“New Zealand artists are making it big on the world stage – but don’t get the same public recognition as our high-performing athletes. Does this need to be addressed, and if so, how would you address it?”
When I was about 13 years old, I learnt the lesson of a lifetime. It was the annual school speech competition. I was always more of a drama and debating kid than I was a sporting one, and while my school tried really hard to foster that side of the curriculum, it was Morrinsville. The trophy table for rugby and netball always seemed to outstrip everything else by at least five to one.
That’s why my choice of topic that year was so very very ill advised. You see, I decided to argue that rugby should be banned. It was of course all tongue and cheek. I was a loyal Waikato rugby supporter (I can still do a mean chant) so I thought I could get away with poking a bit of fun at our rugby culture. I was wrong.
The worst thing that could have happened that year did happen. I won. That, of course, meant standing up in front of my entire school assembly to deliver said speech. It didn’t take long before the murmurs started. There was a bit of laughter from the kids who shared my lack of athletic prowess but that was drowned out by the interjections coming from the first fifteen. When it all started getting a bit rowdy, the school Principal stood up, silenced the hall, and made me continue. The horror.
But what is it about sports that has captured us in this way and has it really over-shadowed other great achievements in fields that deserve equal accolade?
There are two obvious names that come to mind for their huge achievements of late. Lorde, a 17 year old woman from the North Shore has reached unprecedented heights in the music world. In mid November this young woman, based on the top 20 charts of all countries, was essentially a world number 1. At the same time, the All Blacks were preparing for their match against England, with much speculation around the future of Dan Carter. One got much more coverage here in New Zealand than the other.
But is that coverage the measure of success and achievement? I certainly cannot assume to know what a young musician takes as a measure of success, but I would wager that it’s not how often their name is in the Herald or on the front of a magazine, but perhaps it is the recognition of people they admire and respect (with hopefully sales to match).
In fact, I doubt that anyone who is trying to achieve the top of their field ever does so for the general acclaim – but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t get it.
That then, is as much about us as it is the media response to achievement.
The fact that we have previously won the world hip hop championships in Las Vegas is probably not especially well known here. It can’t be argued that people don’t care about dance because in terms of the forms of sport and recreation that we participate in, dance ranks at number eight. Roughly 630,000 kiwis are involved in cutting shapes on the dance floor in some form. So why don’t we know about this kind of achievement? Is it that we trivialize artistic achievement? Do we ignore perhaps that it’s not luck, but hard work, training and dedication that gets our artists onto the world stage in exactly the same way as it is for our sports people?
I think to answer all of these questions, we need only look at New Zealand, our culture, how we view ourselves and how we think the world views us. There is no question that we are proud of the achievements of our creative sector, but lets hang onto that pride and promote it. We can retain our humble and self deprecating ways while still taking to the world what we are capable of and celebrating it at home. Sporting fixtures give us a platform to do that on a regular basis, whereas with the arts, we seem content with quiet achievement. Lets turn that on its head.
We can show our pride in New Zealand music by making the need for a New Zealand music quota on our airwaves irrelevant. At the moment, we can’t even hit 20% most months. We can and should be doing better than that. That means being willing to give New Zealand audiences exposure to New Zealand musicians rather than just grabbing tried and true pop from offshore. That’s not the case for every station of course, but it is telling that it was George FM who Lorde acknowledged as first taking a punt on her music (and bFM did the same)
The same goes for our screen production industry. Peter Jackson has taken New Zealand to the world stage and that is fantastic, but we have so much more to offer. To demonstrate what we are producing we should start by giving Kiwis access to the talent we have right on our door steps. Digital platforms can bring down the barriers, but we are under utilizing them. What about the NZ Film Commission establishing an online platform for us all to legally access Kiwi films, short films and documentaries? Lets overcome the perils of funding that relies on a film having guaranteed cinema time, or being broadcast by our commercial TV networks who have no interest in public broadcasting or content.
When it comes to the visual arts, lets try something different. Of course we need exhibition space, safe ways to store and display prized McCahons, but lets bring people in, and tell the story. If for instance Te Papa’s collection is a national collection, then lets make it that. Let’s take it beyond Wellington, and even Auckland.
In amongst all of this, there is no denying funding matters. But some of it truly is about how we cut the pie.
I have no doubt that New Zealanders are proud of the phenomenal achievement of our creative sector. But lets give them the opportunity to see, feel and experience what they have to offer much more often. Lets show not just the world, but our own back yard, what we are made of.
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINY