20 Oct 2021

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Creative New Zealand farewells outgoing Arts Council member Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban

Pioneering leader Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban DNZM QSO thanked council members and Creative New Zealand staff in an emotional farewell in the Pōneke office on Tuesday evening.

Words of wisdom were shared amidst tears as Arts Council members and Creative New Zealand staff farewelled Luamanuvao after seven years of service in governance.

The proud Wellingtonian thanked staff and council members while highlighting the importance of the arts and cultural communities in Aotearoa.

“The arts is the light, it’s vibrant, it’s confrontational, it’s beautiful,” she said.

A Samoan high chief, pioneering leader and the first woman Pasifika Member of Parliament in New Zealand, Luamanuvao joined the Creative New Zealand whānau as Chair of the Pacific Arts Committee in May 2013, taking the reins from Pele Walker. Caren Rangi, the current Chair of the Arts Council, was the Cook Islands representative on the Committee at that time.

Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban DNZM QSO sitting bottom right corner, joined by Arts Council Members of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa at Chair Caren Rangi's cloaking in 2021. Photo taken Feb 23, 2021 at Level One.

The Pacific Arts Committee was originally established in 1995, with Albert Wendt appointed as the first chair. In 2014, the Committee and the Te Waka Toi Board were folded into the new unitary Arts Council structure in May 2014 under the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act 2014.

Luamanuvao was appointed to the Arts Council in May 2014 as one of two Pasifika representatives on the 13-member council.

She sat next to her husband Peter and longtime friend and colleague Caren Rangi at Creative New Zealand’s Wellington office while staff sang and shared stories of her mana.

“It's been really emotional sitting here because my parents came here [to Aotearoa] in the 50s, and dad died 27 years ago yesterday (Monday),” Luamanuvao shared.

Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban DNZM QSO

“I remember the Polynesian arts festival in Rotorua when I was a young 12-year-old performing in the Samoan cultural group. All of us culturally have arts, it’s just a matter of us knowing and embracing the importance of that.”

 Chair of the Arts Council Caren Rangi says Luamanuvao has worked with passion, mana and added immensely to the adornment of the va with the arts community.

“It has been a privilege to work in governance with Luamanuvao. In her time at Toi Aotearoa, she has provided strategic and cultural leadership in the development of the first Pacific Arts Strategy in 2018, and into our other strategic work to develop the arts,” Caren says.

“This has led to increased investment, development and support for Pasifika artists and arts organisations, and through to Pacific communities.”

Luamanuvao became a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2018, for her services to education and the Pacific community.

 Chief Executive of Creative New Zealand Stephen Wainwright says her input has been significant for the arts sector.

“Luamanuvao has played a huge role in celebrating the creativity and contribution Pacific arts make to the rich cultural identity of Aotearoa,” he says.

“I also want to thank Luamanuvao for the mana, alofa and support she has provided for our Pasifika staff and senior leadership team. I personally have always admired her beautiful humanity.”

A visionary and mentor to a generation of Pacific leaders across the public service and communities, Luamanuvao will be keeping herself busy with other projects.

She is also the driving force behind the major Fale Malae project towards a first national home for Pasifika in the capital.       

Senior Manager of Pacific Arts Makerita Urale presented Luamanuvao with a gift from the Pacific team saying it represented the light she has shown to mentor and guide others.

“As our ancestors who navigate the stars, guided by the starlight of the night sky across the Moana, you have been that guiding and shining light for many of us. And we wanted you to have this light at home, for you and Peter, so that you will never forget that you left some of that light with us so that we may shine it upon others,” she says.

“Thank you, fa’afetai lava Luamanuvao, it’s been a privilege and an honour to serve and tautua you, as the high chief and fabulous kween that you are.”

Luamanuvao thanked council members and staff for their passion and commitment to the sector and acknowledged current Chair Caren Rangi.

“To my sister Caren, congratulations, it’s very historical to have a Pacific woman as chair of council,” she said.

“Well done because it’s great for you to be in that role and to represent for all our younger ones of the importance of being around the board table and not on the menu.”

Luamanuvao also recognised Chief Executive Stephen Wainwright for his leadership in organisational structural change and commitment to increasing diversity on staff as well as increased funding for Māori and Pacific arts, as well as disability arts.

As a Samoan high chief, she then gifted and placed a traditional chiefly garland, an ‘ula fala, upon Stephen, as a cultural honour for his leadership.

Luamanuvao and CEO Stephen Wainwright wearing his new 'ula fala

Before songs ended the evening and food was blessed, Luamanuvao shared a quote as a reminder of the work that’s yet to be done.

“Me mahi tatou mo te oranga o te katoa, we must work together for the wellbeing of all - and I think we need to be reminded of that, it’s so important to work together for the wellbeing of all,” she says.

“Thank you everybody for all the wonderful work you do, I have never regretted being on the council and coming to serve you, but more importantly our artists and our people. I’m very proud of that.”