Nickie Muir: Art not just for art's sake

By Nickie Muir

Nickie Muir.
Nickie Muir.

Some $150K a day. That's what Hobbiton turns over in peak season. Just in gate sales. The cafes and accommodation and the 80 jobs to keep it ticking over are just a bonus. Entrance to an experience of a world that didn't exist except in the minds of Tolkien and Peter Jackson has produced thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in sustainable income. It's not a museum monument to a film - but an ongoing dialogue with a narrative that draws crowds.

The North has a long history of artists who have started a conversation with place and people. That warrior painter, guardian of the stripped back dark aesthetic, Hotere, McCahon, Tuwhare - there is no doubt the creative sector is where much of Northland's untapped community capital lies.

What art and artists contribute, whether creating conversations or building unity, guardians of landscape or markers of true value - much of the common good generated is intangible but nonetheless significant.

Which is why the Martin Jenkins report last year on the economic impact of the arts, culture and heritage sector in the Northland region is so interesting. The research shows the ACH sector is the second largest employer in the region, being on a par with the dairying industry. The report estimates the ACH sector is responsible for $398 million of Northland's output, creates more than 2284 jobs and is "a significant direct contributor" to regional GDP. These figures have been achieved despite a lack of commitment from central government - it's estimated less than 1 per cent of Creative NZ's funding comes north.

Which makes Northtech's moves to raise course fees in Rawene from about $1200 to $6200 and not offer degree courses, promised to students who've already completed diplomas, odd - especially in light of the money they've invested in their international school in Auckland. Given the unique culture and heritage of the North, it's surprising the schools in Kerikeri and Rawene are not national magnates for students serious about a career in art.

Given the calibre of many tutors, all working artists (I should disclose here I once went to school with one of them), it's not surprising their students have done so well.

One such is Glen Haywood, the winner of the Four Plinths Sculpture project. His work, based on his Rita Angus residency, will stand on the Wellington waterfront for two years. Maree Wilson's light installation, Built World, was exhibited for a year at the Waikato Museum of Art while Claire Kaahu White is a published author.

Students set up the gallery Black Space and several sit on trust boards running other galleries with a combined revenue - directly back to artists - of $95K a year. One has a New York residency, others exhibit nationally as well as selling work through Te Papa as well as being finalists in the Wallace Art awards.

Northtech, says funder Tertiary Education Commission, should "assist our people to reach their full potential and contribute to the social and economic well-being of the country". If I were a tutor, I'd be sending Mr Key a note reading: "Show me the money" because they've delivered the goods.

- Northern Advocate

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