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The Big Gig

14 Dec 2020
Tim Walker's influenced virtually every corner of Aotearoa's arts and culture sectors. He explains how his new role can help create a more connected creative ecosystem.

“I’m interested in creativity as a verb, not a noun.”

It’s difficult to sum up someone like Tim Walker in one sentence. But that could well be it.

Walker’s never been one to sit back, accept the status quo and be an observer. 

He’s a participant, a doer.

And with his comprehensive and extensive contribution to the creative and cultural realms through the past three decades, he’s proven to be committed to changing the perception of creativity to be an action, rather than an object.

“There’s a huge amount of synergy in the verb across the sector but fundamentally, all the energy goes into defining the sector as a series of nouns,” Walker explains.

“What’s important to me is taking an expansive look at the current and potential impact of creative activity. The sector often organises itself in silos - be they institutions, genre or forms of art practice. That’s come about from a history of low funding and a sense of scarcity. What I’m interested in is a more connected creative ecosystem, a greater sense of aspiration, working to have a bigger impact through what we do.”

It’s that vigour that’s delivered Walker to his latest key role, coming on board as the Chairman of The Big Idea. The Board has had a revamp in 2020, including the arrival of Tina Symmans, Huia O’Sullivan and Kirsten Matthew to join established trustees Mike Denford, Sam Snedden and Gus Sharp. With Annie Ackerman focussing her attention on her role as TBI’s Chief Executive, Walker has no qualms talking up this newest opportunity.

“I feel huge synergy for the aspirations and achievements of TBI and it aligns very closely with what I think is important. I think it’s such a strong board, the horizon looking forward is really exciting.”

Career without peer

Walker’s career has seen him specialise in working with government (national & local) agencies, iwi, non-profit organisations, the museum and wider cultural sector (including libraries, archives, events and festivals), tourism ventures to assess current state and develop innovative, strategic infrastructure and initiatives. 

His CV reads like the Yellow Pages of culture - working in a wide range of roles with an impressive array of organisations including the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Creative New Zealand, Auckland Museum, The Dowse, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Te Papa, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Foundation and councils up and down the country.

His future-focused, community and audience-centric approach is coupled with extensive experience of working with mana whenua on cultural and community projects.

RESPECT: hip hop Aotearoa exhibition outdoor event, The Dowse 2003.

Walker’s eager to put this formidable skillset to good use in his new role at the helm of TBI’s board, “to consolidate the organisation in terms of formal governance and making sure the organisation is on a proper footing for being ambitious and expansive. 

“The great thing about TBI it’s becoming a digital business, it has a very clear idea of opening up a much bigger space. What I see as the biggest potential is for TBI to express the creative ecosystem as a verb.”

Connecting the dots

The Big Idea Chairman Tim Walker. 

Connection - or perhaps the lack thereof - is a topic of passion for Walker. His career has been all about opening up lines of discussion between different parties so he knows there are still barriers that need overcoming.

“There’s a lot of activity going on but there’s very little awareness between silos of where there are overlaps.  So any conversation I’m having anywhere in the country or any sector, I can immediately say ‘you should be talking to A,B,C or D, they’re trying to do the same thing’.  

“An example of this would be at the moment for various things I’m speaking to someone like Huia O’Sullivan at Ngā Rangatahi Toa, Tanea Heke at Toi Whakaari and Maru Nihoniho who is a Māori gamer. Those three people aren’t known to each other - if they were in a room together, immediately their underlying goals and what they’re doing through creative practices are so alike. 

“What I’m eager for TBI to do is to facilitate conversations so that synergies across the sector start to come to the fore, as well as bringing the sector to a wider audience. It’s about learning from each other - how can we do that if we’re not talking?”

The question that needs to be asked

Assume nothing; celebrating gender diversity exhibition – curated by Rebecca Swann, TheNewDowse 2007.

Walker describes himself as “a generalist in the sector - because I’m more interested in the value and power of creativity than I am in the particular specificity of any product.” 

He’s also a realist. In a time where diversity is finally a key conversation when making appointments such as his, he is acutely aware of the perception of a middle-aged white male getting the nod.

“I completely welcome the question because I think that any appointment of this type should face and have front of mind. In terms of diversity, What I do bring is an LGBTQI point of view and my work has always been grounded in ensuring that diverse voices come to the table. 

“When I was at the Dowse, for example, I inherited a national craft museum, but as we developed, we built signature projects with the hip hop community over 8 years, worked with the mental health sector and I’ve been an IHC Art Awards judge for many years. I’ve made a very real commitment to working with Māori and with dedicated Māori roles, as well as very strong work with the Pacific community. 

Performance at IHC Art Award 2019.

“All I can say is that because I’m lucky enough to work as broadly as I do in the sector, and because I’ve built those relationships, I think implicitly I bring to the board a voice that will consistently ask ‘are we fully addressing the need for diverse points of view’, through the organisation itself in terms of personnel and through the stories and work that is delivered through TBI.”

Innovate and rethink

For both his TBI appointment and his consultancy work with Tim Walker Associates, he has his hands full during a challenging time for the creative sector. Walker is more than happy to roll up his sleeves and get involved.

“What I do through my strategic planning work is clarification of the purpose, what we’re individually and collectively trying to achieve through the work that we do. Some of the challenges coming from the government in terms of its COVID recovery package is definitely forcing the sector to think about its value across a range of sectors and parts of human life. I think it’s a rich time for the sector as well as a really challenging one.  

“I deal with a lot of people around the globe and much of the world has completely ground to a halt. We’re lucky here, relatively speaking, that there is opportunity to innovate and rethink. So I’m not going to be a Pollyanna about it but TBI and I will be cheerleaders about sharing information for positive ways ahead.“


Who Got the Gig?

For 19 years, The Big Idea has helped creatives find work and opportunities in New Zealand and arts organisations and creative companies find the right people.

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