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There are few stories which have raised my hackles more than a recent one which has now reached the international news media around our arts council, Creative New Zealand, and its decision to pull funding for a Shakespeare festival. This has been running in secondary schools around New Zealand for around three decades and has involved the participation of more than 120,000 students.
Now in its wisdom, or should I say in its short-sighted political bigotry, Creative New Zealand has decided that this festival should no longer be funded, criticising Shakespeare’s work is paternalistic and representing a “canon of imperialism”.
Have you ever heard such nonsense in your life?
Now, we can argue all we like about whether or not you like Shakespeare, and often Shakespeare, if it’s poorly taught, is foisted on students who are left none the wiser about what his work represents.
But I think to discuss the merits of Shakespeare is missing the point.
Here is a festival which has involved the participation of tens of thousands of students over thirty years!
If participation in the arts is important, then surely, on this alone, this festival merits continued support from our Arts Council.
But instead, we get caught up in this political nonsense pushing back against notions of imperialism and colonisation as an excuse, or even a motivation, not to fund it.
Now Creative NZ is facing calls for an inquiry into the way it funds the arts.
I would wholeheartedly support such an inquiry.
A quick trawl through the funding rounds and the decisions that are made (and I have to offer a quick comment that there are some wonderful artists that have been funded by CNZ) but God they fund some crap.
I sometimes wonder whether some of the artists make their living by crafting applications for funding that will please the Arts Council without any consideration for whether there is in fact an audience for their work.
And you do wonder whether this becomes about social engineering and what Creative NZ think the arts should look like with no regard whatsoever whether those arts have the remotest prospect of reaching an audience.
And ultimately, surely art needs an audience.
Sure, questions around how to fund the arts are difficult to answer.
Because when it comes to how the arts should be funded as soon as you put the control into a Government funded Arts Council it likely becomes politicized.
And as soon as you put the decisions in the hands of a committee you leave it to a handful of individuals to decide which artistic flower gets watered and which flower is left to wither and die because it doesn’t tick the boxes of the whims of the individuals within our arts council.
And this is the current problem the arts and the funding in New Zealand.
They seem to have forgotten their audience and are more concerned with what their vision of the arts in NZ should look like, rather than what audiences are going to respond to.
Creative Artists throughout the centuries have always had to find an audience but it seems these days in New Zealand the only audience you need to please is the handful of woke scolds at Creative NZ.
Beyond that, it seems – little else matters.
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