In considering the health of our creative and cultural community in HB, what’s first apparent are the great assets provided by the private sector wineries, with their open venues and concerts profiling the Bay as a vibrant lifestyle community. We owe a lot to them for establishing this color and energy … and they could do with more support. There’s also a rich network of marae, cultural hubs in their own right – a huge resource of constant activity, history and stimuli. Deco also adds an interesting dimension.

We’re very lucky to have this wealth of culture and creativity all around us. In fact there’s so much going for the Bay that it stands out as a special region with real potential for development.

Then there are the region’s public facilities — the Opera House, Napier Municipal, Napier Museum and Hastings Art Gallery. These are basic public facilities that you’d expect in any region, and the local bodies’ responsibility to provide.

While it all looks good for short-term visitors, there are inherent problems that with a bit of attention could really make a difference.  It’s frustrating to see all the wonderful elements here struggling to get over the threshold. Collectively, our region’s Local Authorities seem tentative and unclear about how to really utilise the assets to improve our own economic and social wellbeing.

Through my work as an artist/designer/educator, there’s not a week I’m not interacting with an educational institution, Iwi or council. It’s not hard to see that there’s a need for a culture shift within these organisations. If this changed, a whole lot of possibilities would materialise. Good leadership and a commitment to a vision are essential.

There is agreement among peers that in this time of economic stress the creative sector may have some answers. Use of creative process and design thinking to revolutionise business and organisations is a hot and proven global phenomenon.

Over the past six years I’ve been working with others on a national project to bring design, culture and business together. We’ve established some understanding of the issues within organisations that inhibit development.

These issues are apparent within our own local bodies. Compliance focused and unable to manage growing powers with growing vision. If there’s no box to tick, they seem unable to make any decisions. They continually scope options using outside consultants, but don’t follow the advice.

Gatekeeping is a huge issue – entrenched staff in positions of authority and comfort resist change and are skeptical of the unknown. Change means work. But most departments operate in silos making collaboration between departments or organisations very difficult. Bureaucratic, political and institutional constraints feel impenetrable, even to top staff. Change seems impossible without immense effort over a long period of time. What is written in mission statements and objectives is not being practiced within organisations. Institutions and staff appear fearful of entering territory where there is little precedent or ‘published’ knowledge, and the potential for ‘ignorance’ to be revealed. Finding staff with the necessary attributes to deliver in the public sector with low salary caps is difficult.

Under these circumstances, our institutions can be more trouble than they’re worth. Something needs to change.

Providing arts, culture and heritage amenities is mandatory for councils. Hawke’s Bay is managed by three authorities each with their own approach. There is no connection or collaboration between any of the players and that seems crazy … and an area of opportunity.

Hastings – Slow Off the Mark
Hastings District Council has a large and diverse area to cover and an interesting mix of culturally-connected businesses like wineries and food producers that need to be valued. The inputs and qualities they bring to the region’s culture with their venues and activities really underwrite the HB experience. They’ve filled the gap for a while, but now they’re struggling. It’s time for Hastings itself to develop some energy.

In the beginning of this three-year term, councillors endorsed a new vision for the arts and a new director, but they were frustratingly slow getting out of the blocks, with middle management gatekeepers not sharing the vision of the governors. It wasn’t till a much needed restructure that things began to move. Only now is the gallery able to begin to show just what’s possible with a shift in culture.

There’s real potential here for an investment that could make a difference. Imagine a real contemporary, vibrant, culturally stimulated and connected Hastings centre with innovative design workshops linked into businesses developing products and services.

The Iwi have a strong cultural build programme through their marae, equipping them with knowledge and skills to function with cultural confidence. This is a now an unmeasured regional asset. Ten years ago Ngati Kahungunu put an offer to HDC to work with them on a new cultural centre, but the experience of the slow walk has led Kahungunu to explore an exciting option for themselves and Hastings may have missed the bus.

The Landmarks programme is another example – a positive initiative from Jeremy Dwyer’s time as mayor but sadly it seems to have fallen into a bottom drawer.

Flaxmere is rearing its head, wanting positive cultural identity and action. Good things are going on there. Now’s the time for HDC to activate their staff skills and come up with a culturally relevant solution.

On a positive level the new Hastings CEO has initiated this restructure to make a cultural shift. HDC has scored well poaching some good staff from Napier, but now the loss to Napier is very apparent.

Napier – Locked into Deco
Napier is a tidy little unit locked into its deco heritage. Its establishment as the tidy boutique city has shown what can be achieved with a bit of vision, passion, energy and follow through. Leadership there have evolved a unique and special relationship working with and supporting developers for win-win solutions.

Congratulations to Napier for getting together the resources for a new Museum & Art Gallery. Now’s the time for Napier to give us a dose of the best of the rest – to show what else is out in the world, bring other ideas to town. The slogan on the big billboard says “For Us – to build a home worthy of our collections & exhibitions.” The exhibition policy of this new facility is going to be crucial. There are the museum and earthquake stories to be told and the Bay has a significant asset of Maori Taonga that never see the light of day.

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins is calling desperately for Napier to foster more diversity to encourage the pretty city to move forward. Having built its Deco persona, Napier now has a difficult future to negotiate, with “Historic Places” clasped on buildings and spaces that will need to be able to evolve. There’s a delicate balance to be struck between preservation and reason that will continue to need careful Council and community facilitation and innovative design.

Other Players
I can’t get a handle on the Regional Council’s role in all of this. I feel that they should be coordinating or facilitating the whole with an overview, but I’m at a loss to identify anything that they really do for our arts and culture.

Creative HB brings us a very small set of talks each year and facilitates the printing of an art trail brochure, but that’s about it. We have a province that really could mix it as an identity, but it’s going to need some serious strategic work and investment to coordinate initiatives and to help market Hawke’s Bay’s own professional artists outside of the region.

Many agree that tertiary education in the arts has slipped over the past decade into being a control-managed commodity. There’s a lot that EIT could be doing with its programme. Let’s hope the newly appointed Head of School can convince managers to move to a more relevant and connected applied programme. The facilities are there, but like the councils, an internal cultural shift is required to provide returns to community, society and industry. The High Schools, under-equipped and resourced, seem to be disaster zones for creativity or innovation.

The answers are at our fingertips –within our unique cultural makeup there are processes and ways of doing things that involve and include community. If our leaders develop some confidence to think local, think relevance and think connections, there’s a chance we could manage the relationships between the key players and the community to be more effective and sustainable. Let’s hope in the next term Councillors can establish clarity, activate their staff, foster collaborations, and take some positive action to capitalise on what’s here in the Bay.

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