Hawke’s Bay problem solvers often lament a ‘brain drain’ when discussing our region’s challenges. They perceive that we’re losing our…
Hawke’s Bay has three arts trusts working on our behalf. Creative Napier and Creative Hastings look after community programmes, and are in many ways the artsy arms of the local councils. Creative Hawke’s Bay works across the region, ‘dedicated to supporting and developing the professional creative sector’.
Together the three are perfectly placed to give a picture of what the State of the Arts is in our region as we head into 2014.
A tale of two cities
Christine Heaney manages Creative Napier. There the big project on the cards for 2014 is development of a community arts centre. On 12th December Heaney received the letter.
It announced Creative Napier had secured $300,000 from the lotteries commission for the project.
The plan is to refurbish the old borough council chamber building removed from Herschell St when the Hawke’s Bay Museum became MTG. With keystone funding in place, the task now will be securing the remaining investment required to get the building up and running.
“There are so many things that could be happening, but they are all hooked around the need for a building. It needs to be flexible; everything to everyone. The large majority of the arts community in Napier is looking forward to using it,” says Heaney.
Pitsch Leiser is Heaney’s opposite number at Creative Hastings and, although relatively new to the role and the region, he is making great strides in ensuring Creative Hastings is delivering on its mandate.
“The role of Creative Hastings is to highlight artists in the region to locals and visitors in a participatory way,” Leiser says. “It’s important to build an understanding in the wider community of what we have. Unless people know about the treasures buried here, we can’t celebrate them.”
Although it has a busy well-used community arts centre, public space is a strong theme for Creative Hastings in 2014. Ironic, considering Creative Napier is wanting to move away from public space into a home of its own.
After decades working in arts development, including roles in Auckland and Wellington, Leiser is well versed in making full use of what’s around him.
“From a creative perspective, I am constantly asking, ‘What is there that’s exciting? Where is the talent? And, how can we in the arts help build community?’ Art, dance, music – it all has the ability to bring communities together. And it’s part of our role to uncover and showcase the multitudes of talent that’s in the wider district.”
Missing regional voice?
The third arts trust is Creative Hawke’s Bay. A result of Creative New Zealand funding priorities in 2000 and a victim of Creative New Zealand funding cuts ten years later, Creative Hawke’s Bay currently appears to be in hibernation.
It does run Hawke’s Bay’s Pecha Kucha Night, but rather than focusing on projects, the group is in a phase of ‘wait and see’.
“We’re marking time, waiting for things to align,” says Roger King who chairs the Creative Hawke’s Bay board, which includes Dr Suzette Major from EIT and Te Rangi Huata from Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc.
Alignment could come through amalgamation; an inevitable consideration in any conversation about what 2014 will bring.
Art and artists often set the way for the rest of us to follow. With three different arts bodies serving Hawke’s Bay – three separate boards, two community arts advisors, one existing building (Hastings), one building in waiting (Napier), dozens of projects, events and initiatives, and certainly three distinct agendas and strategies – will 2014 see the amalgamation of our arts trusts?
Roger King would like the three bodies to merge.
“One creative agency for the region makes sense. Arts should be the trail blazer for demonstrating how amalgamation could be successful. Collaboration is good, but it’s not the same as being one organisation,” says King.
“Resources are hard enough to find without splitting them up all over the place. Arts organisations have always been run on slim funding, but there would be opportunities to make savings having one where there have been two or three.”
The three ‘Creatives’ have already worked together on one project.
Despite some early teething problems, the annual Regional Art Guide is now being produced by Creative Hastings
and Creative Napier, with some midwifery services provided by Creative Hawke’s Bay.
The most recent guide also has a newly introduced online version, something Pitsch Leiser spearheaded
Christine Heaney won’t be pressed into giving an answer on potential amalgamation of the two cities’ councils or their relevant arts trusts, but 2014 will see a rebranding of Creative Napier, with some reference to the relationship with Creative Hastings.
“If the arts can’t get it together in terms of talking to each other, then heaven help us. We should be leading the way in those kinds of discussions.”
Leiser believes any new infrastructure in the arts would support the employment of a few key people and would require some savvy strategic thinking around how the arts can develop a portfolio through the year that is sustainable.
“Whatever it is, it cannot become a monolith that sucks up all the resources and kills off the little shoots that could grow into a very beautiful tree. We need to foster those sprouts and see which ones survive.”
Art goes on
While the year ahead may bring political change and ultimately realignment of priorities, programmes and associated funding pools, both Creative Napier and Creative Hastings are busy getting on with business as usual.
Alongside the gigantic task of establishing a new facility during 2014, Creative Napier will hold its annual summer series of concerts in the Napier Soundshell and its Children’s Art Expo, which sees 300 children take part in a broad programme of workshops over five days.
“It’s our job to deliver a good chunk of Napier City Council’s arts policy, promote and foster community arts at a grassroots level,” explains Heaney. “And create opportunities for the public to engage with the arts.”
Creative Napier’s remit from council calls for ten events a year, but in 2013 they held 20.
“Public speakers, concerts, flash mobs, a workshop to decorate penguin boxes – someone painted one that said ‘Breed well’. That was hilarious.”
Heaney feels that because of the lack of a permanent space, Creative Napier has to be particularly innovative about where it holds events.
“We use the streets and outside locations. In 2014 we will have a street piano,” she says. This initiative will be along the lines of the Play Me I’m Yours project found in cities around the world, where pianos are painted up by artists and left in public places for people to play.
Business as usual for Creative Hastings consists of a summer series of outside concerts, regular exhibitions in the Hastings Community Arts Centre, a big role in the Hastings Blossom Parade and Live after Five. In the past this has been held in the Opera House Plaza, but in an attempt to cut costs will be moved to the Community Arts Centre.
For 2014 Pitsch Leiser is also playing with some new ideas, including Backyard Summer Fest, an inaugural event held in January at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds, and a sculpture and carving symposium.
Another project involves arguably the ‘ugliest wall in Hastings’. “We are supporting a project to put our community’s stories on the KMart wall that runs along St Aubyn Street,” he explains. “When people walk down that road and see their stories and it’s relevant to them they’re proud. That’s a great way to engage people in the arts.”
Both Leiser and Roger King are watching the developments in Hastings’ Civic Square with interest, beginning with the erection of 18 pou, hoping they herald the beginning of a new wave of civic pride in the arts.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how the new civic square development will unfold and how that space will be used,” says King.
Leiser agrees: “When visitors come they want to see what is unique to our city and that will always be our indigenous stories.”
“Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated is a key player in this conversation. Māori in this region have an enormous wealth of stories and resources that are just waiting to flourish. They don’t need us, but it’s good if we can weave together and tell the story of the value of the arts to the wider community.”
From his overview position, Roger King can see some big holes in Hawke’s Bay’s art scene, including funding gaps, a lack of strategic direction and a need for an injection of art from outside the Bay.
“What is key is the need for strong leadership and a strong vision: in venues and at a political level.”
Of work from outside, King says: “Hawke’s Bay does very well internally. There are a lot of artists showing their work, a lot of theatre and certainly a lot of classical music. But there is not a lot from outside the area coming in. There is no place in Hawke’s Bay showing the cutting edge of contemporary art in this country.”
He explains the importance of such opportunities to local audiences and artists: “Being exposed to a huge range of work from around New Zealand helps to contextualise what our own artists are doing.”