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Arts Foundation mourns loss of Icon Artist

April 13, 2007

For immediate release


Arts Foundation mourns loss of Icon Artist

The Arts Foundation of New Zealand is saddened by the passing of one of New Zealand’s greatest artists, Don Selwyn, who was selected as a 2007 recipient of the Foundation’s prestigious Icon Awards, which was to be announced at a ceremony later this year.


Biennially, the Foundation honours senior New Zealand artists as Icons.  Previous recipients include artists such as Ralph Hotere, Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare among 13 others.  After understanding that the Award was not just for his acting, but also for his significant contributions as a Producer and Director, Don accepted the Award.


The Foundation is honoured that Don will join New Zealand’s most treasured artists as a celebrated Icon, but saddened that he will not be at the ceremony later this year. The Foundation is in discussion with Don’s family regarding appropriate acknowledgement to celebrate his artistic career.


Don C Selwyn (Ngati Kuri and Te Aupouri) had a long standing and distinguished career in the New Zealand film and television industry as an actor, producer and director. He was a leading proponent of Maori drama, performed in both Maori and English, and a prime mover in encouraging respect for Maori viewpoints and culture in mainstream New Zealand film and television drama.


From 1984 to 1990, Selwyn ran a film and television training course called “He Taonga i Tawhiti”(Gifts From Afar) for Maori and Pacific people to ensure they had the technical skills to allow them to tell their own stories. Over its six-year existence, 120 people completed the course.


In 1992, with producer Ruth Kaupua Panapa, Selwyn formed He Taonga Films to create job opportunities for course graduates and to provide outlets for Maori drama writers. Through He Taonga Films, he has produced and directed Maori language television dramas and numerous Maori dramas in English. He was a former member of the board of the New Zealand Film Commission and a member of the Screen Industry Taskforce. His contribution was officially recognised in 1999, when he was awarded the New Zealand Honours Award Officer of NZ Merit (ONZM).


He was also awarded honorary doctorates at Waikato University, Unitec and Massey University. His recent productions included the feature film The Maori Merchant of Venice, which he also staged as a theatrical production, and, he has produced and directed Maori language television dramas (Maaui Pootiki, Tohunga) and many Maori dramas in English, including Don’t Go Past With Your Nose in the Air, which was awarded best foreign short film at the New York Festival in 1992.


He was executive producer of the 2000 New Zealand Media Peace award-winning feature The Feathers of Peace. Another aspect of his work has been to secure roles for Maori actors and share his acting experience with them by working as casting director on other people’s productions, including feature films Once Were Warriors, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, Broken English, Jubilee and Crooked Earth.


Don received Te Tohu Tiketike a Te Waka Toi, an award presented annually by Te Waka Toi for outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts.




For more information contact:

Simon Bowden

Executive Director

04 382 9691 or 021 746 706



Notes to editors:


About The Arts Foundation of New Zealand:

The Arts Foundation of New Zealand is a charitable trust, independent from government that invests in excellence in New Zealand Arts.  The Foundation has an endowment fund, which generates income to support the arts. It encourages private individuals to support the endowment through donations and bequests. The endowment fund was originally set up through donations from the Lottery Grants Board and a three-year loan of $1 million from an anonymous patron.



About the Icon Awards:

The Arts Foundation of New Zealand has established an honours system to celebrate the living icons of New Zealand arts.

New Zealand art is highly valued and celebrated by New Zealanders. Our artists are of the highest quality and their unique voices echo around the world. There are many artists who have life long achievements. Now recognised as leaders in their fields, these artists are our icons, in some cases internationally renowned and often local pioneers in their chosen art forms.

Every two years the Arts Foundation honours leading arts practitioners as Icon Artists. In 2003 an inaugural ten Icon Artists were appointed. In time there will be a living circle of up to twenty Icon Artists.

Each Icon Artist receives a medallion and pin designed by stone sculptor John Edgar. The artist keeps the pin in perpetuity, while the medallion, following the artist’s death, will be presented to a successor at subsequent Icon Awards ceremonies. The mana of each Award will increase significantly over time as the medallions are passed down through generations of our finest artists.

The 2005 Icon recipients join the living circle of Icon Artists honoured in 2003. They include: Len Castle – Potter, Maurice Gee – Writer, Ralph Hotere – Visual Artist, Russell Kerr – Choreographer, Sir Donald McIntyre – Opera Singer, Milan Mrkusich – Painter/ Visual Artist, Diggeress Te Kanawa – Weaver, Hone Tuwhare – Poet and Sir Miles Warren – Architect. Writer Janet Frame (1924-2004), who was also awarded an Icon in 2003, passed away in 2004. Janet’s Icon medallion will be presented to a successor at a future Icon Awards ceremony.

The Icon Awards give New Zealanders the opportunity to identify those artists who have excelled as contributors to this country’s cultural identity or represented New Zealand on the world stage. The Awards ceremony enables us to thank the Icon Artists for their contributions and to celebrate their achievements with them.



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