From Stubbies & SoGos to Rosé and Berets

From Stubbies & SoGos to Rosé and Berets

Bet Dunedin’s not the first place you’d think of if someone said “arts and cultural capital of New Zealand”. It’s not particularly surprising, considering our scarfie reputation seems to almost overwhelmingly overshadow any other image linked to the city so well known for its large body of partying students. And yet, there’s so much more happening under the radar; so much that seeks to portray Dunedin in a different light, to bring to the surface other aspects of the city that deserve to be acknowledged and championed – and the burgeoning arts and cultural scene is exactly one of these things.

The Transforming Dunedin arts symposium, coordinated by the Dunedin City Council’s Arts & Culture Working Group, forged ahead over the first weekend of March, starting with the official launch at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery on March 2 and followed by the main day of workshops and speakers on Saturday. Amid wine-swilling arts enthusiasts adorned in an impressive array of hats (fedoras, berets and bowler hats left, right and center – what else would you expect to see at an arts symposium?), a welcoming waiata was sung before the speakers of the night took to the podium. The line-up was impressive, as were the overarching sentiments; the symposium was organized to not only promote and increase awareness and understanding of arts and culture in Dunedin generally, but also to implement a comprehensive arts strategy that would actively turn “a bold and creative new vision” for the city into reality.

Prominent members of the Arts & Cultural Working Group Elizabeth Caldwell and Alan Baddock, alongside Waitakere City’s arts strategy leader Naomi McCleary, passionately extolled the virtues of a place already so rich in arts and culture, but affirmed the need for so much more: A cultural hub and creative center that would enrich and strengthen Dunedin, as a city and as a people. Caldwell and Baddock both acknowledged the hefty challenge involved in attempting to transform such an idea into a concrete strategy, but determined that through “shared visions and priorities” the community and council of the city working together could bring about great change in the way that arts and culture are valued in Dunedin.

McCleary, already a practiced arts strategy leader, supported this conclusion fully, emphasizing how her own experience has taught her that arts are an essential and central component of civilized life, that impacts upon the quality of living in cities. It’s something that should “increasingly be on the radar of local governments”, as art is invariably tied in to the complex process of creating a city’s heart and center. McCleary alluded to the student demographic here, explaining how while accessing the youth voice is one of the biggest challenges and excitements in developing an assertive arts strategy, it is also vital in the practice of building a rapport between the artists, community and council.

The launch ended with more wine (yay), hors d’oeuvres and inevitably, a pun (make Dunedin the heART of your place – cue tumultuous applause and a quiet groan from yours truly), and milling around the crowd revealed a good assortment of attendees: The mayor himself and the lead singer of Dunedin band The Verlaines made an appearance, as well as various arts lecturers and science communication post-grad students. All in all it was a highly successful night, though the fish risotto balls left a bit to be desired.
This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2012.
Posted 6:37pm Sunday 11th March 2012 by Beaurey Chan.