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The Big Idea marks its 5th year

The Big Idea marks its 5th year

The Big Idea marks its 5th year as the Number 1 online community in the Creative Sector

Celebrating its 5th birthday this month is the largest online community in New Zealand's creative industries. The Big Idea was this year described by Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive as "one of the best if not the best online communities in New Zealand". Last year it was voted in the top 11 most exciting creative organisations by National Business Review. The Big Idea has just over 10, 800 users including more than 300 organisations.

The success of the site has not come from a big budget or marketing strategy. Most of the 4100+ unique visitors daily have discovered the site through word of mouth. They use it to find work, read interviews, network, post events and news and in general keep up with what's happening in the edgy world of artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, new media etc in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s creative industries have gained an extremely high profile in the last ten years for an impressive pool of talent, innovation, entrepreneurship and dynamism. The Big Idea as a virtual community provides networking and information sharing across all the various sectors, film, writing, design etc to bring a wide range of editorial content together under one umbrella site. The popularity of the site has grown incrementally over the last four years but has doubled in visitor traffic over the last 12 months.

The Big Idea has earned huge goodwill across New Zealand. As Eric Holowacz Community Arts Adviser from Wellington says, "I truly love the Big Idea, and visit several times each day. It is the most useful website I know of, besides Google, with Scoop not far behind, and a select few vying for runner up."

Part of the success of The Big Idea lies in its early recognition of the creative innovation sector as being a viable employment category. While most major recruitment sites fail to identify that such a category exists, The Big Idea reveals that employment across the creative sector is alive and growing. There are now recruitment agencies specialising in the area and they use the site as do organisations such as Te Papa, The Film Commission and AUT.

Jacquie Clarke Producer of The Big Idea says, “We now run around 30-40 employment listings weekly. That’s probably equal to a full page of newspaper listings.” “We think we carry some of the most interesting and innovative employment opportunities in New Zealand and in a sense we are defining that employment category and who its players are. We are constantly pushing the range and our subscribers are responding.”

“However we know that employment in the creative industries is often characterised by short term seasonal contracts and intermittent funding scenarios. The transitory nature of production exists across most mediums including film, theatre, music, visual arts, etc". Clarke says, “Our site works to create a sense of continuum and possibility for those transitional spaces and I think we hold out hope in the downtimes such as when a large film production ends”.

The Big Idea includes a vast array of information on auditions, workshops, residencies, scholarships, commissions, funding, seminars, conferences, hui, etc much of it uploaded directly by the community. Professor of Architecture at Unitec Dushko Bugonovich describes The Big Idea as being like, “an encyclopaedia. There’s a huge amount of information up there. ”

The Big Idea Trust was established in 2003 to develop and manage the website and a number of other projects that support the expansion of work and income opportunities in the creative sector. Elisabeth Vaneveld, Executive Director of the Trust since July 2006, has been with the project from its inception in 2001. She recalls that the impetus for it was meeting a young case-manager from Work & Income New Zealand in 1999, while a senior manager at Creative New Zealand.

“The case-manager was deeply concerned by the volume of creative practitioners under-employed in the creative sector, or worse, not able to create viable work opportunities that used their creative talent. I shared his frustration because it’s hard to see talented creative people on the dole not able to easily access work opportunities that suit their talents. As a result, Creative New Zealand initiated a strategic partnership across a number of agencies and arts organisations in Auckland to see if we could make a difference. One of our first big ideas was to establish an on-line community to combat the isolation and fragmentation that comes when people largely work as freelancers or from project-to-project. We also wanted that community to be able to effortlessly access in a one-stop-shop, information about opportunities, jobs, networks and people relevant to building a sustainable career in the creative sector.”

The Big Idea Web was launched in Auckland in December 2001 and soon the site attracted subscribers from throughout New Zealand and internationally, especially ex-pat Kiwi creatives keeping their eye on happenings and job openings at home. Aroha Rangi international co-ordinator for Film London writes, "I read every issue here in London and it helps to make me still feel connected to what is happening at home!"

Another initiative started at the time and that is also going strong under the umbrella of The Big Idea Trust is New Space, a professional development programme that works intensively with under-employed practitioners to build foundations for successful careers and businesses in the creative sector.

As Jacquie Clarke says, "The stream of creative talent and thinking that this country produces says a lot about New Zealanders as people. We take risks; we think outside the square; we have great ideas and a fresh perspective. Nowhere is that demonstrated more clearly than The Big Idea website. Nonetheless, we also believe that creative thinking needs to be visible, effective and contributing in all aspects of society. It’s not just about having talent; it’s also about having vision for the whole of our culture. We believe creative industries thinking is playing a critical role in the evolution of the knowledge economy and we need as a culture to combine sustainability with innovation as a way to move forward in the world. The creative sector is one place where people are engaging with this."

A recent funding investment from the ASB Trusts means that the website will be able to move into a redevelopment process so that it can offer improved functionality, tools and services to the site’s on-line community and users. The aim is to enhance the social networking aspect of the site, the navigation experience, the technical range, user-customisation and its design and feel.

While the website is based in Auckland, the site’s new editor Cass Hesom-Williams works out of Wellington, a move that will increase the site’s editorial range. Cass is the former Editor of the uber cool Staple Magazine and her move into the editor role was described on Radio Active recently as a “strong appointment. In the next year, The Big Idea is also planning to contract a freelance writer in Christchurch to serve that region better.

Another strong recent addition to the team is Helen Baxter in the role of online strategist for the website’s redevelopment. Helen is known for her popular ‘Digital Life’ slot with Jim Mora on National Radio’s ‘Afternoons’. She was also the founding editor of a large online community for The European Commission called Knowledge Board. For the redevelopment of the site Helen says, “We have some very big ideas indeed. In many ways it’s my dream project”.


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