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Turia: Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Bill

Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Restructuring Bill

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Tena koe Madam Speaker, tena tatou

In a day in which it appears the full fury of the House has been galvanised into a toxic war against graffiti and gangs, it is extremely refreshing to come to the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Restructuring Bill and to be revitalised by the unique perspectives that artists can bring to the concept of cultural identity.

At one level, this bill – which sets in place a more publically accountable governance structure for the new Bishop Suter Trust - makes good plain sense.

The Bill has arisen because the Suter Art Gallery – Te Aratoi o Whakatu – now depends on local authority funding and support in that it has become a council-controlled organisation.

It is entirely consistent with public sector management that if the Gallery is to receive backing from the Nelson City Council, then it must be able to show that it has the capability to conduct its affairs properly.

But there is much more to the Suter than immediately meets the eye.

This is a Gallery which although having recently celebrated 109 years since it opened its doors in the 1890s, is still stirring up debate through the nature of the exhibitions it unleashes on the Nelson public.

The Suter has established a reputation for challenging Nelsonians, for provoking them into taking a look at themselves, their histories, their mythologies, their culture. And it has done it so successfully that Nelson Mayor Paul Matheson described the Suter as, and I quote: “a fundamental part of our makeup, our identity”.

In this context then, the decision that Suter made last year to single out Pakeha culture as the exclusive focus of an exhibition was both unique, and genuinely challenging.

“Pakeha Now” was the first exhibition of contemporary Pakeha art to be held and was curated by Anna Marie White of Te Atiawa. Anna negotiated her way through the icon motifs of kiwiana – the jandals, pavlovas and buzzy bees – to present an understanding of what it means to be Pakeha.

The decision to stimulate awareness and an expression of Pakeha identity represents a renewed sense of confidence in the use of the term Pakeha to convey a sense of pride in the types of values, rituals, attitudes, and practices which come with a culture; as well as marking a connection to Aotearoa – a sense of self that is not from ‘over there’ but that is of being here.

There are other distinctive features of the Suter which stand out. The Suter, Te Aratoi o Whakatu, has taken seriously the issue of authenticity when considering its role in developing bicultural tourism. Central to this is their commitment to encourage, nurture and promote artistic creativity in a bicultural arts environment.

One of the outcomes of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between local iwi and the Suter in 2002 was the establishment of Ko te Pou Aranga – a consultation committee comprising representatives of the eight mana whenua in the Nelson Region.

The formal agreement pledges specific Maori representation on the Board, and a range of protocols and commitments to sustain the mauri of Maori arts and cultural icons within the Galley.

It details such strategies as providing bilingual guides, encouraging Maori participation, separating out the eating space, facilities for powhiri to occur, bilingual signage, and a commitment to ensure that all staff receive appropriate training to demonstrate cultural sensitivity, understanding and respect for Maori and taonga.

Out of that original agreement has also come some real and meaningful iwi development in the gallery’s educational programmes, the architecture and design of the Gallery itself and the position of a Maori curator.

Madam Speaker, in preparing for this Bill, I also came across the Maori history of the Suter Site and Environs by Hillary and John Mitchell, which set out a fascinating history including the relationships of mana whenua occupation of Ngati Koata, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa, Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa.

It describes the wealth of mahinga kai situated adjacent to the Suter where shellfish, eels, birds, eggs, aruhe (fern root), harakeke, tutu berries and other kai was gathered. It also details the land grabs of the most fertile lands in the Motueka to the settlers, and to the Church for the Whakarewa School Trust. It paints a picture of the past which will undoubtedly inform our future.

Madam Speaker, this House has also feasted on the rich wealth of information and perspectives that the Suter Gallery offers the nation. We celebrate its past and we look forward to an ongoing future of challenge and creative courage. We are pleased to support this Bill.


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