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Editor posted 24 Oct 2012, 07:48 PM / edited 24 Oct 2012, 07:51 PM

Arts patron dies on way home from opera

Dominion Post - Last updated 10:28 24/10/2012

David Carson-Parker was a dedicated and generous supporter of the arts.

A prominent figure of the Wellington arts scene, David Carson-Parker, died on Saturday night - reportedly on the way home from the opera. [More

Editor posted 29 Oct 2012, 07:53 PM

David Michael Carson-Parker, 23 September 1932 – 21 October 2012  

This is the text of Bill Sheat's contribution to the service to celebrate the life of David C-P at Old St Pauls, Monday 29 October 2012, 2pm. 

When I was asked to give this tribute to David Carson-Parker   I soon realised what a daunting task I had taken on.  David's involvement and influence was across so many disciplines in the arts and in so many ways.  I struggled hard to avoid the cliché “renaissance man”. The dictionary definition is “A present day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field” but I am not going to use it. What I am going to do is take you on a voyage around a sparkling archipelago.

The first port of call is David's work as a potter and this took place during the 1960s culminating in a solo exhibition in 1973. In addition to creating his own works he quickly became involved in potting administration being Vice-President of the New Society of Potters 1962-63 and President 1964-67. In 1967 he led a cultural visit of potters to Fiji. In 1967 he was co-author of “The Maori and His Art” -  a small colour booklet on Maori art as it could be seen in meeting houses in the field - which had a print run of 40,000 copies.

From 1968 to 1972 he was a Council member and Chairman of the Association of New Zealand Art Societies (a Federation representing 25,000 members) Over the same period he was President of the New Zealand Crafts Council and in that capacity was New Zealand delegate to the first Asian regional conference of the World Craft Council held in India. 

In 1972 he led the NZ Delegation to the World Craft Congress in Istanbul. 

Soon after arriving in Wellington in the 1950 he formed what was to become a lifelong friendship with Dame Doreen Blumhardt, one of New Zealand's greatest potters. He played a leading role in setting up the Blumhardt Foundation and in advising Dame Doreen on the placing of core items from her great ceramics collection with the Dowse Art Museum  

A major port of call is David's involvement with the film industry in both film making and exhibition. He was Associate Producer on Geoff Murphy's feature Utu which was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983. The film became the subject of a complex dispute with the Inland Revenue Department –no fault of David's I hasten to add. This was eventually resolved by the Privy Council in 2005 over 20 years after the film was made. Recently David has played a part in the restoration of Utu. It should be released again soon on DVD. 

While I had known David for over 40 years I had my closest association with him when he was Deputy Chairman of the Embassy Theatre Trust from 1996 to 2005. He threw himself enthusiastically into the restoration project and I have no hesitation in saying that without him it would not have happened. On many occasions we would suffer some setback but David would stride on and lead us through each mine field we encountered.  

We had to complete stage 2 of the restoration in time for the premiere of Part Two of Lord of the Rings. We did not have the funding to pay for it so we could not accept the tender for the work. 

With David's support the Trust became its own head contractor so that work could start. David was in effect personally guaranteeing the contract. In the event we raised sufficient sponsorship and did not have to draw on his generosity.

David chose one of the features of the Embassy foyer to mark his respect for his mother and father. The tiling on the walls of stair cases was actually paid for by David. One of the tiles at the top of the stairs has some unobtrusive letters on it. They are his parents' initials. In 2004 he was given an “Absolutely Positive Wellingtonian” Award by the Wellington City Council for his work on the Embassy project.

Our next stop is to look at David's concern to help young people seeking to achieve professional standards in the arts. He furthered this ideal with his long term as Chairman of the New Zealand Youth Choir. He took great delight in accompanying the choir on several acclaimed overseas tours. More recently he has involved himself with the work of the Film School and of Toi Whakaari the N.Z Drama School.

In 1990 David was instrumental in setting up the Embassy Scriptwriting Award. This is awarded each year to the outstanding student in the Scriptwriting Course at Victoria University (part of the Institute of Modern Letters.) When the Embassy Trust was wound up, in association with the Victoria University Foundation, David personally took over the funding of the award which now includes his name in its title.

David's association with Victoria is a longstanding one. From 1969 to 1972 he was a tutor there in Advanced Accounting. He was a member of the VUW Foundation's Legacy Club and he was made a Hunter Fellow in recognition of his support. 

Another island on this journey is David's involvement with Downstage. Between 1971 and 1985 he served on the Downstage Trust Board. He remained a strong supporter and this year organised a $1000-a-plate fundraising dinner at his home for which he personally did the cooking. The guest of honour was Sir Ian McKellen.  Three days before he died he was at a fundraising High Tea at the Hippotamus restaurant. I sat at the same table as him while we were entertained with reminiscences from Dame Kate Harcourt and her daughter Miranda. David was in great form. This was to be the last time I would to see him. Looking back I realise that our jocular remarks that the cream filled delicacies on the table would not contribute to our cardiac health were in execrable taste. 

Another island was Te Papa. From 1986 – 1989 he was a Council member of the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand and its Chairman from 1989 to 1998. This was to become the Friends of Te Papa. When some of the powers that be decided that the Friends Organisation was surplus to requirements, David stood his ground and would not yield. The organisation survived thanks to David. 

He was a Governor of the Arts Foundation from 2005 on. He formed a strong association with two of its trustees Sir Ronald Scott and Ros Burdon and its Executive Director Simon Bowden. His contribution was especially valued as he drew on his historical memories of New Zealanders who had tended to be lost sight of. David put them forward for recognition as Arts Foundation  Icons. Two in particular spring to mind. One of these was Alexander Grant the legendary character dancer with the Royal Ballet. The other was Donald Munro founder of the NZ Opera Company. Recognition as an Arts Foundation Icon reunited Donald with his New Zealand roots and he then travelled back here every year up until his death.

This is not part of the main journey but I trust I will be forgiven for introducing some personal thoughts. We would regularly compare notes about operas and other performances and his comments were incisive and well informed. I would not say he was hard to please but his high standards meant that his approval had to be earned.

Not only was he knowledgeable but he was personally acquainted with international figures. I recall meeting Joan Sutherland and her conductor husband Richard Bonynge at David's home. He travelled overseas at least once a year and called on his overseas celebrity friends such as Sarah Billinghurst, Assistant Manager Artistic at New York's Metropolitan Opera Company. He regularly sent me post cards as he travelled around and one could not fail to be impressed by what he had chosen to see.

Often I would get a phone call from David. He would open the conversation with “Bill, we've got to talk!” Off I would go for a cup of coffee and a stimulating discussion.

The final stop on our voyage around the archipelago of David's involvement with the arts is the most significant of all. It is his contribution to Wellington the city where he spent the greater part of his life. Some people (I am not one of them) like to describe Wellington as the “Arts Capital of New Zealand” Not that I disagree and it does serve some good purpose by making Aucklanders squirm.

David's contribution to Wellington's pre-eminence was unequalled. The focus was his home which filled with treasures of art that he had accumulated over a lifetime.  He often opened it to the public during the International Festival of the Arts of which he was a Trustee from 1992 to 1998.

David's house, like so many on the harbour side of Hawker Street, has its back to the street. When you go inside there is this magnificent view of the inner harbour. This was the home of Sirius Opera of which he was a trustee with Jeremy Commons. Between 2002 and 2007 it staged chamber operas in intimate settings. Denis and Verna Adam were part of a special group that meet there for many years for Christmas dinner. David was to become a Trustee of the Adam Foundation and his advice as to the disposition of the Foundation's art collection was greatly appreciated.

This was the home of a man of style who set us all an example of how to live a life which emphasised the finer things of life. His contribution to our city was not adequately recognised.

David was not as far as I know a performer but he was the first to recognise a fine performance. I am going to ask you all to stand and give him the standing ovation he so richly deserved.

[cue sustained standing ovation ….ed.]

His influence will live on.
Thank you David.