In Hawke’s Bay there is a remarkably high level of participation in creative activities, reflecting the huge number of artists per capita in this country, more so than in most other countries.

I recently asked several key voices in the Bay’s art community for their perspective on the ‘health’ of art in the region – Rosalind Elliott and Charmian Jolly, joint owners of Statements Gallery, Napier; Maree Mills, director of the Hastings City Art Gallery; and Dr Suzette Major, Head of School at EIT’s School of Arts and Design.

Conversation ranged from the condition of the art market to the vibrancy of the Bay’s broader creative community.

The art market

Rosalind Elliott is optimistic about the future of the art market in Hawke’s Bay in spite of what she describes as a dismal ‘bear’ market – a reflection, she says, of the world’s depressed economy. Art sales are discretionary spending and that stops when things get tight.

When Elliott and Charmian Jolly bought Statements in 1991, the country was emerging from the 1987 stock market crash and the ensuing recession. By 1991 the art market was buoyant on the back of the global recovery and, fortunately, the Statements Gallery was poised to take advantage of this surge, being the only commercial art gallery in Hawke’s Bay at that time.

While we have seen the closure of galleries such as Judith Anderson and Jane Gray, Statements Gallery, Paperworks and a few others have survived thanks in part to Napier being a tourist town with cruise ships and visitors. The Black Barn Gallery in Havelock North has put Hawke’s Bay on the map with their high profile in the art sector and a stable of ‘name’ artists whose high value works they exhibit.

Hawke’s Bay has a strong collecting culture. The Hastings City Art Gallery experienced excellent sales at this year’s Creative Hawke’s Bay ‘Invitational’, the HCAG’s annual regional exhibition. There are art buying groups who collect work jointly and a huge number of art supporters of that Bay staple – the charity auction. And the Bay enjoys a substantial core of wealthy residents who are not affected by financial constraints and continue to invest in the over-$30,000 artwork.

The New Zealand art scene has changed dramatically over the past ten years. The catalyst was Helen Clark’s tenure as Minister of the Arts, when the category ‘artist’ was included in the accepted work descriptions by the Ministry of Social Development. This allowed artists to pursue their creative work with support from the taxpayer.

Not entirely by coincidence, the type of art being sold has also changed in the last ten years due to computer technology, with young artists finding new ways to express their ideas.

Passion … and an online profile

Most artists struggle to sell their art; most aren’t comfortable in the role. Traditionally it has fallen to the commercial dealer galleries and the public art galleries to provide exposure for their work.

The success of a commercial dealer gallery relies on the goodwill established by the directors of the gallery in the minds of its artists and public. Mills observes, “They have to work very hard for their mark-up and those not doing so will lose their artists and end up having to close.”

So, what has ensured the survival of Statements Gallery in these economic times? “It takes dedication and a love of this work,” Rosalind Elliott says. “To make sales requires a great passion for what we do, and is reflected by the professionalism of the Gallery; in its style, as determined by its owners and in the way the artwork is displayed. Charm and I know each of our artists very well and can tell their story to any potential customer. It gives us such pride to see our pieces in other people’s homes looking splendid. We want them to enjoy their chosen artwork as much as we do.”

Statements Gallery

The Statements directors strongly believe that artists need to sell their work. It is a signal of acceptance and worth, which, in turn, motivates the artist to evolve and explore fresh ideas. Commercial galleries provide a casual relaxed space where people can wander, peruse works of art and have the opportunity to buy artworks not available in public galleries. “We need each other in the same way that the public needs us.”

Maree Mills believes the internet has challenged the dealer system in recent years. “I don’t think the dealers will survive if they don’t get with the Facebook and Twitter phenomenon. Many have resisted it as they see themselves as high brow and social networking as unnecessary. How wrong they are!”

“Likewise, if an artist does not have a profile on the web they are invisible to curators.” Mills points to the vital role the internet played in the selection process for the recent exhibition Game On, which was curated by Jacob Scott and John Walsh. “I don’t think an artist can survive without a digital profile these days.”

The Hastings City Art Gallery – our public gallery – has a very different role to play from that of a dealer gallery. HCAG is predominantly funded by the Hastings District Council and is answerable to ratepayers. For this reason an advisory group assists with programming to ensure the Gallery is meeting the needs of the district’s wide demographic.

Part of the HCAG role is to support professional artists in Hawke’s Bay. Now, as a member of TENZ (Touring Exhibitions of NZ), HCAG is able to put Hawke’s Bay artists up for tour. Mills believes that local artists like photographer Richard Brimer and painter Wellesley Binding deserve to be seen by the rest of New Zealand.

HCAG also brings touring exhibitions to Hawke’s Bay to make fine art accessible locally. Rita Angus: selected works, which opened here in October, is touring from Te Papa, and is supported by local holdings at the Hawke’s Bay Museum’s Trust. “We are excited to be able to bring Rita ‘home’ as she was a Hastings girl!” says Mills. Future touring shows will feature Pat Hanly and Graham Percy.

The creative community

Looking at the broader creative community, Maree Mills observes: “People need enjoyment, beauty, intellectual stimulation and they acknowledge that by participating in all manner of events and creative endeavours. I think it illustrates the huge role the arts play in a tight economy.”

She points to the growing excitement about the building of the new Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery, the growth in student enrolments at EIT’s Arts & Design School, and the growing support for HB Opera House with improved ticket sales of their events.

Mills recounts that Hastings District CEO Ross McLeod recently asked the HCAG staff: “What makes Hastings a place where talent wants to live?” and observed that thriving arts and culture in a city attract creative individuals across professions and foster the small, enterprising niche businesses.

With a doctorate in art marketing, Suzette Major, appointed a year ago at EIT, brings her extensive knowledge of the business of art to the Bay. From her research, Dr Major notes that the creative industries are growing faster than the economy as a whole.

Over the course of her first year in Hawke’s Bay she has established a network of contacts in the Hawke’s Bay art world – her intention being to work collaboratively with other arts leaders in the Bay – Maree Mills, Roger King of Creative Hawke’s Bay, Malcolm Cordall of Creative Hastings and Douglas Lloyd Jenkins of the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery.

They all bring fresh ideas and by working together rather than in isolation, Dr Major believes their collective energy will invigorate our ‘creative economy’ and attract fresh creative blood into the region.

Art Education

The School of Arts and Design at EIT is flourishing, with around 140 students studying for the Degree of Visual Arts & Design, and about 300 students overall.

Dr Major is determined to keep the school small, limiting numbers on courses and building up the course offerings steadily over time. Subject areas are art, design, fashion, film (and stage and set design), with a certificate course in contemporary music beginning in 2012.

Existing courses have been redesigned to be project-based learning, where small teams of students work collaboratively on real projects, working through design issues and across skill sets, problem-solving and researching structural questions to bring a project to a viable design model. This year’s students were challenged to ‘re-design’ Marine Parade, with the teams presenting their finished scale models to
the Napier City Council.

Dr Major notes that project-based learning is being used in art education institutions in the UK and Australia, but this is the first time it has been introduced into New Zealand. The benefit of project-based learning is a team working experience as the students develop real-world projects. This makes the qualification more relevant to a career in the creative industries.

To succeed at selling their work artists need a business mindset, and thus business skills are a part of all courses on offer at the Arts and Design School, providing training in financial management and marketing, teaching innovative ways the artist can promote themselves and their work once their course is completed.

Art & councils

Maree Mills acknowledges that the arts community is very lucky to have great support from respective councils, which is not always the case in other provinces. The HCAG has enjoyed real commitment, as does the Hastings Community Art Gallery, which offers a high turnover of exhibitions of local artists’ work. And of course councils have supported the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery upgrade now underway.

Mills says, “I think Hawke’s Bay could benefit greatly by overcoming the Napier/Hastings divide. As an outsider coming in, I don’t see the city divide, but see a region. I live in Haumoana and enjoy both cities. I tell people I live in Hawke’s Bay. I understand that amalgamation is a very political topic; however, in these times where economic sustainability is paramount, it is very much a necessity, I believe.”

“A co-ordinated Arts Culture Heritage Strategy, for example, would enable us to create complementary events, share resources, etc. I understand that this was an objective of Creative Hawke’s Bay, but they never really had the buy-in required from the Councils … this is a very complex and emotive issue. It requires a major shift in thinking and an acceptance of the ‘more’s more’ law.”

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