Reflections on the Creative Governance - Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi

Reflections on Creative Governance

Walking alongside artists: Reflections on creative governance

Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi board members Sandi Morrison and Heta Hudson ended their official duties March 2022. Both Sandi and Heta have played enormous roles in the development of the Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi new strategic direction and in to helping us fulfil our kaupapa; to strengthen the arts and culture ecosystem of Tāmaki Makaurau.

“As chair, Heta has been an invaluable source of advice and calm leadership. The last eighteen months have demanded much of his time as Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi worked to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on our sector. In this, Heta was able to draw on the wisdom and deep experience of Sandi as deputy chair,” says Alison Taylor, CE, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi.

“In 2001 Sandi was a founding trustee of Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi as the Regional Arts Trust and has given the trust twenty years of unbroken invaluable governance service. Like Heta, Sandi has brought to us the benefits of a rich range of professional and governance experience, and a deep commitment to ngā toi culture, arts and creative ecosystem.”

While their formal governance association with Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi will finish, both Heta and Sandi will remain valued members of our wider whanau. We spoke to them to reflect on their time with the trust, the value of the sector, and their views on what a stronger future looks like for the arts, culture and creative sector.

On what they’re most proud of as board members:

Sandi: I would certainly say there’s no single thing that I’m most proud of. When I came on this board and when I was part of the working group, I had no idea or no sense that I would be on it for so long, but I think what has been so fantastic really has been to be part of the growth and the evolution as much as anything.  Particularly in these last few years, Te Taumata Toi-a-lwi has absolutely moved in and started owning their name. It’s accelerated, which is so exciting, because really when I think back over 20 years there’ve been many fantastic people, trustees, board members. We now have a strong team, but we’ve always done what a lot of arts organisations endeavor to do, which is work with a pro-bono voluntary board and one single person leading the organisation, which is tough. We’re now on the cusp of owning our big vision.

Heta: The direction that we’re heading in now. It has taken a considerable amount of time but being able to direct and guide the trust into a bigger space. A space that allows it to be able to engage with and to impact upon a larger group of people within the creative sector. I’ve always felt that our impact has been quite limited in the past, just due to size and resource constraints. I think where we’re heading now is where we’ve always wanted to be able to head.  I’m leaving at a stage where we’ve got a little bit more capacity. We now have a bit more influence over what happens at a regional and central level. We’ve done the groundwork and put in the platform to allow the next board and the team to take it to where I think it should be. I came into this work when we were digging the trenches, not cutting the ribbon, so to say. I’ll be there when they cut the ribbons, but it’ll be someone else holding the scissors!

On why this work is important:

Sandi: Personally, when I look over my life the arts in the cultural sector, creativity identity has always been key to my whole sense of what it is to build cities and communities. I wanted to be a change agent because it always seems to me that the possibilities and vision would lead to a better sense of social justice and fairness. What I love about the arts is the fact is all these issues get somehow embedded and synchronised into the individual work of artists, groups and collectives. That’s what really fires my passion. I have worked in very tough areas too, social development, community development, high intergenerational unemployment, but really, it’s always been my work in this sector that has really fueled my battery.

Heta: My daughter’s interest in the arts. As a little girl, she loved to dance and be creative.  I thought to myself, “What does it look like for the creative sector for young people coming up?" I have mates who are creatives. Carvers, tā moko practitioners, kapa haka performers, musicians, artists. I have always admired what they do. But I also realise, “this is a labour of love, but it’s still labour”, always doing it tough. Why don’t we resource and support the creative sector like we support sports? I don’t say that to diminish sports. I love sports too, but I think in New Zealand, we tend to have an either-all approach, as opposed to an and-and.

On the changes they’d like to see over the next 5 years:

Sandi: In terms of Tāmaki Makaurau, it is really Auckland being this area, being not just the biggest population, but the most diverse set of cultures and such a strong population of Māori and Pacific people. I do think in terms of growth, not thinking about individual disciplines as we used to in the past, and really being able to come to our identity, cultural heritage, visions for the future as part of understanding ourselves as a bicultural organisation supporting many other cultural views and ethnicities. It always seemed to me that we had to get that relationship right. The arts and creative sector have a real opportunity to be at the front runner of driving that change, that recognition. That connecting across Tamaki Makaurau is well overdue.

Heta: Auckland has always had a thriving art and creative scene. It just hasn’t been recognised, in my opinion. When you look around Auckland, you see creativity everywhere, but in my view it’s never really been coordinated or supported in a way that really stamps its mark as the creative capital of New Zealand. I think if there’s one place where you could do it, it’s here. Music, performance, theatre, dance, it’s all here, but it’s always been in a struggle street. Often, you choose to be an artist to your detriment financially, which is not right. Those of us who’ve had the privilege and the opportunity to travel to other cities where you just feel that they celebrate their creatives and their artists and recognise the value they offer, beautifying the communities. Artists are the people that you turn to when you want to feel, whether it be music, art, poetry, dance. That’s why they’re so important.

I come from a commercial and economic background, and I believe that the potential for the creative sector in Auckland has never been fully realised. Not even close. If New Zealand is serious about getting involved in the technology sector, it starts with the creative sector. That’s the seed that allows all those other industries to evolve and to develop. I think the days of struggling artists should be over, and we celebrate and support them the way they should be.

I look at what’s happening in the Māori creative space and there’s so much untapped potential. Now’s the opportunity to look for those areas where you can do things differently. Let’s just see what happens if we change the way that the funding structures are set up. Or the governance structures or get people to think bigger about what things could look like. In Auckland, there’s a huge creative sector within the Māori and Pacific communities. They’re inherently creative through their music and their performance. Let’s lean into that. Let’s embrace that.

On the need for a national sector strategy:

Sandi: There’s enormous amount of strategy work to do. It’s true nationally, but it’s also true in terms of Tāmaki Makaurau. We need a good short term, medium, but especially a long-term strategy. I’ve also wondered, if we can’t do that nationally, can we do it for Tāmaki Makaurau? It’s probably the most challenging here, because if you think about all the different ethnicities, it’s a challenging piece of work.

I think part of the reason we haven’t done it yet, is that in this sector, people have such strong views and sometimes quite narrow views of what the arts is. What’s supported, what’s professional, and what’s amateur. A lot of these boundaries around things have really meant that professionals or good strategic thinkers end up getting locked into one area or another. When you think about it, that’s part of the cultural growth of a people. We think about New Zealand as quite a young country, but if you think about it in terms of Indigenous people, it’s a very old country.

The arts in a way also were defined, supported through a colonial lens. I have to say personally being a white, privileged person, I don’t take on guilt about that. It’s about doing the analysis and seeing, history. Social history. The arts are always at the cutting edge of what some of the issues are in society. They would’ve probably thought in the past, “We have had a strategy”, but you see, it’s been a very narrow field. It’s a very challenging process. In terms of strategy, previously we were just children. Then we were adolescents. Now we can be warriors. We can jump into the big seat.

Heta: If you don’t have a plan, you’re just making up things as you go along. It’s as simple as that. This is how we do things. We plan. We set strategies. I think the question is, who sets the strategy? More often than not, it tends to be set by government agencies or local councils, purely because resource sits there. But is that really the best way to set the strategy? Or is it better to set a strategy that is informed by the needs and aspirations of the people who are going to benefit from it? We need to be comfortable with handing that control over. There’s always inherent risk around working with government and local councils. They’re very risk-averse by their very nature. When you’re risk-averse, you don’t really create a lot of room for creativity to come into the mix. So given we’re talking about the creative sector and the creative sector strategy, let’s be creative about how we do it. It doesn’t have to look like something that’s been prepared by a consulting firm.

I think this process is a thousand cups of tea. Let’s go and spend the time to sit down with the sector, really understand what they want and where they see the aspiration going forward.

Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi is a council entity, to be fair. So, we have to check ourselves in that regard and say, “Well, how do we walk the talk on this one? How do we actually get comfortable with the resources and changing the policies and practices that we adopt to allow the sector to do what they feel is necessary for them?" That’s tricky, but it is necessary. Otherwise, without a long-term sector strategy, what you tend to find is what we have now. Which is fragmentation, a lot of duplication and a lot of competition for scant resources.

On funding:

Heta: I really struggle with the models within the creative sector. The resources haven’t increased, but the amount of people who want to access those resources has probably doubled over a decade. So you end up in this competitive model, which serves no one. Artists struggle with the fact that they have to put a bid in for something alongside a person they admire or is their friend. You end up with this dog-eat-dog model where those who can rise above the parapet and are seen as less risky receive funding. Others have to be happy about what crumbs are left. You feel constrained to the boxes that you have to tick in order to be funded. That’s probably the antithesis of innovation, doing just enough to fit into a box.

On the impact and potential opportunities of COVID:

Sandi: It’s hard for me to think that there’s a silver lining for individual artists, arts companies, and organisations. I do think that this government has endeavored to provide some financial resources, which doesn’t solve the problem, but it certainly does alleviate some of the stress. Now we need real work done to support those artists, and organisations to get back on their feet, particularly the performing art sector, which is totally crippled by this. There is real intervention work to be done. Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) have come up with money, but other solutions and strategies need to come from the artists and the sector themselves, because it isn’t just about having buckets of money and getting people to apply.  When I think about Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi, of course it can’t fill all that gap, but what it can do, and it is very good at, is thinking strategically about how to find some wise forward-thinking solutions. Interventions that are relevant to artists, organisations and the sector, rather than bureaucrats in Wellington thinking up solutions. It is always helpful to provide money, but I think the solutions need to be much more creative. And not too generic or generalised because we’re all so different. Let’s have some flexibility around the response and the solutions.

Heta: I think COVID highlighted just how deep some of that fragmentation within the sector and that lack of support looks like. There is zero resilience in the sector, which means now is a good time to change. To get serious about making it happen. Someone said to me the other day, “You don’t let a good crisis go to waste." Not because of the crisis itself. Because it gives you time to reflect on where the gaps are. I would love the next generation of kids to be able to grow up and think, “I would love to be a performer. I would love to work in the creative sector”.
I think the impact Covid has is not fully appreciated yet. I don’t think we recognise just how long a tail this might have. We’re seeing it now, right? Performers are still unable to really make a living, because the venues can’t hold more than a hundred people. But out of that sort of adversity, innovation and creativity tends to flourish. People find other ways of doing things. They possibly look to technology as an alternative option as to how to build awareness or build their audiences, or present their art.  Then you’ve got all the secondary impacts outside of economic, which tend to be more around mental health. When you are feeling down, you might turn on a piece of music. Or watch something that’s going to make you laugh, alleviate a little bit of the stress and anxiety. I don’t think people fully appreciate that the people who are producing that art, they’re in the same position. They’re feeling the same level of anxiety, stress too. We need to appreciate that we’ve been living in a stressful and anxiety-inducing environment for two years now. It’s not something you just snap out.

On what artists and makers bring to society:

Sandi: I’ve designed many artists residencies in my career and helped artists into all kinds of unusual places that they weren’t used to being in. What I loved it about is that they come with such a different mind. Sometimes that’s quite holistic in the way they think, and sometimes it’s totally innovative, thinking in a way that somebody else just wouldn’t. We want that kind of mind and application.  For artists, of course, they don’t want to be there all the time. They’re not looking for an employed job. We need to appreciate them for their creativity, innovation, passion, and thinking of new solutions. They come up with new ideas and things which resonate with people.

Heta: They add a different perspective. They add a different way of doing things, and they tend to make things look better. Creativity’s close cousin in my view, is technology. When you get the convergence between technology and creativity, that’s when some cool stuff can happen. Then you throw education in the mix. So, you’ve got creativity, technology, and education, then school becomes a fun place to be. You allow kids to tap into a part of their brain and their thinking that stimulates more innovation, more creativity. I think the intersection between education and creativity and technology and creativity are something that should be explored.

On an ongoing relationship with Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi:

Sandi: I’ll stay in involved where I’m needed and can bring value, because I think it’s important to continue seeing benefits from some of our previous champions. The question is, what’s a good way to strategically involve people who are passionate, and still have some energy, and interest and ideas for the field?  It’s not so much this for the organisation, but for the sector. Let’s think about new models of engaging from a governance perspective. A lot of the time people spend on boards is about accountability and finances and things like that. It’s often not about being able to have a blue-sky discussion, think strategically or come up with new ideas. I do think that will emerge as part of thinking about how new governance models would work. Where is the need? What are we trying to address here? It’s a much better way of thinking about things.

Heta: It’s a bit like the Hotel California song, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”. I think because it’s a volunteer trust, you are there because you have a passion for seeing the art sector flourish. That passion doesn’t go. Wherever there is a role for me to play in supporting the trust’s aspirations, I’ll help. I think everyone who’s ever had an engagement with the trust feels similarly. We all have the same aspiration that we want to see. Wherever we can influence or contribute, we’ll make ourselves available.

Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi will announce its new board chair and trustees in March 2022.