Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Artistic compromise would benefit the people

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TheAdvance Pasifika march protested against Government decisions which impacted on Pacific people. Picture / APN
TheAdvance Pasifika march protested against Government decisions which impacted on Pacific people. Picture / APN

Up until a week ago, the last protest Albert Refiti had been on was an anti-nuclear march back in 1983. But last Saturday, the Head of Spatial Design at AUT joined the Advance Pasifika march up Queen St.

What inspired him to protest again after nearly 20 years? His sign read: "Show leadership not business management 101."

"I think there's a lack of leadership and I think ethics are important," Refiti explained, possibly referring to Prime Minister John Key's recent insistence that unethical behaviour, if technically lawful, is not a reason to sack cabinet ministers.

Refiti also thinks educated Pasifika people have a lot of leadership to offer, in part by bringing ideas from their heritage cultures into the New Zealand mix. He's doing this himself, by organising free public discussions between artists and academics on traditional Pacific concepts such as mana and tapu.

The first such discussion in early June - including heavy hitters Lemi Ponifasio of Mau dance, artist John Pule and poet Karlo Mila - was lively, varied, thoughtful and humorous. Mila spoke of artists as both tapu creators and tapu destroyers -icon-builders and iconoclasts, perhaps; Ponifasio talked of his dance finding "an orientation towards the divine"; Pule, ONZM, mimed licking the long black microphone, as if it were an ... ice cream.

Why talk about tapu? "Sacred life is really important [to Pasifika peoples]," said Refiti. And again, he linked this with ethics.

Refiti is also a patron of the upcoming major Pacific art exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery, Home AKL. In many respects Home AKL is a more exciting and important exhibition than Degas to Dali.

The gallery should get props for putting on a major show drawn from non-European heritages (this is what it should have been doing all along). Hopefully other cultures will be highlighted in future - perhaps in international shows?

However, before the march, Advance Pasifika spokesperson Efeso Collins said the gallery should not be charging even $5 entry for Home AKL, as it made it almost impossible for low-income families to see the art; particularly those several bus stages away from the CBD, and those who aren't paid a living wage.

Home AKL opening day (July 7) will be free to all, concessions are available and there will be no charge for children under 14 for the whole season. This is welcome but arguably doesn't go far enough. And the fact that the gallery tried to jack up the exhibition price even over the $5 it agreed with its funders suggests skew-whiff priorities.

Still, the gallery does have to bring in a little coin.

One possible compromise could be to have a well-promoted regular no-charge day, like the New Gallery used to have, except to all exhibitions (even international ones) with extended opening hours that day.

This is a lightning rod for a much wider issue: financial barriers exist for many, not only to physical necessities but also to sharing in significant cultural - some would say spiritual - nourishment in general. It's the sort of issue which strong, ethical leaders would tackle with gusto.

- NZ Herald

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