In many ways, Hawke’s Bay has a booming arts and culture scene. There’s something on every night. Places to go. Things to see. Works created. Plans hatched. Creative types find our vistas, our climate, our urban/rural blend a fitting place to make things happen.
But much of this work happens in silos. The individual islands of creative buzz are vibrant but the bridges that connect them are fragile, when they exist at all.
1.Anna Pierard: Director Festival Opera and Project Prima Volta opera youth programme
2. Charles Ropitini: Strategic Māori advisor at Napier City Council and kaitiaki of the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Pakipaki
3. Freeman White: Practising visual artist
4. Jacob Scott: Designer, artistic advisor, Opera House working group
5. Kevin Murphy: Event manager at Napier City Council, Backline Charitable Trust, NZ Event Association regional representative
6. Lisa-Jane Easter: Theatre director, drama coach, manager of the Blyth Performing Arts Centre
7. Narelle Huata: CEO of Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu
8. Pitsch Leiser: Director of Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, manager of Arts Inc Heretaunga
9. Roger King: Arts advisor, Creative New Zealand board
10. Sophie Wallace: Parlour Projects art gallery, Opera House working group
Best laid plans
Pitsch Leiser believes there’s a willingness to join up thinking across the region, but it’s tricky without an aligned arts strategy. “We haven’t got a regional approach … we’re not saying, ‘What will this place look like in ten years?’ Without that strategic approach we lack the necessary infrastructure to make things possible. We aren’t thinking about the resourcing, the succession, the collective lobbying at a central government level to make a real vision happen.”
At a community level that kind of thinking peppers most initiatives, but it needs to happen at a governance level too. “Everyone is talking, from human to human we really appreciate each other. We can make shit happen, but we aren’t making it happen in a big picture way.”
Lisa-Jane (LJ) Easter does feel there is a sense of collaboration in the air, but there’s still some way to go. “We need to sit around with a talking stick and start having conversations. There’s room for us all – I’m not sure about our egos! – but there is enough room to hold hands and share ideas,” LJ explains.
Jacob Scott sees a missing link is a strategy that looks at the artistic aspects of all regional development. “I’d like to see a cultural aspiration plan for every project and encouragement for new models across the board of local issues. How we tackle those things will be our cultural legacy.”
Jacob sees opportunities too in recent regulatory changes, “We live in an era of compliance, so we need to encourage the creative and the innovative in our ranks to respond. I’d like to see more of a can-do attitude.”
Places and spaces
The building stock, new and upgraded architecture could all benefit the sector, but between EQ compliance needs, a lack of vision and narrow-minded developers it’s a lost opportunity.
This environment is strangling individual artists who need cheap rent on inner city studio space to make their work and through that contribute to a desirable, vibrant community.
Freeman White has first-hand experience of how current trends can hamstring creatives. “You want to see life breathed into a city, but I see that curtailed by the need for development,” says Freeman who is moving out of his inner-city Napier studio, which is being demoed to make way for a carpark.
“Artists move in, funky cafes open, there’s creativity, it’s a real draw-card for people, but then developers see the potential and the prices go up.” Napier especially is one such victim, says Freeman, who believes opportunities for creatives are still alive in other parts of the Bay.
“Hastings is really the Mecca now for that kind of space,” he says. “What really pisses me off is seeing lots of upstairs spaces empty and landlords not open to the idea of leasing them to artists.”
Roger King believes new architecture too has a role to play in encouraging streetscapes that support the arts. “Hawke’s Bay does not have a good track record; we hunker down and go for steady, but there’s an opportunity for great architecture here. Community leaders need to be brave.”
He says: “It’s not the way a building looks, it’s the way clever architects can make spaces that allow communal interaction that forges the potential for creative activity.”
People, people, people
As much as the built environment and the constructs that support progress in the arts are vital, it is the people that make it truly hum; not just artists and funders but also engaged and invested audiences.
Kevin Murphy would like to see more people going to live music in the Bay. He feels there needs to be greater knowledge of how working artists, whether they are musicians, or other creatives, make money in the industry. And more support for them to make work AND a living wage.
“We don’t support events and artists enough and this can give the impression that we don’t value them,” he says, explaining that buying tickets early is a small but significant way to make that change.
Sophie Wallace would also encourage an increase of audience participation in the arts. “It would be great to see more public art throughout the region. Commissioning large scale sculptures by well-known contemporary artists would help to engage the public in our arts scene, while also attracting more visitors to Hawke’s Bay.”
That desire to encourage creativity beyond galleries and theatres, but in public spaces too is echoed by Charles Ropitini, who is working across the region on projects but also locally in his own rohe of Pakipaki. He is currently working on how best to establish a cottage industry at Pakipaki as the centre for Māori textiles in New Zealand.
“Reconnecting with our natural talents is an aspiration we hold and allows a strong relationship to be maintained with what resources remain, while also planning for the future.”
Narelle Huata believes that as we look forward we must continually acknowledge what has been, that legacy that has helped build Hawke’s Bay’s cultural scene.
“We are missing real acknowledgement of Māori arts and culture and the importance of its role in manifesting positive communities,” she says, seeing song, dance and storytelling as vital in encouraging self-determination and leadership within communities.
From Hastings’ Civic Square pou to Takitimu Performing Arts to the Waiata Music Awards, te ao Māori artistic endeavours have often been an integral, but undervalued part of our cultural make-up.
“More people need to be aware of what these organisations have done and continue to do for our communities,” says Narelle.
Anna Pierard too is involved in using the arts to benefit the community in diverse and far-reaching ways. “What’s exciting is the opportunity the arts offer to fix the problems all the other sectors have created.” She sees the arts as a silver bullet for addressing a raft of social ills from mental health, to poor education outcomes. She speaks from first-hand experience of the potential the arts has to turn lives around, through her work introducing youth to opera.
What is BayBuzz’s take-away from these voices?
Seeing the wide-reaching importance of the arts is an overarching theme. And despite the challenges, there is a buzz of general optimism.
Bringing the arts into civic projects such as entry-statements, roundabouts and visitor attractions is an important way to honour the region’s arts and culture community. Whether it’s the new airport extension spearheaded by Jacob Scott or the Pekapeka Wetlands project, which Charles Ropitini is involved in, the beautification of our places and spaces is very much in the domain of our arts and culture practitioners. These projects embody the region-wide thinking so needed and yet so absent across this region.
Hurdles notwithstanding, the future looks positive for the arts here.
More and more the arts are becoming an essential part of the Hawke’s Bay narrative. Practitioners and decision-makers need to begin to speak with a coordinated voice. Audiences must get more proactive at accessing what’s available. Local governing bodies should now focus on the arts as a must-have not a nice-to-have. With those shifts, Hawke’s Bay has the potential to establish its place as an arts and culture hotbed.
Opera House encore
The appointment of Megan Peacock Coyle as manager of the Opera House is a pivotal next step in getting the place up and running. Most involved in the arts and culture scene in the Bay see the Opera House as a keystone in constructing a bright future for performers, makers and audiences in Hawke’s Bay.
Megan has been away for seven years. Before she left she was heavily involved in performing arts in the Bay. Now she’s back after a stint as director of the Oamaru Opera House and manager of Baycourt Theatre in Tauranga.
With so many people anxious to see what changes, what blossoms and what stays the same under Megan’s leadership, BayBuzz asked Megan, after only a few weeks back in the Bay, what personally excites her about our arts and culture landscape.
1. I am incredibly excited about the Opera House and Arts Precinct coming to life again and the positive input that this will have in our community. It is important to me that the community have ownership of the Opera House, that they see it as a hub, a gathering place, where people have a sense of belonging and creativity can flourish.
2. So thrilled that HB has an arts festival now. It is something I dreamed of when I was here seven years ago and to see it actually happening is brilliant and what an amazing programme for 2018, many ‘must go’ shows to see.
3. Love the idea of the ‘Stings Fringe Festival sitting alongside the Arts Festival. This is such an opportunity for local makers of work and audiences to stretch themselves.
4. The Art Deco Festival is another delight and it is wonderful to see it evolving and growing as a ‘must do’ festival in NZ and overseas.
5. I am looking forward to bringing some big shows and events to HB, making sure HB audiences get to enjoy more high quality performing arts from around NZ and the world.
6. The national and international representation of Toi Māori by the amazing team at Kahurangi Māori Dance Company and Takitimu Performing Arts School, who are educating and expanding opportunities for our youth in Māori performing arts.
7. Having Festival Opera in Hawke’s Bay allows not only audiences to experience wonderful opera productions, but they are also focusing on ensuring that the community and young people get a chance to be involved.
8. Excellent musical theatre and drama productions from Hawke’s Bay theatre societies, inspiring young, and older, actors to give it a go, while also harnessing some exceptionally experienced local talent.
9. The National Youth Drama School is a national treasure. I love hearing stories from established actors how they attended this in their youth and it was why they decided to work in performing arts/filmmaking.
10. Ultimately it is the realisation of the amount of incredibly creative and talented people in HB – the artists, the actors, dancers and singers, the writers and makers and the educators.. all these unbelievably passinate people making work that truly enhances our community wellbeing.
Ten Arts and Culture Projects to Watch For
1. The artistic influences in the new airport extension opening soon.
2. Ngā Toi Hawke’s Bay, a new governance body to advocate for the arts at a regional and central government level.
3. The restoration of the historically significant Church of the Immaculate Conception in Pakipaki.
4. A partnership school with music at the centre of teaching and learning.
5. The opening of a new centre for Takitimu Performing Arts and the Kahurangi New Zealand Māori Dance Theatre.
6. Plans unveiled and works progressing on the Hawke’s Bay Opera House, Municipal Buildings and associated Cultural Precinct.
7. The rebuilding of Keirunga Arts Centre with new and innovative spaces.
8. A Hawke’s Bay ‘Music Hub’ website providing artists a portal to promote shows and a one-stop-shop for gigs.
9. A large-scale music concert at McLean Park.
10. Cape to Coast arts and heritage trail with sculptures, discovery panels and public artworks in collaboration with NZ’s poet laureates and the National Library.