The newspaper headline yelled ‘$40 million invested in kiwifruit'.
“Well, imagine if that headline read ‘$40 million invested in arts and culture' instead,” says Dawn Hutchesson, a creative sector specialist. “What a different place the Bay of Plenty would be.”
Dawn is the person charged with overseeing a redirection of the regions art and culture scene, transforming Bay of Plenty into a mecca of creativity and innovation.
“Even 10 per cent, or $4 million; even one per cent, or $400,000, invested in arts and culture. But would that make the front page?” A question that answers itself.
Tauranga City Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council are putting up the money for the development of what they says will be a “robust arts and culture strategy” for the region.
It's a three-year plan “creating a clear framework and priorities…to ensure our arts and culture sector grows in a logical and sustainable way”.
That we do what we can afford and do it well. It won't be a business case for a new museum or performing arts centre, more a considered plan for what our arts and culture wants and needs to develop.
Because, as Dawn says, it's important for a city – for the feel and look of the city, the vibrancy, for tourism but also the economy.
For example, the Auckland arts and culture sector contributes a whopping $1.8 billion to the city's Gross Domestic Product. That's on the back of that city's strategy Toi Whitiki, which is designed to make arts and culture an everyday part of people's lives.
Dawn says we should be wary of the devaluing arts and culture. “If you compare sport with arts and culture, then art and culture hardly registers.
“In a sense, arts and culture is not valued as it should be.” She then finds a story about a public art work in the newspaper. “Finally, a world class artwork buried on page seven. And a miniscule budget.”
Valuing arts and culture from a dollars and cents perspective is one thing, but it also requires a change of mindset.
“As well as sending your child to a dance class, which is great, why don't you go to dance show and support arts and culture? Having a painting in your office is great but did you pay the artist?”
So, what should the region being doing with arts and culture? “I'm not here to put ideas in anyone's mind. I can't speak for the community, the community will speak for itself,” says Dawn.
Okay, hypothetically, what could we be doing to assist the arts and culture?
“I could tell you but I won't because it wouldn't be helpful. I don't want to be seen as some Aucklander coming in and telling you what you want and need.
“This strategy must be community-led.”
Dawn says there's already a base of creativity and arts and culture here. “There's The Incubator, there's the Tauranga Art Gallery and everything that goes with that, there's Bay of Plenty Film. There's a whole raft, it's alive and doing okay, but what do they need to drive things forward?”
Dawn is an enabler, a very qualified person pulled in to put a process in place and make it work. She spent three years with a team on Auckland's strategic arts and culture action plan. They examined 50 to 100 international plans, along with Dunedin and Wellington, so she knows the best practice globally.
“I have looked at all the research in this region. The creative industries and creative sector, who's doing what; any data I could get my hands on.”
Like the Smart Art Strategy of 10 years ago that wasn't adopted – for whatever reason. And like the Civic Heart project, which will determine the look and feel of the future Tauranga CBD.
“This is your strategy,” Dawn tells the Bay of Plenty. “So we want the community to take ownership. It's about your aspirations for arts and culture in your hometown.
“We're just driving the conversation between the sector – the artists, the musicians, the creatives and the likes – the community and the two councils about the role and value of the arts and the part to be played by local government.”
Working on the draft plan with Dawn, a creative strategy specialist, is group of leading local arts sector people, along with education, business and iwi representatives. And before the plan goes to the TCC and WBOPDC in May, it will be opened up to all residents in the Bay.
That's why the strategy is community-led. “If people are wondering what's in this for them, then they should engage, have their say and be part of the process.”
Arts and culture are fundamental to a healthy society and a good quality of life. “It plays an important part in many people's lives. They are woven into the fabric of our streets and many of our buildings. Public art enhances and enlivens our experience of public places.
‘And a network of facilities provides opportunities for people to attend exhibitions and performances, and participate in a wide range of activities.”
So, says Dawn, we need to tap into the richness and diversity of creative talent here. “Our artists, arts and culture organisations, institutions and businesses, all contribute to the city's vibrancy and economic vitality. Tourism relies on arts and culture because it attracts talent and skills to the region.”
Research in Auckland shows most people believe the arts are good for you, the arts help to improve society and that they learn about different cultures through the arts. In 2014, more than 90 per cent of Aucklanders attended or participated in at least one arts event.
“Arts and culture play a key role in the cultural, social and economic life of cities and regions making them more dynamic places to live, work and visit.
“It connects and strengthens communities, gives a sense of identity and pride and improves individual and community health and wellbeing,” says Dawn.
The Bay of Plenty arts and culture strategy is being drawn up now. All residents will get to have their say on the strategy before it goes to councils for adoption later this year. It's expected the strategy will become part of the 2018 Long Term Plan process for both the TCC and WBOPDC.
Instrumental in the strategy will be Creative Bay of Plenty, the council-funded development agency for arts and culture in our region. “Our key action really starts next year once we move into the implementation phase,” says Creative Bay of Plenty general manager Lena Kovac.
For more information, see: www.creativebop.org.nz/arts-strategy.html or link in through the Creative Bay of Plenty Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/creativeBOP