04 Feb 2014
On Friday 31 January the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Bill became an Act.
Every Arts Council chair I have worked with has advocated for this change. It’s a good thing that about every 20 years our legislation is looked at. In three months we will be working to a new governance structure of one Arts Council of 13. This is markedly different from the current structure of the governing Arts Council plus the Arts Board, Te Waka Toi (Māori Arts Board) and Pacific Arts Committee.
One of the positive features is that it will hasten our ability to progress work. For example our policy folk will not have to do the rounds of four different groups to develop initiatives, in addition to extensive external dialogue.
But it is not the obvious gains in effectiveness and efficiency that most excite me. The new Council reflects the rich possibilities for partnership inherent in our nation’s founding document (te Tiriti). To me it’s symbolic of a more progressive idea that one Council will work through issues collectively, rather than dividing everything into the three spheres of Māori, Pacific and general, as if they are neatly distinct realms.
This is not a plug for homogeneity, rather an acknowledgement that the new structure is ambitious. It will compel Council members and staff to come to grips with the whole picture. It will require us to listen to more and diverse voices.
To the extent that it has been possible under the current Act, we have been working towards this. For example, the investment panels for Toi Uru Kahikitea and Toi Tōtara Haemata investment programmes have included the Chairs of the Pacific Arts Committee, Te Waka Toi and the Arts Board. This has been a useful first step, the bigger journey is yet to unfold.
The legislation provides sound safeguards for culturally specific knowledge. The new Art Council must include Māori in any assessment relevant to Māori arts, and likewise for the arts of Pacific Islands people.
So we won’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, but we have a once in 20 year opportunity to refresh how we work.
Anei tātou nā ko te pō, anā tātou nā he rā ki tua
Here we are in the night, but day is on the way (there is light at the end of the tunnel)