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Global Arts Beyond 2000

Global Arts Beyond 2000


Good afternoon everyone.

Mayor of Auckland, and former colleague Christine Fletcher; Margaret Merrion, President International Council of Fine Arts Deans; Professor Greg Whitecliffe, Chair of the Steering Committee, distinguished guests, and conference delegates who have come from all corners of New Zealand as well as overseas.

I am delighted to be here today to formally open your Global Arts Beyond 2000 Conference.

New Zealand, and particularly Auckland, is currently the subject of a great deal of international focus. The successful APEC conference and the upcoming America’s Cup have precipitated this attention, and I am pleased a conference focussing on arts and culture is playing a part in this.

We have a unique culture here in New Zealand and I do hope some of our overseas delegates will have the opportunity to taste more of our vibrant New Zealand experience before returning home.

Here in New Zealand we are fortunate to have different heritages. These differences combine to make us what we are today. A country whose national identity has much to offer the rest of the world.

A nation’s identity is established internationally as much by the experience of people who visit, as by its diplomatic stands and sporting and artistic achievements. This has never be more so than in our global world.

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Global is a word, an idea, and a concept very much to the fore as we approach the new millennium.

In today’s shrinking world I believe it is important for us to nurture and protect our existing cultural heritage while being mindful of the contribution we can make on the international scene.

Your conference is timely. There is no better time for all of us to ask questions of ourselves, about who and what we are.

There is much disagreement about the state of culture in contemporary New Zealand. Historically this has always been the case. The history of our art is littered with individual artists escaping the perceived cultural barrenness of New Zealand for the cultural certainties and comfort of Europe.

Ambitious writers, singers, musicians, actors, film directors and painters still pursue a bigger stage and a wider audience.

More fundamentally and ultimately more worrying, a lack of personal self-confidence is at issue. Therefore artists and performers seek validation of their work amongst acknowledged figures abroad.

While we are in a position to see in historical perspective the long period of cultural cringe exhibited by America, Australia and countries who share a European colonial heritage, I believe it is only now that we ourselves are emerging as a distinctive cultural force.

For all our lateness, New Zealand has never been culturally more exciting, nor has our creativity been more extensive. There are more New Zealand books and novels, more New Zealand poetry, more New Zealand music and more locally produced radio programmes, television and films than ever before.

This year, for example has been a particularly good one for New Zealand film with no less than seven of our feature films screening throughout the country.

Cultural pessimists say this is still not enough. Yet culture not only sets its own pace but creates its own expectations and I am optimistic that the current vigour and momentum of our culture will continue to create in society a climate of even greater expectations of our identity.

Government has an important role as guardian, patron and educator of our culture and heritage. And two initiatives this year have strengthened this role.

In May, Government launched the draft arts curriculum statement for schools. This is a significant step forward for the recognition of the arts in New Zealand.

Young people have a defining role in the preservation of our cultural identity and the new arts curriculum, with its holistic approach, gives them this opportunity.

Cultural education gives our young people the skills and self-confidence to get the most out of cultural experiences, and gives our artists the skills they need to maintain our cultural traditions, care for our heritage and develop new forms of expression.

Nurturing our young artists is crucial if we are to maintain our national identity in an environment where much of our life is dominated by influences from outside New Zealand.

The curriculum will be a springboard for our young people to further develop their artistic talent in dance, drama, music and the visual arts as well as appreciate the rich and culturally diverse nation we live in.

The details of the new Ministry for Culture and Heritage were announced in July.

Uniting culture and heritage will do a great deal to help us celebrate, foster and protect our cultural and historical legacy.

The new ministry reflects Government’s positive vision for the future and my own view that culture and heritage underpins all we are, as New Zealanders, both socially and economically.

We can ensure a more strategic and coordinated approach to culture and heritage objectives and see greater promotion and protection of our distinctive national identity. The changes represent a significant upgrading of the priority given to culture and heritage by the National-led Government.

The move is enabling me, as Minister for Culture and Heritage, to take a big picture approach to policy development; and to create a strong platform for Government’s further thinking about how it can most effectively protect our cultural and heritage history and support these activities now and in the future.

Questions raised over the next few days will, I’m sure, consider important issues relevant to culture and heritage and their context in the next millennium. I believe one of the most important debates, confronting those of us involved in culture and the arts, is culture versus economics.

The debate over the state funding of the arts has orbited around essentially one issue. Whether or not such public expenditure is economically justified.

That is, the debate has been conducted in terms that place economics as the pre-eminent issue in modern life. This, despite the fact that economics is essentially a methodology, is not an end in itself and lacks the moral capacity to bear such a complex responsibility.

However, in justification of the economistic belief it can be said that New Zealanders by and large probably regard prosperity as the cause of happiness and economic development as the foundation for most other social processes. As a result, the economic sphere has become the focus of our care and concern.

What is absent from this view is the crucial importance of cultural factors in shaping the economic process. Economics cannot be independent of the surrounding culture and it is New Zealand society that defines and positions economics in its range of values.

Culture is not a secondary matter. Ultimately culture is the way we understand ourselves. A society that fails to understand itself will be unable to act coherently on any problems facing it. The future of New Zealand society depends on how we will understand ourselves and our cultural agenda will underpin that self-understanding.

If culture is the way we understand ourselves, art is the way we articulate that understanding in the form of painting, drama and television, film and poetry, ballet and song.

For these reasons culture is prior to economics. The dynamism of the market, its productivity and inventiveness stands on the values and habits of the heart and the mind.

However necessary the pursuit of economic growth and national wealth, however important economics contributes to our social felicity, they are ultimately instrumental rather than goals in themselves. Because of its use of, or dependence on moral values, intellectual capital, social vigour, human imagination and philosophical concepts, economics is deeply in debt to the wider culture.

How do we calculate the relationship between men and women, children and families, old and young and the social content of business organisations? Society is all this, plus the endless communal interchanges – the activities of clubs and schools, churches and charities, with the values attached to art that encourage imagination, energy and idealism. They are all part of the marketplace, which is essentially cultural.

Before any nation can call itself a civilised society it needs to have a body of advanced art and visible, serious, high-level intellectual activity.

Conferences like your own with a programme to consider cultural and arts issues and their value in the new millennium do much to ensure these issues take their rightful place on any agenda for the future.

My challenge is for people like your selves to ensure the creative thinkers and artists of our future are not on the periphery.

It is important they become central to our lives, for ultimately it is they who determine our cultural identity. The depth of debate achieved here can do much to ensure art and culture takes its rightful place in the global world.

I now have great pleasure in formally opening your conference Global Arts Beyond 2000

Thank you.


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