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Why it’s Time to Open Up to New Art

22 Feb 2021
Last week's brief Lockdown was a reminder not to take our creative offerings and artists for granted. We lay the challenge to mainstream media and point you in the right direction.

Right now, Aotearoa has a unique opportunity in the world – and more importantly, the local stage. 

We are one of the few countries where we can consume art in public. This privilege should not be taken for granted - especially after the short, sharp and unwelcome taste of lockdown that Auckland recently experienced.  

Those three days aside, we can attend galleries, gigs, the theatre and everything in between with relative ease.  For international artists, we are a small, difficult and expensive nation to get to at the best of times.  Nowadays, there is the addition of a (completely necessary) 14-day quarantine thrown into the mix and the fact that international tours, gigs and galleries of every stripe have largely ground to a halt. So, it is no wonder that international artists are not currently flocking to us.

This means two things. One, that the world is watching. Because the old normal that our arts sector was built on wasn’t working, they are looking at how we rebuild it in the wake of (relative) normalcy. The second is that they are looking at how we support local artists. For the first time in living memory, we have a chance as an audience to celebrate our local artists without the distraction of a glut of international artists flooding in each month. Meanwhile, the oft-criticised mainstream media has an opportunity to extensively cover our own artistic output in a way that they weren’t previously.

Exposure doesn’t pay the rent

When I first started out as a reviewer and columnist, writing for free CDs, gig tickets, opening night nibbles and that thing that is still yet to pay the bills - ‘exposure’ - there was an unspoken rule that you cut your teeth on relatively small artists. If you wrote eloquently enough about enough performances in a basement bar, an art school opening, an avant garde play - you were deemed ‘worthy’ to cover ‘real’ art... read: international artists. What has been particularly interesting to note in the wake of COVID 19, is the anecdotes where independent arts media have struggled to find writers to cover local artists.

Shuttle by Kawita Vatanajyankur - part of Digital Stage Artworks at Auckland Arts Festival.

A large part of this is undoubtedly because the aforementioned methods of ‘payment’ in exchange for skills that would be recompensed in literally any other sector is grossly unfair in times of economic certainty. So, it is completely understandable - even right - that this model has collapsed in the middle of a global pandemic and millions of job losses. 

It needed to change anyway. 

Mainstream of consciousness

But there’s a catch. Unfortunately, mainstream media relies on independent media to keep their finger on the pulse of the arts - especially locally – so what we are beginning to see is a vicious cycle rooted in bad economics and the unspoken idea that international artists are the only one’s worthy of mainstream coverage.

Many of our artists and creators are of an international calibre. They deserve an audience. They deserve the reviews, the interviews, the eyeballs, the money that mainstream media coverage brings. All that takes is for the media to take the opportunity to look beyond the obvious big names and to delve into the depth and breadth of the arts sector. 

Neon Flux by Zena Elliott (Ngāti Awa and Te Whanau ā Apanui) and Tia Barratt at Hamilton Gardens Art Festival.

2021 could be the year that the media (and by proxy audiences) take the opportunity to explore new artists and celebrate them loudly on their respective platforms - because together we can shift cultural landscapes. After all, the whole world is watching – we might as well give them a show.

Get your art on

If you’re ready to dive headlong into our rich creative waters, here are just a couple of tips on where to look to discover art in Aotearoa over the next month (and beyond). 

Uniting all of them is the fact that they offer a broad approach to what art is, along with a mixture of established and emerging artists for you to celebrate or fall in love with. Whatever you are looking for, chances are you will find it in at least one of these places - or use it as a launchpad to find your next inspiring brush with creativity.

Don't stay in your comfort zone - last week's short Alert Level relapse was a timely reminder of how good we really have it.

Auckland Arts Festival: 4 -21 March, Auckland

Aroha Arts Project, part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

For the month of March, over 70 shows and events will explore the theme of ‘Aroha’, described as being “a multifaceted [interpretation which also includes] compassion, empathy, sympathy, affection, caring, benevolence and kindness…in this rapidly changing world, the many facets of aroha are more relevant than ever.” 

There also promises to be a “massive increase in free events, supporting access to our Kaupapa.” This is the chance to try something from outside your usual wheelhouse. You can check out the full programme here.


Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival: 20-28 February, Hamilton

'This is Kiwi', part of the Hamilton Gardens Art Festival.

I’ve been saying it for years, but the Hamilton Arts scene is fantastic. Hamilton Gardens is considered one of the best public gardens in the world, so put the two together and you’ve got something pretty special. It’s on as we speak - The full programme can be found on their website.


Newtown Festival: Sunday, 7 March, Wellington

Drag entertainer Hugo Grrl is part of the Newtown Festival lineup. Photo: Tom Hollow.

If you’re going to spend one day in Wellington, make it this one. Touted as Aotearoa’s biggest free festival and street fair in one of Wellington’s most vibrant suburbs, it is a fantastic day out for the entire family. This year, they will be hosting 15 stages and 420 stalls. Read all about them here.


Every Fringe Festival across Aotearoa

'An Extraordinary Meeting' on at Auckland Fringe.

There are Fringe Festivals across all major cities in Aotearoa. Each one has its own flavour and is worth going to. Check out your nearest one - Tāmaki Makaurau, yours is underway right now.