Using art to enrich city

Janet Frame.
Janet Frame.
Ralph Hotere.
Ralph Hotere.
James K. Baxter.
James K. Baxter.

How can we strengthen Dunedin's arts and creative future, asks city councillor Aaron Hawkins.


Art is everywhere in Dunedin: Robbie Burns presiding over the Octagon, the leadlight windows down the main street, an incredible bunch of old buildings, now lurching back into life, James K. Baxter, Ralph Hotere, Janet Frame.

One hundred of our finest and most fashionable artists and writers are holed up here on fellowships.

This small city has produced and seduced some of the best creative talent in the country (and further afield, still).

We want to better understand why that is and how we can make it an even bigger part of what we do. Ara Toi Otepoti - Our Creative Future will be a map of what that looks like.

I know the economic impact of our creative industries is important, but I want to preface the strategy by saying this isn't about money, jobs and growth.

If we do it right, those things will likely result but only as a by-product.

It is first and foremost about strengthening and enabling our access, as participants or observers, to as broad a range of cultural opportunities as possible.

There is, already and always, a staggering amount going on here.

The two questions that underpin the whole conversation are: What have we done well that we are proud of, and what do we aspire to do better?

The creative sector chips in $3.6 billion of New Zealand's GDP, about as much as the forestry sector.

It is exactly the kind of low-weight, high-value industry we're committed to encouraging in our economic development strategy.

In our favour is the simple fact that, whether you want to be in sales or in sculpture, Dunedin is an incredibly affordable place to try to get your ideas off the ground.

When this Government dismantled the Pathways to Arts & Cultural Employment scheme (Pace, or the artist's dole), it did more than take away the resources for creative types to polish their chops and make it on their own.

The entire industry was maligned by the Minister of Social Development as the fairytale life of layabouts, not a serious industry worth pursuing.

The irony, as the Government wrestles to be in the same frame as Peter Jackson, is heavy.

The age of mass manufacturing as economic salvation is over.

Helping 50 businesses each hire an extra pair of hands is a far better investment than chasing someone to hire a staff of 50.

It may be helpful to think of each of our practising artists as a small business.

Every artist trying to sustain a paid creative life here is a plucky young business battler who we should enable and encourage.

Every day in Dunedin there are artists, designers and film-makers setting to work on projects with teams that span continents.

The strength of our natural beauty, our university and cultural institutions bring the world to us.

The legacy left by Straitjacket Fits, Six60 and Astro Children that we are now building upon, is a city where art, music and literature are a big part of what makes this such a great place to live, work and study in.

I hope this strategy can articulate the ambitions not just of our artists but our audiences, too.

I want to hear how people feel we could celebrate our success stories, and write new ones.

Ara Toi Otepoti: Our Creative Future will be launched at 5.30pm tomorrow at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, featuring live music and performances. All welcome.

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