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Think Again!

08 May 2019
Lowdown #44: Leadership exits and entrances, bad treatment and chances to think again - Kate Powell delivers this week's arts media news.

No way to treat a treasure

In the last decade or so,  job rejection via ghosting or automated platitudes via a “do-not-reply” address might have become commonplace, but that doesn’t make it courteous. Applying the same impersonal standards to redundancy might seem like cruel carelessness, but an email ended Peter Frater’s 59-year career in the Wellington artistic community.

A stalwart in the truest sense of the word, Peter’s colourful career has seen him described as “a regional treasure, if not a national one” by music writer Nick Bollinger. Peter helped set up the famous Newtown and Island Bay Festivals, save the St Johns Theatre and push for the end of Athletic Park in favour of the Westpac Stadium.

For the last 15 years, he has been a contractor as the stage doorman at the Wellington Opera House, until an email from Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency forced the 80-year old into early retirement with the announcement that his job would be taken over by professional security guards. It was the first time Peter had heard of the change and although he realised retirement was inevitable, it was the hands-off process that left him smarting. However, he’s not going to rest on his laurels, intending to use his retirement to volunteer in his community. It remains unknown if the Wellington City Council HR team are taking classes in common kindness.  

That old chestnut - access

The recent move by the New Zealand Herald to install a paywall comes with some frustrations for our creative sector. Mainstream media coverage has long been elusive to the arts. But the inclusion of reviews behind the paywall only furthers this problem, not to mention aiding the idea of the arts being only for those who are financially secure. While it’s vital that journalists are well paid for their endeavours, it would be good to find a middle ground so that all New Zealanders have access to the creative happenings, opinions and issues up and down the country.

Changes at the helm

We have recently seen Arts Foundation CEO Simon Bowden bowing out after 17 years at the helm and, this week, word has it that Jonathan Bielski is leaving Auckland Arts Festival to take up the CE role at Auckland Theatre Company.

Sweating the funding

In the recent Playmarket Ebulletin, it was announced that, for the first time since 2012,  all 90ish organisations funded by Creative New Zealand on a regular basis have submitted their proposals for funding for the next few years. Things were very quiet last week as arts organisations around the country hunkered down to their spreadsheets. Crossing our fingers and toes for you all. 

Farewell to the man who saw no future in being “transfixed on dying swans”

It is with sadness the Lowdown reports the death of contemporary dance pioneer John Casserley aged 78. A much-lauded performer and choreographer, John split his time between New Zealand and the United States, bringing thoroughly modern practises to the Antipodes. He championed New Zealanders creating their own performances, “or else we're never going to have any indigenous work. There has to be an experimental fringe on the edge of ballet or we'll be transfixed on dying swans.” He collaborated with some of New Zealand’s best-loved creatives, including artist Ralph Hotere, poet Bill Manhire, musicians Jack Body and Barry Margan as well as founding Sound Music Theatre Company and choreographing several pieces for the New Zealand Ballet (Royal New Zealand Ballet).

“Traditional” - really?

Speaking of media coverage, the Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys exhibition opened to much fanfare at Auckland Art Gallery/Toi Tamaki last Friday night. Spread over 12 rooms it has been ten years in the making and documents the remarkable life of one of New Zealand’s finest artists.

Bafflingly, Newshub described the works as “traditional” by a “woman who was thoroughly modern.” An odd statement given that the advent of Modern art can be traced back to around 1863 and that Frances admired Cubism, Fauvism and a host of then-cutting edge artists. This writer happens to think that this radical approach to art and womanhood might have a symbiotic relationship. You’ll be able to read further opinions about the exhibition in her upcoming Tough Crowd column, sans paywall.

Frances Hodgkins, 1920, E H McCormick Papers, E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. 
Gift of Linda Gill, 2015. Photo: Langfier Ltd, London.

Think again, please

No public announcements have been made yet, but rumours are swirling on social media that Wellington City Council is considering taking over some of City Gallery Wellington’s space for temporary housing of the central library, after its closure due to earthquake concerns. Fellow Lowdown editor and longtime arts commentator Mark Amery has commented:

 “It is counterproductive to treat public space for art as somehow vacant for use above other council facilities having to shrink. City Gallery is running an outstanding programme, witnessed by high attendance rates for its current excellent Eva Rothschild and Semiconductor shows, and already the gallery is working to accommodate library activities. Both the library and gallery and the public deserve better. The loss of our library is huge for the public - it is a vital space of wellbeing for so many. City Gallery can’t provide that. Council needs to look beyond the easy, to how they provide the diverse social spaces the library usually provides elsewhere. As a so-called cultural capital, this gallery of International standing shouldn’t be compromised. We’ve already lost one major cultural institution, let's not compromise at great cost another. Let's be more creative. It's no more small irony that the gallery building was until 1991 our public library - let's not go backwards."  

If this move does go ahead, then it surely flies in the face of the City Gallery’s remarkable visitor statistics. The recent openings of Semiconductor: The Technological Sublime and Eva Rothschild: Kosmos have seen the gallery crammed with visitors, while the ever-popular Tuatara Open Late reaches its fifth anniversary in June. This is on top of their latest Family Day reaching record numbers and the myriad of school-age children who attend the gallery’s curriculum-based programmes each year.

Mark Amery reached out to Wellington Mayor Justin Lester who commented via email:  

“The City Gallery is an essential civic and cultural institution in Wellington and I highly value it. There has been significant interest in the idea of moving the Central Library into the City Gallery, but this is not a view I share personally.  I will ensure both facilities are supported and one does not compromise the other.”


Feeding the ears of our wee ones

Craig Smith is probably praising the truth in the adage “today’s news becomes tomorrow’s fish n’ chip wrapping.” Less than a month after the beloved Wonky Donkey author came under fire for his Golliwog Song, Smith has been announced as one of the winners of the 2019 NZ Children's Music Awards. Smith has been bestowed with the honour of being the winner of Recorded Music New Zealand’s Best Children's Artist.

APRA AMCOS, Recorded Music New Zealand and NZ On Air announced the awards this Monday, with recipients representing “the diversity and quality of music being produced in New Zealand.”

First-time finalist Cy Winstanley penned the APRA Best Children’s Song of 2019. Performed by Simon Stanley,  Marley Sitting on a Pumpkin Seed is a cutesy, catchy folk song sure to enamour the ears of wee ones up and down the country. While Suzy Cato proves that she is the multi-generational Mum of New Zealand with her video alongside Kath Bee Sprinkle A Little Sunshine taking out the NZ on Air Best Children's Music Video award.

A monument to whitewashing?

A fifty-year-old statute of Captain James Cook surveying Gisborne’s Tītīrangi Hill is set to move to Tairawhiti Museum amidst debate around colonialist history and vandalism.  Erected in 1969, the statute marks the anniversary of a bloody encounter between Maori and Pakeha and remains a monument to a time in our modern history where whitewashing was de rigueur.  Tairawhiti Museum director Eloise Wallace is keen to re-contextualise the statute and the repercussions of Cook’s arrival as well as finally giving a voice to local iwi perspective. Long overdue, but better late than never.


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