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Step Up: Keep Our Rangatahi Safe

29 Jun 2023

As the fall out of James Wallace's "insidious exploitation" within the arts community comes out of the shadows - the focus must go on protecting those who need it most.

Photo: Shutterstock.

Culture eats policy – meaning there’s a lot of talk and not so much action when it comes to keeping our rangatahi in the arts community safe. 

The recent lifting of name suppression of wealthy arts patron and businessman Sir James Wallace for his indecent assault convictions is a timely reminder about the imbalance of power as a dangerous phenomenon, that can create an unsafe environment, resulting in the harm of our young people.

You won’t have to look very hard to find that his private dealings were there for all to see. Michelle Hewitson in the NZ Herald in 2011 when visiting Wallace at his home wrote about “… a couple of 'custodians' who might be young artists who make sure somebody is always in the house and to drive him places and presumably provide him with conversation when he wants it, in a quid pro quo deal for a rather nice roof over their heads.”

Omission, looking the other way and maintaining a ‘business as usual’ approach are the conditions that allow insidious exploitation of people, and can lead to harassment, bullying and sexual violence. 

These crimes are not the fault of everyone, but we each have a collective responsibility to set the terms and conditions within our arts community; to ensure we are all safe, and especially our young people are kept safe. 

We do this by creating space to give their voice representation and we tautoko (support) their fledgling journey every step of the way and don’t expect them to be grateful. 

We’re the ones with the life experience who can see the bigger picture.  

We stand firm so they can navigate their artistic careers confidently, surrounded by kaitiaki (guardians) - that’s each and every one of us watching out, intervening where possible.

We make sure protocols and policies enacted in our organisations are transparent, robust, inclusive and help to develop the mental, emotional and physical well-being of our rangatahi alongside their artistic practice. 

It’s shameful how many people were involved trying to cover up and subvert the course of justice to protect Wallace. 

Remember who it is that we are supposed to be protecting - our arts community can only thrive when we nurture our youth. 

So speak up anyway you can - make sure your organisation has a culture that practises respectful tikanga because this shit has to stop.


If you or someone you know would like more information or need support, below are a list of helpful and official resources:

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

1737, need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time. 

Changing Minds | For better mental health in New Zealand

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or text 4357