Mayoral candidates mull place of arts in city life

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Arts forum . . . Dunedin Mayoralty candidates and audience members listen to candidate Finn Campbell during Tuesday night's Arts and Culture in Otepoti forum. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The essential role of the arts for society’s welbeing and the challenges facing arts organisations and practitioners – from the struggle to make a living to high DVML venue charges – were debated at the Arts and Culture in Otepoti mayoral candidates forum.

All 14 mayoral candidates attended Tuesday night’s forum, hosted by the Otago Museum, sharing their passions and making their pitches for election to an audience of about 100 people.

Each candidate was allowed four minutes to give their response to five big-picture questions, including the Ara Toi Otepoti arts strategy, the main issues facing the arts and cultural sector, council support for the arts, and sustainability.

Most candidates expressed their support for Ara Toi, their passion for the arts, referring to long-standing involvement as practitioners and supporters, while others strove to bring a business focus to the topic.

A few failed to answer the questions at all, or to express opinions of any relevance to the arts in Dunedin.

Incumbent councillor Aaron Hawkins said the big challenges facing the arts sector were money and (increasingly) space, particularly adequate performance venues and visual arts space.

He highlighted the down side of urban renewal, which led to artists pushed out of creative spaces, and said work needed to be done to mitigate this.

“If we want to create our creative economy seriously, we have to take the people working within it seriously,” he said.

Carmen Houlahan expressed her passion for the arts and her broad-ranging involvement in the sector, saying it was vital that arts practitioners were adequately supported.

Artists were often focused on their practice and struggled with the business aspect of their work, and there was a place for council to provide encouragement and help, she said.

In his address, Bob Barlin described the arts community as “a wonderful group of people”, but said he was not going to address the questions, instead he talked about his cultural experiences overseas.

Richard Seager spoke of his family’s connections to the arts, and said that funding was major issue for the sector.

Dunedin was very lucky for a city of its size, in terms of its vibrant arts community, and council should be supporting festivals and other events, he said.

Jim O’Malley said there were issues around inclusion of the arts community in the activities of council, such as in regard to the former Sammy’s building. There were also gaps in the city’s venues.

Council had a role to play in future-proofing arts and culture, but ensuring that opportunities existed for future artists to create their work, Mr O’Malley said.

He was committed to ensuring that institutions, such as museums and galleries, were adequately funded to be free for the public.

Finn Campbell said he was running a climate change ticket, but acknowledged that the arts and culture were embedded in the fabric of the city.

He believed urban design could be used to help support the arts.

Scout Barbour-Evans spoke of the grounding nature of culture in their life, and was proud of the city’s arts and cultural institutions.

Working with young people as a youth worker, they were involved with LGBTQI youth in the city, who were “musical, artistic, and aching for a cultural home”.

Arts and culture were integral to Dunedin’s wellbeing as a community, they said.