Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Arts plan? It's wishful candy floss

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Council's blueprint reveals little planning, no action ... and a fairly selective view of the city's cultural life

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Hallelujah. Four years into the life of the Super City and Aucklanders finally have a draft arts and culture action plan. Or do we?

The abridged "public" version on the council's website that Aucklanders are being asked to respond to, certainly calls itself an action plan. So does the 80-page unbowdlerised version which, for reasons unknown, is not available unless you ask.

But neither offer any plan of action at all. Just pages of platitudes.

A 10-year strategic action plan should outline the present situation vis-a-vis the arts and culture, state the goals to be achieved by 2024, then describe the way forward, giving a budget and describing who would do what.

But the closest this report gets is vague one- to three-year "improvement actions".

Auckland is the arts and culture capital of New Zealand. Partly this is the inevitable result of population size. It is home to a third of the country's population. But let's not forget the proud legacy of the old Auckland City Council in promoting and underwriting arts and culture for the whole region, while the outlying councils did as little as possible. Also to be acknowledged are the pioneering arts organisations and artists without whom Auckland today would be a cultural desert.

The draft plan has none of this. The pillars of the city's arts world, such as the Auckland Theatre Company, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Arts Festival are mentioned only once - in a sidebar referring to their outreach programmes.

It's hard to fault the opening words of arts committee chairman Alf Filipaina's foreword: "Arts and culture are fundamental to a healthy society and a good quality of life. We need a clear and focused plan to reach all parts of the region ... and make arts and culture programmes relevant to the different communities who live here."

But clear and focused this report is not. Nor is it a plan, which perhaps is not surprising when its parentage is outlined. It's the spawn of a project team reporting to a steering committee of representatives from the Ministry of Culture, Creative New Zealand, the Creative Coalition, the ASB Community Trust, the Independent Maori Statutory Board, the Pacific Advisory Panel, the Mayoral Office, Regional Facilities Auckland and assorted Auckland Council departments.

If anyone won out of that lot, it's the Maori Statutory Board, which seems to have persuaded the authors to trump Rotorua and make Auckland the Maori culture capital of the world, complete with a cultural centre on the waterfront or in the city centre, and "to develop marae as regional cultural hubs, in particular marae that have indicated they would like to offer tourism services ..."

Without any details, though, this is as useless as the throwaway line elsewhere pledging "to recognise the potential role of the St James Theatre as a major contributor to the Aotea Quarter." It's all wishful candy floss.

We all know the St James' potential. What we want to see is a time line for its resurrection, and what the council's involvement will be. Similarly, the Maori culture centre. Who will pay for it. Will it be a dumbed down tourist Disneyland, or a genuine addition to Auckland's buzzing, multi-cultural arts scene?

If I've highlighted Maori, it's because I'm rather jealous of their success in being heard. All but absent from this action plan is any reference to the European mainstream, which is bizarre, given the generosity of Auckland Council's current support, both financial, and by way of venues, to this part of Auckland's cultural landscape. Indeed, the vast majority of ratepayer support goes to support art forms with strong lashings of European DNA flowing through their veins. These days, of course, they're part of Auckland's indigenous culture. Auckland Theatre Company is now playing Maurice Shadbolt's classic Anzac war play, Once on Chunuk Bair. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra frequently premieres local works, and modern dance company Black Grace often tours the world.

But in the draft "action plan" it's as though this past doesn't exist. Indeed when I read passages such as "The many large cultural and sporting events in Auckland have contributed to significantly more use of public transport and to the goal of outstanding public transport," as justification for arts promotion, I start to wonder whether any of this is real.

One rather despondent member of the arts community suggested to me that instead of a woolly inaction plan like this, the answer is an in-house "champion" like Ludo Campbell-Reid.

Mr Campbell-Reid, manager of environmental strategy and policy, is universally known as "urban design champion". He is the one-stop shop on matters of urban design. Redevelop Queen Elizabeth Square, turn roadways into "shared spaces", Ludo gets it done.

Shame I never see him at a show. He's just the sort of whirlwind superman the arts need.

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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