20 Dec 2020

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Reflections and aspirations from outgoing Arts Council Chair Michael Moynahan

Michael Moynahan is the outgoing Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa. He reflects on his time as chair, and shares some aspirations for the future.

As I reflect on my time as Chair of the Arts Council, it’s evident that the immense value of the arts to our lives is never clearer than in times of crisis.  

Many people felt and saw the transformative effect of the arts in their lives with new salience during the nationwide lockdown. We turned to the arts to keep us connected, and to find hope and inspiration. In the months following, the absence of live theatre, gigs and festivals made us understand their value all the more.

As live arts experiences return, we’re among the most fortunate in the world to be able to gather and share in the magic of these communal experiences. Many festivals have adapted, presenting strong programmes of New Zealand-only acts, galleries are full of New Zealand work, development is underway for new work to be presented next year. Audiences are trying things they might not have before, and more eyes are being opened to the exceptional talent that is accessible right here at home.

New Zealanders are seeing the power and impact of the arts with new clarity, and it’s time to shout it from the rooftops.  We have to share with one another, and with our leaders and decision makers, the impact the arts have had on our lives. The arts community are ready to see their value better recognised and increase the essential contribution they make to the lives of New Zealanders. We need to take a joined up approach to investment and vision.

Creative New Zealand and the Arts Foundation recently travelled around the country with the All in For Arts He Waka e Eke Noa Nei Tātou regional roadshow. The stories we heard make it resoundingly clear that the arts have a transformational impact on New Zealanders of every age and every walk of life, everywhere.

In every town we visited, people told us that the arts create community, connect us, and inspire us. A writer in Invercargill reminded us that those who spent 30 minutes or more on a creative activity daily during COVID reported lower rates of depression and anxiety. An editor in Arrowtown told us there were more stories in their paper about arts and culture than about anything else that week. A former policeman in Ashburton told us about the benefits the arts bring to the wellbeing of rangatahi. A local government leader in Taranaki told us toi Māori was her salvation and the recreation of her identity. A dairy farmer in Whangarei told us the arts have given her courage and the skills to help her community.

The evidence of the value of the arts is all around us. It’s in our daily lives, our whānau and our communities. Now is the time for us to embed this value in our collective future.

In recognition of the immense challenges the arts community faced this year, Creative New Zealand has made unprecedented investment into the sector. Additional support from the Government has been crucial to help the arts community to rise strong.

Without access to the usual ways of presenting work this year, the arts community pivoted to delivering work to audiences in new ways. Artists and creatives found ways to choreograph, rehearse, fundraise, and perform and deliver online, and Creative New Zealand has supported this significant adaptation.

To ensure we maintain momentum, we need to ensure increased investment can be sustained in the long term. Last week, in an opinion piece for the Dominion Post, Peter Biggs called for a National Cultural Summit to agree on a sustainable way to fund a resilient arts and culture sector well in the future. Rosabel Tan wrote in the summer issue of Metro about the need to ensure lasting change and unlock the power of permanence.

There is an opportunity to reset the way we approach investment in the arts – an opportunity to establish a new baseline, to reframe our rationale and to collectively determine for what and how we invest, so that we can maximise the transformative value the arts can offer to our future in Aotearoa.

Creating a new baseline will ensure the value the arts create for all New Zealanders can be sustained. The arts and creative sector contributes almost $11 billion a year to our GDP and employs 90,000 people. When we invest in arts, we invest in our hauora, in tūrangawaewae, in education, in our communities and in our economy. We invest in our people.

As an ex-publisher, I ought to know better than anyone that when one chapter ends, it’s an opportunity for a new one to be written. I’m confident that the future leadership of the Arts Council is in very able hands, and I’m optimistic that the value of the arts – now better recognised – can illuminate a path to a stronger and more resilient Aotearoa.  

Poipoia te kakano kia puawai.
Nurture the seed and it will blossom.