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Public Art Outbreak

It's a big week in public art for Auckland, art spaces for Christchurch and politics throughout Aotearoa. Stay on the pulse with Mark Amery's comprehensive arts news bulletin.


Out in Public

It’s a good week to reflect on the place of public art in Auckland and, in particular, artists’ participation in major pieces of city infrastructure.

Last weekend, Ports of Auckland launched The Lightship; a 110-metre-long, 13-metre-high light wall on the port’s new car handling building (NZ Herald story here). Neatly named, it’s near Michael Parekowhai’s ‘Lighthouse’, comprising 8,500 individually programmable LED lights and visible at night from the waterfront’s Quay Street. The first work, on until 3 December, is Janet Lilo’s ‘ISLOVE’. 

“The Lightship is our present to Auckland,” says Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson in their media release, “and a thank you to Auckland’s artists for enriching our lives. It is designed to support artists and creative thinkers to produce ambitious new commissions and gives them a highly visible platform on which to display their work.” Next up in December a programme of emerging artists curated by Sarah Hopkinson and Bridget Riggir-Cuddy.

This is a welcome development after COVID and the fire that caused catastrophic damage to the NZ International Conference Centre a year ago (featuring major works by Sara Hughes and Peata Larkin). And after several decades where artists’ contribution to building projects has often been neglected.

Bledisloe Bebop, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, 2000, Aotea Square.

A reminder of a past heyday is there this week in Aotea Square with Bledisloe Bebop, a jazzy film by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith of the Guy Ngan 1956 frieze to be found atop the Bledisloe State Building across the square. Here’s the film work on Vimeo. With Sue Elliott, Holloway-Smith leads Massey University’s Public Art Heritage, gathering a register of artwork nationally. This group is running a Guy Ngan series on their Instagram starting this week.  

Upon a Pond, 2017, Seung Yul Oh, Albany Stadium Pool.

Another welcome development this past week is the launch of Auckland Public Art, documenting and cataloguing public art commissioned by Auckland Council. I believe it’s the first of its kind in the country and given how spread out the work is - particularly amongst recent housing developments and pieces of infrastructure - I found it a treasure trove of public commissions I wasn’t aware of. Like Seung Yul Oh’s ‘Upon a Pond’ at the Albany Stadium Pool: well described as "an intriguing sculpture of large bendy straws with colourful bubbles bursting out one end and water vapour puffing out the other."

It’s a good week to be out and about in Auckland looking at art with Artweek 2020, which includes the temporary public art programme Changing Spaces. Here are Fennec and Friends’ top picks.

Elsewhere in the country: Scape has opened in Christchurch. The Press report on damage to an 11-year-old student’s great looking award-winning work, ‘Unfolded Secrets’. Annabelle Britt’s work features an oversized golden key sticking out of a pile of replica newspaper articles. Unsurprisingly, in a twist worthy of Willy Wonka, that golden key has been snapped off - some things in public prove just too tempting. 

In Wellington, ‘Ferns 2’, the replacement of Neil Dawson’s iconic and much-loved orb of ferns has finally been reinstalled in Te Ngākau Civic Square this week. You can watch on the Stuff website. What Dawson is doing with the original remains an interesting question that might well intrigue the public art detectives of the future. Wellington City Council has been running a nice and active Instagram account documenting Wellington public art projects since lockdown. 

Voting on the Arts

A few weeks back, I covered Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi's election forum discussion on the different political parties arts policies - or lack thereof (you can also watch it here). In the time since more has belatedly been announced.

The National Policy that was promised as coming is here and, whilst light, leans towards goals that Labour was pushing three years ago like "a Creative Accelerator programme designed to assist young people to identify creative careers opportunities." At least the arts are getting recognition for value.

Meanwhile, Labour has not, as we were forewarned, published one; there is a significant gap here at a policy level. The Greens have further developed their existing policy and published it with more detail. One specific interesting initiative is to establish a literature commission to champion NZ writers and explore how to protect their copyright.

The big surprise, however, is how fulsome and specific New Zealand First's policy is. It's refreshingly detailed and thought through, with clear details such as; secure the future of the historic Christchurch Arts Centre; provide funding support for Regional Heritage Museums; and provide funding to establish a New Zealand Jazz Orchestra. And then here's one that will actually have a whole heap of arts and education advisors cheering:  "Fund specialist curriculum leaders to support schools to deliver on the Arts Curriculum throughout the compulsory school sector." Whether you agree with the priorities, the fact is they have listened to the public and chosen some horses to bet on.

Plenty to hold these parties on, whoever may end up with a lever on power.

Christchurch leading out 

2021’s shaping as an exciting time for arts spaces in Christchurch. We’ve previously reported on the new permanent home for theatre venue Little Andromeda and the partnership for 2021 between CoCA and Objectspace. Now The Press reports that the Ravenscar House Museum on Rolleston Ave will finally open in April, with a private collection of 110 paintings. The works range from the 19th century to the present day, including five paintings by Colin McCahon and 10 by Frances Hodgkins. In a case of silver linings, the new $16 million museum has been built with finance principally from collectors Jim and Susan Wakefield’s insurance settlement on their original quake-ruined historic Scarborough home. The distinctive design by Patterson Associates features precast wall panels, partly composed of rubble from the original Ravenscar House.

There are also two spaces for emerging artists that have opened up in the CBD since the original COVID lockdown. The 013 has been set up by Frederica Diver, who Metronews announce “is just 18 years old and ‘never been good at school’. Now she owns an art gallery.” 

Hot Lunch sees the welcome return of an artist-run space to Christchurch’s High Street. After a poster series and Youtube playlist series during lockdown, they opened with Christian Lamont’s 400 Lux (timelapse on Youtube). Currently showing is Hush Swarms by Ed Ritchie.

Writers of the South

David Eggleton is inaugurated as New Zealand Poet Laureate at Matahiwi Marae. Photo. Paul Taylor.

In other Te Wai Pounamu related news, Dunedin poet David Eggleton has had his tenure extended for a year as poet laureate (to three rather than two years) due to COVID and Eggleton’s wish as a performance poet to tour the land as much as possible. Indeed, he’s wasted little time since lockdown in doing just that, including performing this month in the Hawke’s Bay where he received his laureate tokotoko, or carved orator's stick at Matahiwi marae (Hawke’s Bay Today story)

Eggleton is out on the road in November for 18 dates in towns and cities that crisscross the islands, with the majority in the south with Arts on Tour. The producers say, “it is rumoured that the English artist Banksy might join the entourage, but as no-one knows who he is, it may be hard to identify him in the crowd.” Here is Eggleton performing recently at Christchurch’s Space Academy.

In our recent look at the bevy of Spring writers festivals we missed the Southland Writers and Readers Festival, opening this weekend. It’s run by the Dan Davin Literary Foundation in Invercargill. Trustee Storm Reece spoke to RNZ’s Lynn Freeman.

(two images here)

Awards Abound 

Kelly Hodgins NZSL interpreter, Tim Bray Theatre Company's Greedy Cat (2020). Photo: David Rowland.

Several significant national art award ceremonies occurred this month. The Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2020 were announced online on Tuesday night, and they provide a welcome spotlight on some great work. Among the seven recipients, Auckland’s Tim Bray Theatre Company were honoured for their leadership and long-term commitment to accessibility. In 2004 they started to provide NZSL interpreted theatre performances to children (pictured). Tim Bray writes on The Big Idea this week

Meanwhile the Wallace Art Awards were given out, as captured by Sait Akirrman on Artsdiary. Pictured is conceptual wooden sculptor maestro Glen Hayward’s At night at the museum, stubbed cigarette butts dancing on a museum’s water fountain plate, presumably inspired by the smokers corner at another public exhibition opening.


At night at the museum, 2020, Glen Hayward - paint on timber. Photo courtesy of

The Aotearoa Music Awards finalists were announced this week - noting the name change from ‘New Zealand’, showing a welcome resurgence in a push to see the country renamed - here’s an RNZ Music breakdown. This coming the week that South Auckland Pasifika teen Josh Nanai aka Jawsh 685 has hit number one in the US charts with his ‘Savage Love (Laxed -Siren Beat)’ collaboration. Earlier in the month he picked up a Special Recognition Award at the 2020 Pacific Music Awards, which are covered by RNZ here.

Noting the Unnoted

Last Lowdown, guest editor Kate Powell had a welcome focus on a lack of diversity in the media, and looked at encouraging signals at the Dominion Post. Another publication with less encouraging signals - the NZ Listener’s revival doesn’t seem to hold the arts as much of a priority. Three issues in and outside entertainment and books, there’s barely been a shred of coverage from what used to be a crucial publication for national arts reviews and features. A better commitment is surely to come, but not a good look. 

We should at least be able to point you to the rich archive of past stories published by North & South and the Listener, through the website, right? Nope, it seems the Bauer media site has gone offline. As one senior journalist said online,  “what a heartbreaking loss of an enormous resource.” 


This continues to be a new peak year for short, independent-led video series from artist producers online. My favourite election coverage is coming care of Church and State, up on Re:news, hosted by 19-year-old musician and first-time voter Church, from Church & AP (who took home three gongs at the Pacific Music Awards). On the basis of his interviews with Davidson, Ardern, Peters and Collins - a major network must offer him his own show.

Over on Facebook, I’ve been enjoying Circa Theatre’s Backstage Pass, interviews with some of the staff behind the scenes, from ticketing to stage management. 

Self-interest alert - I’m producing a second series of Curators of Wellington, short interviews with 28 local small gallery and art space curators and their artists, hosted by Pip Adam, Suzanne Tamaki and myself. The latest featuring a 91-year-old artist who should be considered a national treasure - Piera McArthur is a total delight.


Getting lots of attention with NZ music lovers is Unsung NZ, an excellent podcast series that began in August looking at some of the unsung heroes of the scene. 

Moving to movies, The Letterboxd Show is a podcast from the makers of Letterboxd, a film social network, hosted by editor-in-chief and experienced arts broadcaster Gemma Gracewood.

Not just a pod but a whole platform - key sound art venue and programme The Pyramid Club has an ace new website. Included is a great piece of animated drawing by Hannah Salmon of the leader of the opposition. Podcast Dancing in Your Head hosted by Dan Beban and Nell Thomas lives here.


David O’Donnell has written a smashing ode to veteran New Zealand actor, Dame Kate Harcourt - mother of Miranda, grandma of Thomasin - on The Theatre Times.

On the new Kete books site, Tina Makeriti writes beautifully about writing, community and reviews, assessing what has changed and what hasn’t.

And over on Pantograph Punch, Orissa Keane talks to the self-proclaimed Best Potter in the World, Laurie Steer, currently showing at Objectspace.


Written by

Mark Amery

15 Oct 2020

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.