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Connection: The Arts Communications Hui – A Roundup

Author: Alex Grace, Communications and Relationships Manager

This November arts communicators, promoters and marketers joined us at The Dowse Art Museum to meet, network and learn how to expand coverage and reach new audiences in a changing media landscape.

This is the first (to our knowledge) nationwide gathering focussed on the business of increasing mainstream media coverage for the arts. The feedback received from attendees after the hui has been really positive and we’re proud to begin this conversation and look forward to continuing it in 2019 – watch this space!

We’ve rounded up the main points from each session below and are working on the recordings of the day and hope to release these in the New Year.

The day began with an interactive session led by Maxwell Uivel, and Amber Mullins from Deloitte Consulting. They invited attendees to connect across sectors, and tackle challenges with bravery, and a dose of good luck.

The second session of the day was led by Hone Kouka, (Ngati Porou, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu, Kai Tahu) M.N.Z.M, Co-Director of Tawata Productions and Artistic Director of Kia Mau Festival. In this inspiring and practical presentation, Hone reminded us of the 1990s arts media landscape when arts reviews were professionally paid and published in mainstream newspapers in Te Reo Māori and English.

Acknowledging the shifting media landscape and current lack of professional reviewing, Kouka called for a rebuttal of the neoliberal profit drive and a move toward collectivity that extends beyond the arts and into neighbouring sectors of science and business. He gave voice to the benefits of going hand and hand into the future, nurturing each other’s successes and rallying against divisions within our society.

Ensuring attendees were given practical support to lift the quality of media Kouka highlighted the free resource from Kupu Taea, Alternatives to anti-Māori themes in news media and asked attendees to avoid the tired tropes of pakhea as the norm and good Māori / bad Māori. (Many more great resources are available through the Treaty Resource Centre – He Puna Mātauranga o Te Tiriti).

Kouka ended the presentation by noting that Māori are a young, nimble and focussed population well-versed in innovation and they possess the skills needed to thrive in a changing media landscape. As evidence he presented the success of Kia Mau Festival with its beginnings outside the traditional funding ecosystem and current situation whereby funders proactively approach them to offer support.

Richard Aindow and Kerrin Burns, from Footnote New Zealand Dance were next to take to the stage and they shared a case study in making a modest touring budget work.

In this discussion collaboration was again at the centre. Footnote’s collaboration was with local practitioners, schools and existing contacts, through which they were able to build a buzz for their shows with pre-show master-classes, previews and tasters. These activities gave potential audiences information about what they were going to see and built a compelling story for why Footnote’s show was a must see.

You can see the Movement Biographies Footnote use to explain their practice and expand audiences here  and book tickets to upcoming shows in your town here.

Eric Janssen, Editor of Stuff (Wellington) and The Dominion Post, then stepped up to the podium. Janssen presented the current state of Aotearoa media from point of view of one of the largest players. His honest and open presentation explained the challenges that led to the changes many people in the room had lamented – the closure of regional newspapers, the reduction in arts coverage, the move to tabloid style weekday papers. Discussing the increasingly hard to come by advertising revenue (check out the NBR on this issue here) he also confirmed personal and professional belief that the arts are essential to the health of our society.

Janssen concluded with a call to action for all in the room – keep pitching your stories to your local media outlets, don’t give up.

Sputnik’s Chris Brown and Sophie Speer were the next to take to the stage and confirmed Janssen’s call – keep pitching your stories, and make sure you are telling your own story on your own channels. Keeping things practical they provided another case study and compared a traditional media release about sponsorship relationships and subsequent lacklustre media coverage with the successful sale of Colin the T-Rex (the 13 metre long steel T-Rex who greeted attendees on their way to the hui) and fundraising campaign to rebuild Te Omanga Hospice.

Toby Manhire from The Spinoff then invited attendees to stop worrying and love partner content. His honest explanation of The Spinoff’s partnerships, and the coverage it enables gave the audience a lot to think about. With this currently successful model already being employed by our literary friends at Unity Books there was some discussion of a coalition approach to content sponsorship within the room.

The day concluded with Nathan Pohio Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāti Wheke, Adrienne Jansen, Social Entrepreneur, and Te Hau Winitana, Īnano Dance joining a panel convened by Mark Amery, RNZ. Though the conversation was far reaching there were connecting themes of collaborative action, and taking ownership back from the media in order to ensure ownership and success. In the words of Winitana, “We aren’t waiting for the media anymore; we’re doing it for ourselves and getting our stories out there.”

Thanks again to everyone who attended the conference, supported its development or worked on the day. Your contributions are invaluable.

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