An actor, a writer and a musician walk into an arts debate. "What happens now?" they ask the politician.

Okay, that's not quite how last Tuesday's discussion unfolded at Q Theatre. Personable Green thespian Richard Leckinger showed his smarts; National's historian Paul Goldsmith showed some feisty; and Internet Mana's ex-Tadpole guitarist Chris Yong gave his autobiography in the third person without one "I".

It turns out that Labour's consummate professional Jacinda Ardern is not just a politician; she grew up with a ukulele. The only one who thoroughly knew the subject and was also happy to banter was, unsurprisingly, the only dedicated arts spokesperson present: Ardern.

Happily, Metro editor Simon Wilson, as chairman, refused to instigate "dry Helensville" rules at the Dance Aotearoa New Zealand-hosted event. Instead, he flippantly compared the parties to Shakespearean characters: Labour to Hamlet for reasons unclear; National to self-righteous, blinded Lear; the Greens to Bottom in a dream; the faithful retainer Maori Party to bereft Jessica; and Internet Mana to the buffoon Falstaff.


Lear talked about how his third daughter - Cordelia? - is the most talented ribbon dancer at her Remuera kindergarten. His blind vision for the future consists of not repealing the Hobbit law. Cue heckles from audience creatives, selfishly wanting fair pay. With his clipped delivery and vile jellies framed in stylish specs, Goldsmith gets the prize for best John Banks impression and least arts content. Still, he did suggest the arts are core local government business; he's snared my vote for the Epsom seat.

Hamlet praised his usurping uncle Claudius - that is, Ardern gave props to Arts Minister Chris Finlayson for not letting his cabinet colleagues poison the arts - they've palpably hit, yes, but not with envenomed point. Then she listed a ream of stuff that National has lanced which Labour will reinstate: artists in schools, the Pace scheme for unemployed creatives, a public broadcaster such as TVNZ7.

Leckinger, tackling Goldsmith on the economy, was no Bum donkey. He pointed out that for the arts the benefits of economic growth are largely cancelled by unequal capture by the wealthiest 10 per cent. The day's best quote: "The rock-star economy is going to be found auto-asphyxiated in a hotel room."

Yong modestly welcomed online comments on the Internet Party's rough policy ideas.

The Maori Party representative was a no-show, held up by traffic - they should back the Greens' transport policies - so Matariki Festival chairwoman Hinurewa te Hau stepped unto the breach, Henry V-style. Until then, tangata whenua had rated only a single brief mention. For shame. Maoritanga, including te reo, should be significant in any arts and culture vision for New Zealand.

But then, vision was completely lacking from the discussion. Most talk was about making money off creative industries. This is important, but where was the debate about public-good aims of government-funded art and culture?

So that was the circus - what about the policies? I promise an analysis once National announces its arts policy, or a week before the election - whichever comes first.