Council focus on ‘Maoriness’ omits Auckland ethnic smorgasbord.

A year of consulting over, the final version of Auckland Council's arts and culture Strategic Action Plan remains as schizoid as the draft.

It is fatally flawed by the need to try to connect the chant that "Auckland's standout feature is our vibrant Maori culture" with the evidence contained within the report.

It's as though they're hoping constant repetition of variations on the theme such as "Auckland's distinctiveness is highlighted in a Maori identity" and Maori culture is Auckland's "point of difference in the world" will somehow make the wish true.

While endlessly hammering away at this message, the evidence in the report tends to contradict the ideology. Auckland is not Rotorua on steroids as the authors would have us believe, but the most ethnically diverse region in New Zealand.


The report estimates that by 2021, Auckland's population will be 27 per cent Asian, 17 per cent Pacific, and just 12 per cent Maori. The rest of us, Pakeha and others, will number 44 per cent. All told, 40 per cent will have been born overseas.

The report at one stage admits the obvious, noting that by 2021 Maori, Pacific and Asian people will make up over half the city's total population, adding that "it is therefore a priority to ensure that artists and creative practitioners, programme content, audience and governance and staffing of arts and cultural organisations appropriately reflect these ethnic groups".

It doesn't attempt to suggest how. But at least it's an acceptance that we're all in this together and that the emphasis should not be on one group.

You just have to watch the cruise ship buses filing off Queens Wharf on the way to Rotorua to know that tourists don't regard Auckland as the Maori culture capital. Not of traditional poi-swinging tourist culture anyway.

As far as modern cultural activity goes, I've seen little sign it's even particularly vibrant. As something of a culture vulture, I would be pointing tourists to the Pasifika stage if they were looking for new and vibrant and ethnic.

In reality, Auckland's point of difference is not the glories or supremacy of one ethnicity over another, but our place in the Pacific as a smorgasbord of cultures and ethnicities.

Auckland's arts and culture strategy should reflect that, not get fixated on politically correct notions of biculturalism.

So why all this fuss over a report that will be instantly shelved, you say. Well, only the fact that it's claiming "it will guide investment and provision of arts and culture across the Auckland region for the next 10 years".

When the nature of the Auckland Festival was being debated some years back, I sided with those who supported celebrating our place on the Pacific Rim. It would be a chance to bring artists from around the edges and islands of this great ocean to Auckland.

I also argued that our real point of difference, the thing that might attract overseas patrons, was our unique position as the largest Polynesian city in the world.

The present report pays lip service to this, noting the popularity of events such as Pasifika, the weekend summer Polynesian showcase.

It also highlights ASB Polyfest, the secondary schools culture contest which has been around for 40 years, and is now promoted as the largest Polynesian festival in the world.

This is the spirit of inclusiveness the strategic plan should be pursuing. Polyfest welcomes not just those of Pacific Island descent, but Maori kids and, in more recent times, students of Indian and other ethnicities.

It's the cultural mix of present-day Auckland, one we're used to these days in the CBD, the big malls, and at major public occasions. I'm not bagging Maori culture.

I'm all in favour of proposals such as developing "specific place-making projects that honour Maori stories at significant cultural and heritage" sites although, as I wrote last week, I do scratch my head at the call to "integrate cultural rituals into architecture and urban design".

Like the report writers, I've run out of space to discuss mainstream culture. Amazingly, Auckland's thriving theatre, orchestra, dance and gallery world gets but passing reference.

The report was approved on Wednesday by the arts, culture and events committee.

Next stop is the regional strategy and policy committee. Hopefully they'll see sense and send it to the shredder.