, both in Aotearoa and Rarotonga.

“I was told very early on that you need to be able to wear more than one hat to make a full career. As I started learning to direct and was being mentored by more established artists, I see now that it’s now my turn to give back – that's where producing comes in,” she explains.

Community-led approach

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Street Talk Ltd receives $16,720 from Asian Artists' Fund. Photo: Benjamin Anabelle.

CNZ's been part of another community roll out this week -partnering with Foundation North to dish out more than $650,000 in the second instalment of the Asian Artists' Fund.

It's a sizeable step up from the first round allotment from $450,000, meaning almost half the 60 applications the Fund received - from emerging, mid-career and established artists for wide-ranging projects and initiatives across many different art forms in Tāmaki Makaurau and Northland - were given the green light (here's the list).

Each application was assessed by Asian artists representing various art forms and career stages, after which a panel composed of selected assessors provided the final recommendations to Foundation North. Assessors noted this opportunity gave artists confidence to bring the whole of their artistic direction rather than work based only on their migration story.

Of particular note is how the funding focus was decided. With a desire to further understand and shift the power back to the Asian arts community, a co-design hui was held, leading to the development of the Asian Artists’ Fund 2.0. Through established Auckland and Northland networks, community-based Outreach Advisors connected, advised, and assisted artists and arts practitioners in developing their funding requests.

Foundation North’s Head of Funding, Audry McLaren says, “We couldn't be more thrilled about the overwhelming response we received from the community for this fund – a staggering $1.6 million was requested!  We've embraced a community-led approach based on the valuable feedback and lessons learned from our first fund. This incredible journey has showcased the power of innovative, inclusive, and decentralised funding models.”

Gretchen La Roche, CNZ’s Senior Manager, Arts Development, states “We fully support Foundation North’s funding commitment to a community-led approach – a sentiment we heard loud and clear from our recent sector engagement. Our creative communities want a stronger decision-making role, and the success of this fund demonstrates how successful taking this approach can be.”

Bringing in the big guns

One of the top names in global Shakespeare has been to our shores - and likes what he sees.

Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) Artistic Director Emeritus Gregory Doran had a busy time experiences all things Bard-on-Avon in New Zealand - including viewing New Zealand’s only copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio at Auckland Central Library - the world’s first ‘volume’, published in 1623, put together 7 years after his death and crucial to how the likes of Macbeth, The Tempest and Henry VIII were able to build such a lasting legacy. 

One of the 235 known surviving copies in the world - only 3 of which reside in the Southern Hemisphere - Aotearoa's copy was donated by Sir George Grey back in 1887 and contains many scribblings, notes and even secret codes from a legacy of readers.

Doran was brought out to Aotearoa by the British Council New Zealand and the Pacific and provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience for local creatives, putting on “The Shakespeare Gym” workshops for actors and drama teachers.

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Greg Doran holding court at the Shakespeare Gym. Photo: Megan Goldsman.

Doran notes "While I have been here, I have also had the good luck to do a couple of workshops with some of the actors and young people associated with Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) and to meet and work with a wider group of practitioners from the industry in Auckland. 

"It was wonderful to see the appetite the acting community in New Zealand has for Shakespeare and their enthusiasm for delving deeply into the meaning and structure of his text."

The response from those involved shows Doran's expertise made an impact.

Actor Jodie Dorday comments "I learned more in that 1.5 hours with Gregory Doran than ever before. This Shakespeare Gym experience has re-opened my love for Shakespeare."

Brandon Cudby adds the workshops were "So insightful, and Greg Doran brought a new perspective to a well-known piece of writing from Romeo and Juliet. He provided a whole range of new and different techniques to break down a Shakespeare text for performance."

ATC Youth Associate Sahil Goyal explains “As a young aspiring actor who hasn’t performed enough Shakespeare, it was good to get a session with such an experienced professional about the basics of Shakespeare. Before the Shakespeare Gym I wasn’t too aware about the rhythm that Shakespeare’s supposed to be played at but now I’ve got a better idea of that. I loved the gym and wish that it was longer!”

But Doran reserved special praise for his first-hand experience of how Shakespeare is interpreted through a New Zealand lens.

"If I was looking for evidence that Shakespeare is alive and well in Aotearoa and embraced by contemporary artists and audiences alike, then I found it magnificently on display at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, where ATC were presenting their press night of King Lear, with a top-flight diverse cast headed by Michael Hurst as Lear and Jennifer Ward-Lealand as Kent. 

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Greg Doran (centre) deep in discussion with Ben Kilby-Henson (left) and Michael Hurst (right) at opening night of ATC's King Lear. Photo: Jinki Cambronero.

"Co-directed by Hurst and Benjamin Kilby-Henson, with innovative use of mirrors, traverse staging, pouring rain and thunder rumbling it’s bellyfull, and an ensemble shining in their total commitment to the work.

"The last time I saw the play was the production I directed with my late husband Antony Sher for the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. He defined the role as the Everest for any actor given the challenge of climbing that great play.

"When I got out some cash at the airport, I spotted Sir Edmund Hillary on the five dollar note, Well now, I thought, I know of two people in New Zealand who have conquered Everest!"

Comings and (unwanted) goings in Wellington

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Staff and students protesting the proposed funding cuts at Victoria University of Wellington. Photo:RNZ/Angus Dreaver.

It's a tough time for creative educators in the capital right now - as the arts and humanities set to take a $30m hammering at Victoria University of Wellington.

As well as languages like Italian and German set to be dropped altogether, courses like Classical and Jazz Performance, museum and Heritage Studies and Theatre are set to be integrated into other programmes. Theatre professor James Wenley has explained the dire impact this will cause here on The Big Idea.

But there has been some brighter news for neighbours Massey University, with American film producer Professor Karen Loop (below) appointed to the role of Programme Lead for the Bachelor of Screen Arts degree programme, part of its new National Academy of Screen Arts.

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Loop was Associate Dean of Los Angeles Programs at Columbia College Chicago and has worked on various projects including Executive Producer on a range of films. Before becoming an independent producer, Loop worked in development for Academy-award winning producers at Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios, reading up to 700 screenplays a year.

She states “It’s an incredible opportunity to share my passion for storytelling and to inspire, learn, and grow alongside the next generation of creatives.

“Toi Rauwhārangi College of Creative Arts (where she'll be based) has a strong reputation for innovation and creativity and Wellington is home to some of the most sought-after filmmakers, so I’m looking forward to strengthening the partnerships and collaborations between the two. Together we can nurture New Zealand’s diverse voices and unique perspectives, bringing forth compelling stories that resonate globally.”

Matariki rising

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Emily Karaka, Matariki Ring of Fire exhibition. Image: Supplied.

The public holiday may be three weeks away but Matariki events are beginning to take off across Aotearoa.

Among the many getting underway is a spotlight on the talents of revered Māori artist Emily Karaka. Matariki Ring of Fire will be launched at a special event this evening (Thursday 22 June) in the University of Waikato’s Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts before opening to the public on 26 June- 20 October. 

The series was created following Karaka’s 2021 McCahon House residency, fitting considering Karaka’s career was herself mentored by Colin McCahon in the 1970s. The exhibition - which is toured by Te Uru Contemporary Gallery - centres on the festival of Matariki, the Tūpuna Maunga of the Tāmaki Makaurau region as well as embraces Karaka’s ties with Waikato and the Kīngitanga.

University of Waikato Collections Curator Cerys Davidson is proud to present the work of an artist of Karaka’s calibre - and sees this exhibition having a lasting impact. 

“We want people to explore Matariki beyond the stars rising, and bring a broad perspective and understanding, because different iwi share different kōreo regarding Matariki, and it is unique within Waikato and the Kīngitanga.

“Kōrero shared in the artworks connect not only with Matariki but also Kīngitanga Day and Te Wiki o te Reo Māori and we wanted people to be able to experience the exhibition over these significant events."

The Big Idea's Matariki guide will be released soon - you can find (and post) Matariki events in your area in our events section.

Max marches across the ditch

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One of the country's most admired young arts leaders is following the talent drain across the Tasman.

Max Tweedie (above) - having just recently handed over his role as Auckland Pride's Executive Director to Julia Croft - has taken up a role as the Partnerships Manager for Sydney Mardi Gras.

The growth of the Auckland Pride Festival during Tweedie's four-year reign has been impressive - especially given how incredibly hamstrung it was for a couple of years by the pandemic - this year's Festival saw an estimated 55,000 attendees across 186 events.

Tweedie has also been a vocal, unflinching advocate for not just the queer community but for the creative community - and it's hoped his time in Sydney doesn't spell the end of his involvement in the sector in Aotearoa.

TBI hits play on new project

If you're reading this - then you're almost certainly a supporter of the creative community and love to hear its stories.

Us too.

Which is why we're excited about The Big Idea's first foray into video storytelling. Supported by New Zealand on Air's Public Interest Journalism Fund, we're shining a light on creative stories and issues that don't get enough attention. The creative community has so much to offer - and it's never been more important to shout it from the rooftops.

While these videos will be housed on The Big Idea, we welcome and encourage them to be shared, used, embedded by any other website or broadcast channel - anywhere but behind a paywall.

We can't wait to share these with you - starting next week.