Election Special: Arts Policies
Auckland’s arts community filled the seats at the Dance Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ) arts policy debate last week (or, at least, those that had an hour and a half spare at 10am on a Tuesday morning). Facilitated in partnership with Q Theatre, the debate finished off the DRIVE series of panel discussions and seminars designed to explore the state of the arts industry. Fittingly, this final event was an opportunity to discuss the future of the arts by asking several candidates in the upcoming election to explain their respective political party’s art policy (or, at least, their placeholder platitudes).
Metro editor Simon Wilson chaired the panel made up of Jacinda Ardern, the Labour List MP for Auckland Central; Paul Goldsmith, National’s List MP in Epsom; Green’s Maungakiekie candidate Richard Leckinger and Chris Yong, the Internet Party’s candidate for Te Atatu. Matariki Festival chairwoman Hinurewa te Hau stepped in for Ann Kendall of the Māori Party who was stymied by Auckland’s traffic.
by Bronwyn Bent
In a crushingly obvious visual metaphor, Paul Goldsmith couldn’t find his light, and delivered his address from the shadows. After a minute of a similar situation, Greens spokesperson Richard Leckinger went and stood in a spotlight.
Sent in place of the arts minister Chris Finaylson, it was clear that Goldmith hadn’t really sussed out his audience either; claiming that “a lot of people in this room will be involved in one way or the other” with the Avatar sequel. While it’s credible to think an actor might be involved, James Cameron’s need for a council arts advisor is less clear. It’s unsurprising that Goldsmith was floundering somewhat; National hasn’t released its Arts, Culture and Heritage policy yet, so without it, he didn’t have much to refer to. Instead, he emphasised what he saw as the achievements of the current government, with the message that “the arts do well when the economy does well.” In this case, “doing well” means selling tickets to a show.
As one of the only two parties to actually have an arts policy, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern was on surer ground. Ardern smartly focused on elements of Labour’s arts policy that cut across the sector: a greater focus on the arts workforce; the reinstatement of artists in schools; and ensuring that funding was given to high quality projects, “not high quality funding applications.” That’s a great start, but a bigger issue, and one not addressed by Labour’s policy, is that there’s so few options for funding: if you miss out on Creative New Zealand support for a visual arts project, for example, you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else to apply to.
Leckinger also started by talking about the hard realities of chasing funding, but not before he’d nicely distilled the problems facing the arts sector: those of resources, recognition and reach, and it would have been useful to hear more of how the Green’s policy addresses these. A former actor, Leckinger, with his hand written notes, obviously has a strong personal connection with the arts sector, but this sometimes got in the way of hearing about policy. The Greens have surveyed widely over the last year, and with more than 1300 responses, unlike Labour’s, their policy does have a more comprehensive feel to it.
Both Ardern and Leckinger mentioned the importance of arts education, specifically in relation to schools, but it’s striking that the arts are not mentioned in either of their education policies, which suggests it’s something the whole party is not particuarly committed to. Likewise, the evidence in the arts policies of some organisations having a stronger voice than others - much mention of literature, none of theatre and dance - gives the impression that some of both policies were written when someone heard a good idea said loudly and decided to include it.
Whilst Māori arts are covered by both Labour and Green policy, there was woefully little mention of them during the debate, at least not until Hinurewa te Hau stepped forward to speak on behalf of the delayed Māori party spokesperson. Although the Māori party doesn’t have a specific arts policy, in a way it has the most heartening of all of them, in that as te Hau explains it, the arts are just implicit in other policies, not separated out as some special weird thing for only a few people. As an aside, the wonder of video means you can also delight in the uncomfortable body language of most of the panelists when a question about when te reo will be made compulsory in schools is put to them. If you want to win over an audience full of people used to analysing movement on stage, you need to be in control of your gestures.
As debate chair Simon Wilson noted, the arts sector has an unusually wide scope. Policy needs to be as useful for the producers of Avatar as it is for the first time actors on stage at the Dargaville Little Theatre. On the evidence presented during this debate, and on the policies themselves, none of the parties are achieving this just yet. It would be an encouraging sign if the governing party deigned to even release their policy. Speaking with other audience members after the debate, there was a resigned feeling of getting more of the same, perhaps with a few nice extras, but no sense of being excited by any sort of grand vision. Wilson started by comparing all the parties to various Shakespearean characters, and the overall arts policy debate is like Timon of Athens, parts of it well written but most of it feeling like a first draft that needs revision.
by Jose Barbosa
00:00:14 - Welcome and introduction by Simon Wilson
00:04:34 - Paul Goldsmith (“Should I stand? I feel like I should stand.”)
00:17:17 - Jacinda Ardern (to Goldsmith re: Hobbit laws: “Our argument is you got duped.”)
00:28:13 - Richard Leckinger (“I feel like I haven’t found my light.”)
00:41:22 - Chris Yong (“In case you’re curious, that band I was referring to was the rock band Tadpole.”)
00:52:44 - Hinurewa te Hau (“You must be very unwell.”)
01:04:55 Question from Michael Smythe, industrial designer and author, regarding the arts as benefiting from increased wealth versus arts as a wealth generator
01:11:49 - Question from Janet McAllister, arts columnist for the NZ Herald: “What do you see as the cultural wellbeing goals of art, particularly funded art, and where does Tangata Whenua fit into this?”
01:17: 43 - Question from Anahera Higgins, Maori Arts and Culture Programme Manager at Auckland Council: “When is the Māori language going to be compulsory in our schools?”
01:24:08 - Question from Craig Ranapia, blogger at publicaddress.net: “What is one concrete thing you will do to reduce that burden [filling out copious grant forms] on the arts sector?”
01:28: 01 Comment from Jessica Smith, Executive Director of Silo Theatre: “Maybe take the money from yachting and put it into arts and culture because we’re the ones waving the flag for brand New Zealand.”
01:29:23 - Simon Wilson, wrap up and thank yous.