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Opinion: Wallace Cannot Be Allowed Back In The Arts

07 Sep 2023

Convicted of indecent assault, James Wallace has been ostracised from the creative community. Now he's talking about his next 'great project' in the arts - don't let him buy his way back in.

Photo: Shutterstock.

It would almost be funny if it wasn't so concerning.

Headlines that disgraced arts patron James Wallace refuses to accept any wrongdoing despite the indecent assault convictions that have him behind bars will come as no surprise to most.

After being stripped of his knighthood, there was reportedly an air of indignance as he tried unsuccessfully to seek early release at his parole hearing. 

The judge denied parole for at least another two months - needing more details about a safety plan for his release which may include talking to a psychologist. 

“That’s impossible. I won’t be alive,” Wallace retorted to the revelation of the November hearing.

But something else stood out in his latest time in front of a judge - he plans to pick up where he left off in being heavily involved in Aotearoa's arts community when he is released.

The community that he has exploited and has dragged through the mud as his world has come crumbling down.

Take this from the NZ Herald coverage of his parole hearing:

Wallace said if released from custody he had a “great project” ahead of him with the multi-million restoration of Christchurch’s McLean’s Mansion, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes.

Wallace has funded the efforts to turn the property into an arts and community centre.

“It is something I can do in the time I have left.”

(Wallace's Lawyer David) Jones added Wallace wants to live out the rest of his days continuing to fund the arts but in a non-public facing role.

There are those who point out all the good his philanthropy has done for the sector. Wallace absolutely pumped a significant amount of cash into the creative community, money that is otherwise hard to come by.

But is that money worth more than integrity? More than showing those who have been victimised and taken advantage of that their bravery in stepping forward was not in vain?

The full list of those who provided character witnesses on Wallace's behalf has been made public, with one of those Wallace assaulted, Dudley Benson, sharing it on social media.

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Wallace has the ability to pull many others down with him.

This is not a redemption tale of someone who has made bad choices, has seen the error of their ways and wants to try to make things right.

Wallace believes he's done nothing wrong - that he is the victim. He and his legal team point to the "public humiliation" he has had to endure. He has sought to undermine or attack the integrity of his accusers and detractors at every chance.

His offending wasn't exactly done in public - so how a non-public facing role changes things should be moot.

Wallace stated at the hearing “I am almost 86. I am really not capable of being a risk to anyone in any sexual sense and otherwise. I’m always more helpful than I am a risk to society generally.”

Tell that to the vulnerable people that he and others in power have taken advantage of. 

Being 'helpful' doesn't give you a free pass for the actions that have deemed him a risk to society.

As Andrew Wood wrote on The Big Idea after the official stripping of his knighthood "I’m inclined to think it was more about power and control than anything as relatable as lust... This was about being able to do whatever you want to whomever you want - even if they don’t want to - and sadly, with impunity."

Arts organisations have worked to distance themselves from Wallace - at varying speeds throughout the legal process, it must be said - but the onus goes back on them.

Would an arts and community centre at McLean's Mansion be for the betterment of creatives? For sure.

Should being prepared to take money from someone who has been so toxic and undermining of the values of the creative community be acceptable? 

I can't be the only person who hopes that's a resounding 'hell no'.

Funding the arts is not easy - and it's hard for some to turn down such opportunities. But being prepared to set yourself up on such rotten foundations means it's not built to last.

When Wallace does eventually get his release - big decisions need to be made by anyone who receives an offer that is 'too good to turn down' regarding his financial backing.

Wallace's legacy is permanently tarnished - do you want to risk the same to yours?


Sam Ackerman is the Content Director at The Big Idea.