Awards save scribe from starving cliche

By Michael Dickison

Arthur Meek, winner of the $80,000 biennial Harriet Friedlander New York Residency award. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Arthur Meek, winner of the $80,000 biennial Harriet Friedlander New York Residency award. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Without last night's award, it may have come down to strip dancing.

Playwright Arthur Meek likes to sit among the crowd at his plays to watch audience members react to the action under the spotlights as it unfurls according to his scripts. After long hours at his desk squeezing words out of a pen, the reward is seeing people moved and entertained.

Mr Meek enjoyed more direct recognition last night at the Macquarie Private Wealth New Zealand Arts Awards, when he was called on to the stage to receive an $80,000 travel grant, the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency.

Mr Meek had already been considering a New York visit, following a path travelled by many Kiwis before him - some of whom had to think creatively to find extra sources of income.

"Now I'm not going to have to twirl around a pole," he joked. "Everything was an option."

Mr Meek wrote the Auckland Theatre Company's On the upside down of the world - one of the major successes of a now 10-year career he said he had "fallen into".

"I'm not so big on the 'starving artist'," he said. "Now I'm just going to get to do everything that I wanted to do, and nothing I didn't."

The grant is open-ended, meaning he can stretch it out as long as the funds last - not long, he said, if he opted for a "Charlie Sheen" lifestyle.

Fiona Samuel, a writer, director and actor, received one of five $50,000 Laureate Awards this year.

"I personally like the fact that a community of businesspeople - wealthy people, not the world that artists move around in most of the time - they want to celebrate what artists contribute to society," she said.

"They have a lot of power, and it's nice that they look our way, at the funny ones in scruffy houses."

Arts Foundation executive director Simon Bowden said the ceremony brought together many of the country's top art awards from across disciplines.

"The goal is that this is the Halberg awards for the arts," Mr Bowden said.

New Zealand had one of the highest levels of engagement with the arts in the world, and it mattered as much as sport to people's lives, but the various disciplines could perhaps have been compartmentalised.

The New Zealand Arts Awards, now in its second year, could be the beginning of a change in perceptions, particularly in media coverage, he said.

Open day at the Cloud Creative workshop
* Panel discussion
* Meet the winners

$50,000 Laureate Awards
* Fiona Samuel - Actor/Writer/Director
* Gregory O'Brien - Poet/Editor/Painter/Curator/Critic
* Rachel House - Actor/Stage & Screen Director
* Ruia Aperahama - Singer/Songwriter
* Tony de Lautour - Painter

$25,000 New Generation Awards
* Cameron McMillan - Dancer/Choreographer
* Pip Adam - Writer
* Shigeyuki Kihara - Artist/Independent Curator

$80,000 Harriet Friedlander New York Residency
* Arthur Meek - playwright

- NZ Herald

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