Drum roll, please - meet New Zealand's latest laureates.
In the past 20 years, the Arts Foundation of New Zealand has given 205 of our artists awards totalling $6 million and founded Boosted, the country's largest art crowdfunding website. Started to celebrate and empower our writers, choreographers and dancers, theatre-makers, musicians, visual and screen artists, the foundation now wants a nationwide discussion about what is art in Aotearoa.
It's dubbed September Arts Month "to give art and creativity some serious oxygen". Canvas kick starts the discussions by honouring the 10 recipients of Arts Foundation Laureate Awards. Each receives $25,000 to put toward anything they want – and carry on being the exceptional creatives that they are. Here, they talk inspiration, the work they make, turning points and what being an Arts Foundation Laureate means.
Receives the Burr/Tatham Trust Award for Film-making
"I started work as an actor but quickly realised I wanted to write and create my own work. I think I have a distinctive aesthetic because of this start in theatre and love for art. I'm really privileged to do what I do . . . I always feel thankful because I get to tell stories and express myself in the most public way . . . I have a say about society. If I'm angry about something, I can write about it and tell a story.
"One of my most fulfilling experiences was teaching a Samoan entrepreneur. He wanted to start doing commercials and had never done anything like that. So I showed him how … with a little camera and a group of village men. Every year I went back it got bigger, I upskilled them and showed them different techniques. He grew a really big company. It's really fulfilling training the discipline to other people who don't have the option of going to film school. You're making an impact. My goal is to make films until the day I die. It doesn't matter if I had a big hit last year, you still need to get the next one off the ground . . . we're constantly learning."
Receives the Dame Gaylene Preston Award for Documentary Film-makers
"The big thing that my parents gave to me was this view to wonder at the world; wonder about everybody and how we all fit together … And to look beyond myself and to wander and wonder."
Receives the Marti Friedlander Photographic Award
"I really don't know what's going to make a good photograph. And so I have to take chances, and I enjoy taking chances. I enjoy it when I'm surprised, irritated or beguiled by an image . . . A successful image for me so often has an unknown quality; that kind of irks you to the point where you just become sort of enamoured with it.
"I remember the first time I saw Peter Black's Moving Pictures and was just too freaked out that someone could make such excellent observations of humanity from a moving car. Or Marie Shannon's domestic interiors that somehow contained what felt like a whole novel in three stitched together prints. The experience of viewing works like those filled me with such enthusiasm for the medium that all I wanted to do was to go out and make my own pictures. Receiving the call about the Laureate Award gave me that same feeling."
Receives the award for literature
"When I was a child, I used to write stories a lot . . . And I liked school projects that related to history, English and all those sorts of things. But I think the big impact in terms of becoming a writer came about when I was working as a curator at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt. I used to go and visit people who were working fulltime as artists. And even though they weren't making much money, they all seemed to have a real sense of purpose and real meaning in their life, because they were committed to their art. I realised that I didn't want to be the person writing about artists, I wanted to be the artist."
Receives the award for design & typography
"I was attracted to typography as the most elemental unit of graphic design and I consider a typeface to be closer to something that a builder would use to build a house or the ingredients a chef would use to make a meal. It doesn't exist in isolation. But a lot of the talk around typefaces is as if they exist by themselves. It's a bit like paint existing by itself, paint is pretty useless until it is used . . . typefaces are more like a material to be used by designers. I think typographers act in this 'visible invisible space' because we're taught to read and recognise letters and after a while, you don't recognise the shape of them because they've become functionally invisible."
Louise Potiki Bryant
Receives the Award for Choreography & Dance
"When I was a young girl I would dance around in this old room in our house for hours. I was lucky that my mum sent me to ballet and gymnastics. However, it was when I was dancing in that room alone, making up my own movement, that I really felt the freedom of dancing. I studied Māori studies and law. I value this time because it really helped me to understand so many aspects of our history such as issues surrounding te Tiriti o Waitangi. At the same time, I was in a dance group and becoming more interested in choreography. One of my lecturers saw I was dancing all my assignments and told me I was in the wrong place.
"Dance and visual art are often about expressing concepts and kaupapa in a way that cannot always be expressed with words. Dance is a time when I go into a space that is transformative, where I lose myself and become timeless in a space between, a liminal space between consciousness and subconsciousness."
Receives the Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award
"Writing and illustrating is alchemy . . . You get to have more control over the various elements. You can create a more holistic work . . . With writing and illustrating, I can change a word when it's not working. I can change the illustrations when they're not working . . . telling a story better by doing both. Having kids and understanding what it is to cuddle up and read a picture book to them was a pivotal moment in my career, as was being able to give up part-time work to focus on books.
"I love the work of a book. Out there – in my head – there is this elusive perfect picture book that I'm going to make one day . . . So there's always a challenge. Because in the busy-ness of life, I forget to be moved, and to be provoked by something another human being has made – not because they had to, but because they wanted to – is an experience of freedom for me."
Receives the Award for Performing Arts
"Gender and sexuality are quite entangled for me . . . exploring that through my art practise has been a real place of joy. It's a creative space that's allowed me to connect with other artists who are also working around gender and sexuality, providing me with a way to build community and feeling of belonging.
"I tried 'normal jobs', but kept getting drawn back into art. Now it almost feels like it would be disrespectful not to continue because I've had so many people support and encourage me. It doesn't feel like a duty, but it feels just so right for me now."
I'm going to Ireland to explore my roots. It's really my first opportunity to connect with the land . . . my bloodlines. So it feels really important. For a lot of queer people, there's an experience of feeling like you don't belong, or you don't fit, or something like that, especially if there's a disconnect with your biological family. Connecting with the land is a way to feel like you have a place to stand no matter who you are or what you are."
Coco Solid (aka Jessica Hansell)
Receives the Award for Mixed Media
"I had to work out where I find myself thriving and inspiring others the most . . . the different realms where that sense of self was strongest and most potent. They happen to be in the creative medium and I try and work just on those. I am determined to speak truth to power; my kaupapa is to radicalise every context I work in. Whether that's deluded or optimistic or ambitious, I don't think about that . . . I come in with an intention and I see how far I can get.
"In my world you're only as good as those you helped to amplify . . . Generally Polynesian artists understand our obligations and responsibilities to those coming after us . . . Our cultures discourage individualistic legacies that Western culture rewards: if you tried that you'd get s***-talked pretty fast."
Receives the Theresa Gattung Award for Women Arts Practitioners
"The photographic process is just a means of documenting what I'm setting up in front of the camera . . . I know how to take a photo and as long as that side of things are competent it's all about the idea behind it. I think that people are intrinsically interesting; it feels like there are infinite methods of photographing someone. It's not a subject I could ever tire of. I like to take certain historical styles and make them contemporary . . . so they're not just true to the era . . . I bring a biographical element to the work, things from my past. Scraps and fragments of memories. I think family life [Todd has three children, aged 3 and under] is evolving my practice. I feel that the work is far more decisive. I attribute it to the fact that I don't have time. I don't second guess myself now."
What is art to you? See thearts.co.nz to have your say.