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SOAPBOX: Come on…...Our sector needs a lovebomb

Elise Sterbeck
Lucy-Mary Mulholland
I feel right now that the arts sector in Aotearoa is not well. It seems that there could be parts which are at risk of dying.


Elise Sterback, Executive Director of Basement Theatre, has a problem.  She believes the arts need to find a way to break out of its cycle of self-deprecation, ignite the lovebomb fuse, and claim its role in NZ’s future. Elise takes us inside a conversation with arts therapist Lucy-Mary Mulholland.


Lucy-Mary, I feel right now that the arts sector in Aotearoa is not well.  It seems that there could be parts which are at risk of dying.

What makes you say that?

Mainly because we don’t seem to be able to come together and advocate for the value that we bring to this country - we just can’t back ourselves. It’s as if we’ve bought into the belief that the arts are a “nice to have”, because we’ve been told that for so long now by the powers that be.  Even though, deep down, we know we are vital.

It sounds like a learned pattern of behaviour.. It’s like when a child who’s been labelled as a bit naughty or uncooperative keeps trying to get attention from the teacher.  She says “Miss! Miss!” and keeps getting brushed off. Finally, when the teacher turns around and says in an exasperated voice “What do you want?”. The child responds with “nothing”. Perhaps the child has now internalised that sense of worthlessness she’s been fed? Or perhaps being thrust into the spotlight is overwhelming? Attention and love are scary and strange when you’ve been starved of it for so long.    

So, what do you do in that situation? How do you come back from that?

Well in that situation, trying to get a kid to prove their worth through “performance measures” is only going to make matters worse. Those around the child just need to feed the kid with love and respect (while still holding safety boundaries). I’ve worked with kids before where they’ll keep testing you, keep pushing you.  Trying to get an angry, punitive response out of you. Because they’ll only trust you and open up to you if they know you’ll stick it out and stick with them no matter what. Unconditional love right?

It’s about relationship isn’t it? Bringing trust and stability back into the equation so that there is a safe space to grow and thrive in.

There’s a particular therapy practice popping into my head. Have you ever heard of ‘love-bombing’? My art therapy mentor Anna-Michele Hantler told me about it. It’s a practice developed by psychologist Oliver James, designed for when things have really gone off the rails and a relationship between a young person and an adult is strained and at breaking point. You decide on a dollar figure, say $100, and you give the child the freedom, on one special day, to choose exactly what they’d like to do and how they’d like to spend the time and the money. They get the full, undivided attention of the adult who will simply follow, participate and support them.

It may feel like a risky move, but the results are pretty much always the same. The child feels special, they get to feel in control for once and they get to absorb an extra dose of love. As a result their behaviour becomes more positive and the adults need to regulate and remind less often in the future. Sometimes one love-bombing day is enough. Sometimes an adult and child might come back to this practice a few more times in the future, until the relationship is strong and healthy.

I wonder what it would look like to give a whole community a love-bombing?

Yes! Love-bombing the arts would not necessarily be about funding artwork. It could be supporting travel, paying the mortgage, working on a passion project, or taking a break. It’s the freedom to do whatever you want. It’s about making a statement to the artist… You are loved. As you are. You are already valued, just by showing up. You are essential.

Our new PM is a big champion for the arts and it’s been great to hear her saying these kinds of positive affirmations in her speeches to the sector. It’s like we’ve got a new teacher who instead of ignoring us, wants to help us live up to our potential. But there’s a sense of - what’s next? What action do we take? Should we be patient and wait for the lovebomb from government that may never come?

We are not children and we have the ability to act on the these new words of encouragement we are already hearing from government. We need to find a way to break out of our cycle of self-deprecation. This means imagining ourselves past a time when the arts compete for attention with other sectors in society, to a vision of the arts having a role that is essential to all parts of New Zealanders’ wellbeing. We need to ignite the love-bomb fuse, and claim our role in NZ’s future. That begins with believing in our own worth.

Elise Sterback is a strategist and arts advocate. She sat on the board of Auckland’s Creative Coalition for 10 years, and is currently a member of Te Rōpū Mana Toi, a national arts advocacy group, and Auckland Council’s regional arts steering group. Elise is the Executive Director of Basement Theatre, the home for emerging performing artists in Auckland.

Lucy-Mary Mulholland is an Arts Therapist (BA - Psychology, MA - Arts Therapy Clinical) who comes from a background of working with children and young people who have experienced trauma or emotional distress, in Auckland, Chicago and Bristol, UK. She works with the Mindfulness Education Group teaching sessions in schools, and more recently has been working with adults in the wellbeing field.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Jun 2018

The Big Idea Editor