We are super excited to launch our Creative Leadership Programme and to share the incredible rōpū of artists and arts leaders taking part.
Aiming to foster a powerful movement of activists and enablers within the creative sector, the programme brings together ten extraordinary wāhine toa from across theatre, film, visual arts, literature and community arts.
The rōpū will participate in a series of intensive workshop days and one-on-one mentorship especially crafted to support them in their mahi. Alongside guest speakers and mentors, they will share their knowledge and perspectives, forging imaginative and people-focused ways forward.
Amber is a kaupapa Māori focused producer who has been delivering professional theatre since 2009, formerly with SmackBang Theatre Company and currently with Te Rehia Theatre Company and Te Pou Theatre. Amber has co-produced many innovative main stage shows, Te Reo Māori works and youth shows. She has facilitated the script development process for playwrights and provided industry workshops and development opportunities. Amber is a leader of Te Pou Theatre and the festival director of Kōanga Festival. Amber’s mahi is driven by a strong tikanga based arts practice and focuses on high quality, innovative storytelling that brings te ao Māori to the stage and supports the reclamation and revitalisation of te reo Māori.
Amber: When I think about leadership, I think about the whakatauki that so many of us know, Ma whero ma pango ka oti te mahi, and the space of leadership being a circular structure where you have leadership that passes through the front and the back in a fluid way depending on what people’s individual strengths are and what is needed at that time.
Amber: Having the opportunity to meet with this group of incredible leaders is extremely inspiring. As soon as you get the opportunity to sit in any kind of deep conversation with a leader, there’s so much value that comes from it. Whether it’s direct from their experience, or tangential from outside of the main wananga, you get a sense of affirmation or new learnings about ways to approach things and move forward. I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to work with a tuakana/mentor in an area that I’m unfamiliar with and would like to grow and learn.
Amber: The community is what we represent and do our work for, who we art for. That’s our sector, for me it’s the Māori performing arts sector. They are constantly in my mind and my practice. I’m always thinking about how we can create opportunities and whakamana our amazing Māori artists. Also in my practice are our kids at our kura kaupapa and our nannies in our kaumatua flats and how we can create work that will be enjoyed by them, and everyone in between. Making work that encourages Māori to feel like this is their place is the constant driver for all that we do. I think about how tikanga Māori can make a difference in the arts – whether that’s behind the computer or in the workshop room or on the stage.
Cat Ruka (Ngāpuhi, Waitaha) is an artist and arts leader based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, Post-Graduate Diploma and Master’s degree from the University of Auckland’s Dance Studies programme, and in 2021 was named as a ‘40 under 40’ influencer. As an emerging sector leader Cat already has a rich background; she was Programme Leader of performing arts at Manukau Institute of Technology where she worked for 10 years, was Artistic Director of Tempo Dance Festival, and is now the Executive Director of Basement Theatre and Chair of HER Festival. She is the Co-Founder of arts charity Heart Party, and has developed creative education programmes and strategies for acclaimed youth organisation, Ngā Rangatahi Toa. Cat has also won awards for her own body of performance works which have toured nationally and internationally, and she has mentored some of the sector’s most promising emerging Māori and Pasifika artists.
Cat: The style of leadership that I am interested in is about the flow and exchange, the shepherding and the guiding, the watching over and protecting, of other peoples’ mana. Leaders that I look up to are those that are able to stand in the shadows and quietly guide their people to the leader that’s inside them.
Leadership is also about decision-making, it’s about knowing when to be as still as a summer lake and knowing when to pounce. For me the only times I let myself down in my decision-making is when I forget to listen to my puku – it is the greatest ancestral compass, the fail-proof navigator.
And what does leadership actually look like? Well to be straight up it’s intense and unglamorous – it’s hard work, it’s sacrifice, it’s a lot of alone time, it’s a lot of really challenging conversation, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. But it’s also a very blessed and magical space to occupy when it’s harvest time and you get to experience the fruits of your work.
Cat: When you’re in a leadership role it can be quite an isolating experience. So if I’m honest, what I’m looking forward to the most is being able to share space with my peers and deepen the commune between us.
Our combined knowledge is off the hook and it’s rare that a rōpū like this gets a chance to be in wānanga together. I am hoping to have my leadership habits agitated and critiqued, I am hoping to sharpen the tools in my kete and acquire some new ones, and perhaps figure out how I can continue to be of value to my community in the coming years.
Courtney has worked in the film and television industry in Australia, United States, China and at home in Aotearoa New Zealand. Starting with working at a cinema as a teenager, she has spent the majority of her career in communications across the industry.
Having worked in house for Paramount and Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, Marvel and Studiocanal, more recently Courtney’s work is between both the red carpet and the film set. She has worked with most major studios and streamers, as well as the leading independent organisations and has over 30 TV and film credits under her belt as unit publicist and behind the scenes/EPK producer.
Along with on set work, under her company matter she works on film and TV releases, personal and organisational representation, social media and media training. Courtney has also produced music videos, a documentary and advised on numerous entertainment projects. In 2018 Courtney returned home to Tāmaki Makaurau, and lives there with her girlfriend and the stray cat they took in over the first lockdown, Bloomfield.
Courtney: The best leaders that I have been fortunate to come across in my time, empower and inspire. Empower because they have the humility to know that strength in numbers is power, and that they need to give others agency to grow. Inspire by their mere actions; I can’t think of anything less cliche than the saying ‘leading by example’, but I think it’s the most powerful tool for a leader.
Courtney: To learn and to listen from awesome wāhine. To not just find like-minded souls, but also find different perspectives. With the isolation of the past few months, I think it’s so valuable…and I am definitely craving face to face contact and being totally present in the moment!
Courtney: I do what I do because I love art and I love storytellers. I (perhaps naively) think stories have the ability to change the world. I have therefore always gravitated toward those stories from the rainbow communities, that I feel have a positive impact, and my perspective as a queer woman is never far from my work.
Elyssia Wilson-Heti is an interdisciplinary artist, activist and member of FAFSWAG. She is of mixed Niuean and European heritage. Elyssia is a producer for the FAFSWAG Arts Collective, having produced live performance, community events, arts panels and activations over the past nine years.
Formally trained as a performer for the stage and film at Best Training and Unitec. Elyssia has featured in works for Auckland Fringe festival, Auckland Pride, Sydney Biennale as well as hosted workshops on physical theatre, at Q theatre and stage managed all the shows FAFSWAG delivered during their company in residence in 2017.
Her arts / community practice is collaborative and intersectional. In 2019 Elyssia was selected for the Basement Theatre development programme – ‘The Visions Project’ which she directed, wrote for and performed in the original performance work Reclamation. She was chosen as the 2020 Producer Resident at Basement Theatre. She has since co produced along side designer of Infamy Apparel grass roots radical fat positive FAT FEB festival at Vunilagi Vou, The Legacy Ball for the Auckland Arts Festival with the pioneering Ballroom houses of Aotearoa, co-produced the inaugural The Nest Street Style Solo Dance Festival with Jahra Wasasala and Ooshcon Masseurs . She has also co produced MATALA audio essays with Tanu Gago and created by Tapuaki Helu and Hōhua Ropate Kurene. She was most recently appointed as the new creative director for the Auckland Pride Festival.
Alongside her practice as an artist and producer. She has done advisory and advocacy work within the arts sector. Speaking on multiple advisory and panels for community development.
Photo by Pati Tyrell
Elyssia: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For me it’s important to lead from the back. To be led by the community I’m engaging with and servicing while being open and receptive. To understand what they’re holding.
As there is no queer monolith, it’s being super mindful of moving in those spaces and holding that community with care, empathy and compassion.
It’s a fine balance. How do you hold all of the things that are important to all of the corners of community and be mindful of that when you’re moving into the space?
I try to be as intersectional as possible in my thinking. It’s not about me, it’s about the community that I’m in service of. True leadership is about leaving your ego at the door. You need to be really mindful and careful; keeping the kaupapa of why you are moving in that space, rather than your ego.
Elyssia: Community. Community is super important. You can’t do anything alone. Being able to find like-minded women who share my philosophy and world view. Strong coalitions are
important because that’s where you see real tangible change, where you can support one another and the work that you’re doing. Being able to share space with these women is phenomenal.
Elyssia: My practice is quite a social practice, so it really informs everything. There is no separation for me. The community component makes up such a huge part of what I do, whether that’s in my arts practice as a maker, producing live events, or a member of FAFSWAG. Everything has been informed by a community. I see the importance of the community having sovereignty of their own narrative and providing a space for that to happen – because it doesn’t happen enough.
There’s so much nuance in our stories and community spaces. It’s super important to have people that can help birth your ideas, and who are also meeting you from a space of cultural competency.
Faith Wilson (Sāmoa|Germany, Clan Gunn|England), is a writer and editor who grew up in the Waikato but now lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the founder of Saufo`i Press that publishes poetry books by Pacific poets in Aotearoa. She graduated with a Master of Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2014, where she was awarded the Biggs Poetry Prize. With a group of other editors and writers, she edited two issues of Tupuranga: A Journal of Writing from Aotearoa. She is also a staff writer at The Pantograph Punch and has published writing in many local and international journals. In 2017 she was a summer resident at Plug In ICA in Winnipeg, Canada, a writing residency facilitated by Chris Kraus. She is also currently writing her own book of poetry that she plans to publish with Saufo`i Press.
Photo by Stephen Barker
Faith: Leading from the heart, doing everything with alofa/aroha and from a place of empathy and understanding. This is the kind of leader I strive to be, although I am definitely still learning and often failing at this! As I get older, I’m learning more that great leadership is humble, generous and open. It’s being able to be held accountable, and to learn and grow from your community. It’s not self-centred, and it always looks to creating genuine connections based on alofa.
Faith: To become the leader I described above! To learn from the other amazing people taking part, to connect and to share ideas. I am not sure what to expect, but I want to come away from it feeling challenged, but more confident in what I do. To gain more skills that will enable me to serve, and keep serving, the communities that have sustained me.
Faith: I think the deeper I choose to serve, the more they show up. Writing can be a really solitary art – and for a long time I used writing to work through my own trauma and anxiety and in that way it was necessarily quite a personal act. As I’ve healed over the years, or am in a state and process of healing, I am in a stronger and more capable place where I can serve my community through both my writing, and through editing, and now, through publishing. So for a long time I guess my community held me up and gave me space to write, and to mess up and to pop off on Twitter, and now I’m like okay, it’s time for me to help nurture the little brown girls in their combat boots and hoop earrings and help them channel their voices.
Huia O’Sullivan (Te Ātiawa) is the Executive Director of Ngā Rangatahi Toa, a creative youth development trust that has been working with vulnerable young people and their whānau across Auckland for the last 10 years.
Huia has a total of 22 years of experience in positive youth development and creating safe space for young people. Huia works from a place of creating deep authentic relationships to serve and work alongside young people and their whānau.
Photo by Ralph Brown
Huia: People feel safe and have a clear purpose. People feel enabled to co-design and collaborate on new ideas that enhance, not only the organisation but the individual to be the best version of themselves. People feel ok to set boundaries and communicate their no. A leader is always looking for ways to be replaced by staff coming through and respectfully challenging staff to further excel. To always have a leader who will step up, support and standby staff in the face of crisis and adversity and know when to step back to enable other staff to step up. When staff feel valued and listened to the outcomes are so much greater.
Huia: To surround and connect myself with a group of wāhine and build my networks of phenomenal women that support change leadership.
Huia: My community ARE my practice. They guide, lead, challenge and nurture – always from a place of love. They are my benchmarks, goal posts and accountability when I need to lean into them. They gently remind me of why I do what I do and sometimes not so gently. Any labouring over a new concept or idea is done alongside my community. I find with this approach our mahi is much more safe, rich and robust!
Jade Townsend (Ngāti Kahungunu) is a visual artist and curator working at the intersection of her Māori, Pākehā and British heritage. She describes it as a “non-fixed duality that ebbs and flows with contradictory cultural forces every day. My wairua – my spirit – connects to many seemingly disparate fields.” She was born and raised in Whanganui before moving to Liverpool where she lived as a teenager. Townsend’s exposure to a wide range of accents, dialects, regional slang, folktale and pūrākau made her aware of the limitations of translation and cultural hybridity as a completely transparent process. For Townsend, her cultural identity forms in the non-translatable, the left-over and residual aspects of herself for which there is no interpretative counterpoint in relation to the other. Through art she records her experiences of peering through cracks of her societal backyards: exploring unity-by-way-of-public projects and partnerships.
Townsend recently brought together a group of artists in the project Whānau Mārama at Commercial Bay for their first Matariki celebration and Hauhake at Objectspace as part of the Caravannex On Tour artist in residence series. She has previously been awarded residencies at Artspace Aotearoa, Slade School of Art, London and Red Gate Gallery, Beijing. Townsend has exhibited globally across museum, gallery and concept store spaces. Jade holds a BA Hons Fine Art Painting from Manchester Metropolitan University.
Photo by Harry Were
Jade: In leaders I admire there is often a palpable tension between being bold while also being deeply thoughtful. I observe those qualities most in artists, creative thinkers and musicians. Integrity and authenticity are the core principles I respect people most.
Jade: Friendship, always. A chance to (re)imagine the future of arts in Aotearoa through the perspective of my peers. A greater understanding of the creative landscape in Tāmaki Makaurau. An opportunity to be challenged and evolve through my mentors guidance.
Jade: There are a multitude of ways communities are woven through my practice. The institutional or business community I might partner with for a project and the art, design and writing communities who shape the kaupapa. There is the intended audience and then those outside of that group who tautoko through their engagement, participation and by encouraging others to come and visit. I try to consider ways to offer diverse access points so that many people can experience or feel something from a project I lead.
Jane leads advocacy initiatives, facilitates sector engagement, helps build collaborative partnerships, and manages the design and development of strategic initiatives at Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi. A theatre director, creator, and arts policy and strategy maker, Jane has a Master of Theatre Arts in Directing from Victoria University and Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School. In 2019 she graduated with a Masters in Arts Politics from New York University: Tisch School of the Arts on a Fulbright scholarship.
Jane: Leadership to me looks messy and chaotic. I don’t think people are naturally linear beings that fit into boxes. Being in response to that requires letting go and trusting the processes of the people around you. Having an abundance of generosity in that space. Otherwise we’re just testing what we know and that stops us from going into the unknown. But then it’s also about finding ways of holding people in that, a duty of care.
Jane: Opportunities to learn from and practice with a group of amazing wāhine. Finding ways to risk and grow together. Re-imagining what the future could be like for the next generations and how we can support and help to enable that.
Jane: I don’t think I have one community – it’s diasporic and constantly shifting. Growing up I never thought “community” applied to me. Now there is community everywhere. From pot-luck dinners to creative collaborations. Do we seek community out, does it find us, or both?
Rosabel Tan is a writer, strategist, and creative producer of Peranakan Chinese descent. She is the director of Satellites — a production house exploring the contemporary experience of the Asian diaspora in Aotearoa — and the founding editor of The Pantograph Punch, an arts and culture journal. She is passionate about supporting our Asian diaspora creative communities to be their full, messy, complicated selves and believes in creating enduring pathways for the next generations.
Rosabel’s recent work as a producer includes Hit Me Baby One More Rhyme (2021), a poetry karaoke installation; Maree Sheehan’s Ōtairongo(2020), immersive aural portraits of mana wāhine Māori; and The Claw (2018), in which an empty store was transformed into a giant, playable claw machine. Her projects have been presented at Auckland Arts Festival, Te Papa, Taranaki Arts Festival, CubaDupa and Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.
In previous lives she has served as Contributing Editor at Paperboy (2018) and Talks programmer for Auckland Arts Festival (2019–2020). She sits on a number of governance groups, including The Pantograph Punch, Silo Theatre, the Public Art Advisory Panel for Auckland Council, and Te Rōpū Mana Toi, Creative New Zealand’s advocacy advisory.
Photo by Ankita Singh
Rosabel: For me, it means creating space for people to flourish. It means listening to, working with, and advocating for my community. It’s dreaming beyond what feels possible. It’s mutual accountability, hard conversations that come from a place of love and the creation of pathways and infrastructure that are sustainable: not only financially but emotionally, artistically and environmentally.
Rosabel: A space to explore new ways of thinking and doing with a bunch of people I deeply admire.
Rosabel: My practice and my community are inextricably intertwined. They are my friends, my colleagues, my collaborators. They are my most trusted critics, my biggest champions, my ultimate idols.
My interest has shifted a little over the years, too: towards structural change rather than temporary celebration. But what hasn’t changed is what I’m driven by: creating space for our Asian diaspora artists to be their full, messy, thoughtful, ugly, naughty, excellent selves — and, through that, to evolve the conversations we’re having, to foster mutual empathy and understanding, and to create a greater sense of belonging and cohesion across our many, many communities.
Shilo Kino (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Maniapoto) is an award-winning writer and journalist. The Pōrangi Boy is her first book and the winner of The Young Adult book of the year at the Children and Young Adult NZ Book Awards in 2021. She was a TV journalist for Marae and has written for Newsroom, NZ Herald, The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, The Guardian and North and South. She studied full immersion Te reo Māori last year and wrote a regular column for Newsroom about her journey as well as co-hosted a podcast Back to Kura with Astley Nathan. Shilo is passionate about Te Ao Māori and also speaks fluent Mandarin. This year Shilo is working on her second book, a Young Adult fiction novel based in Tāmaki that follows the lives of rangatahi Māori who struggle with race, relationships, and identity.
Shilo: Aroha ki te tangata. Love the people. It sounds simple but that’s what leadership is. A great leader is someone who emulates love, who is selfless and who listens more and talks less.
Shilo: I’m looking forward to learning from other wāhine in the creative space, how they navigate their way through challenges and just building a strong community and friendship.
Shilo: Working in the writing and journalism space as a Māori wahine has its own challenges. I have been incredibly blessed to have the support of strong indigenous wāhine such as Stacey Morrison, Miriama Kamo, Karlo Mila and Nadine Anne Hura. These wāhine toa were crucial in the early days of my mahi as I was still navigating unsafe spaces and grasping my own identity and where I wanted to go. The way they showed up to tautoko- support me- with no reason but to simply awhi me, love me, remind me I’m not alone, listen and offer wisdom and advice, has been a fundamental reason why I’m still here in the creative space. I’m beyond grateful. E mihi ana aroha ki ōku tuakana! Nōku te waimarie.