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Anderton: Whakairo exhibition and graduation

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health,
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education,
Minister Responsible for Public Trust

Progressive Leader

21 December 2006 Press release

Anderton at the Whakairo exhibition and graduation of Master Carvers

Speech to the Whakairo exhibition and graduation of Master Carvers, Ko Tane at Willowbank, 60 Hussey Rd, Harewood, Christchurch

If you ever come to visit my office at Parliament, you will see on the wall a piece of art I bought a few years ago in Tairawhiti - on the East Coast of the North Island. I bought it when I went to visit an exhibition of art by young Maori students at a polytech there. The occasion was a lot like the graduation and exhibition we are here for today. And just as today, the art I saw there was unique.

It was the creative expression of young people with huge talents, telling the story of their lives and the place they lived. I was up there in Tairawhiti at the time because it had been through a few hard years. The regional economy had gone backwards for a long time, and many talented young Maori men and women there couldn't find work. I was going up there to try to turn around that economy (and I'm proud to say we did).

The starting point was to build on the existing strengths of the region. One outstanding strength that shone through in the art I saw was the talent and creativity of the people. I liked it so much I bought some for myself - one for my office, and one for my home. (The truth is, I wasn't wearing my reading glasses when I looked at the price tag.)

The art I saw was not the story of the hardship of the community - it was an expression of hope, strength and character. It expressed -fiercely - the determination to overcome setbacks, take pride in the community, believe in themselves and value the land where they belonged.

Here were young men and women with few advantages and few privileges, channeling their energy and talent into unique and inspiring creations. The quality that was most important was that the art was unique; there was nowhere else in the world you could see or buy art like that.

The same is true of the carvings we have here today; and it will be true of all the carvings our graduates will ever produce. These carvings could only come from New Zealand. We are only just beginning to realise what an immense strength this is for New Zealand.

Around the world as production chains become more globalised, products are becoming more homogenised; it's common for things to look the same everywhere. And so sophisticated consumers everywhere are demanding uniqueness; and are prepared to pay a premium for it.

In our art and in our creative expressions of Maori New Zealand we have uniqueness that the world cannot find anywhere else. We have something that can never be lifted up and taken away to be produced somewhere else, more cheaply.

But carving has value to us far beyond its economic or commercial potential.
Historically, carving was always used as a way to tell the stories of people, their lives and their communities. So these carvings tell our stories: the stories of the carvers and their history and the history they are handing down to those who will come after us.

There is a saying that people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in people. Our whakairo also trap some of our history in time and in the wood, pounamu, bone, rock and even skin where it has been practised over centuries. Every whakairo is a formal record of history, with its own kaupapa.

The artists who have created these should take a special pride in their achievement. We need to celebrate our successes more, and this exhibition is a success. Just like we celebrate the All Blacks' success on the football field, we need to encourage our successes in science, in business and in the arts. As this exhibition shows, we are brilliantly creative and talented in New Zealand.

I think it's because we're far away from the rest of the world. We're used to having the freedom to try things out. Our great scientist Lord Rutherford is reputed to have said, "We don't have much money in New Zealand, so we have to think."

The most important ingredient in success is your own determination and vision. Only you can make the difference you make. If you decide to do something - only you can make your contribution.

Others can emulate it, but no one can replace your uniqueness. We are all born with different skills and different gifts. It is not our inherited skills that define who we are, though. It is the choices we make about what to do with them. There has never been a time when there have been so many exciting choices to be made.

A few years ago I used to receive letters from parents who were desperate about the choices New Zealand offered young people. They would go deeply into debt studying courses for which there were no jobs at the end. Sometimes young adults trying to enter the workforce would train and retrain and find themselves repeatedly rejected.

Today the opportunities are much richer. For young people entering the paid workforce, there have never been as many jobs. Unemployment is lower than in almost any developed country and lower than it's been in nearly two generations.

There is huge demand for skilled and talented young New Zealanders. And there is an insatiable demand for innovation and creativity - for people to make the most of the skills and opportunities around us.

So this exhibition opens the doorway to an exciting future for graduating students. You have exciting skills and talents. It's a pleasure to see that you are being recognised for it.

You are standing at the dawn of the most exciting century in the history of humanity. And the message I have for you is that you can be part of those opportunities from right here. The future will belong to those who develop their skills and harness their creativity.

We are used to talking about the age of knowledge; we're living in a time when knowledge and skills are the most valuable economic commodities of all. No longer gold, nor land, nor military power - but knowledge, skills, ideas and creativity make nations rich. And artistic expression by trained and skilled professionals is the ultimate expression of knowledge.

So perhaps we should get use to talking about the artistic and creative economy when we talk about the knowledge-based economy. In any case, we are talking about a future where your skills and the uniqueness of whakairo are becoming more valuable to us.

This course wasn't easy for graduates. Not everyone who started finished it.
So it is a recommendation in itself that you have come through. This is also a day of great pride for family and everyone who has supported graduates through this course.

Thanks also to those agencies that sponsored the course - TPK, CYPs, WINZ and Christchurch City Council. They invested in this course, because the government believes in people. We all have a stake in seeing everyone maximise their talents; and we're all enriched by the artistic output of graduates.

I congratulate you on graduating from this course, and on the carvings you have produced. And I wish you all the best for the development of your new skills in the future.


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