April 1, 2010


According to a leaked recommendation from an un-named think tank to the Arts Minister, “a revamped Creative New Zealand (CNZ), to be more accurately called The Arts Council of New Zealand (TACONZ), will only fund the production of original NZ work in all art forms,” maverick ACT backbencher Derrick Graves has claimed.

The model is consistent with NZ Film Commission, NZ On Air and Literature Board policy. The recommendation describes it as a blend of the models that drive the Research and Development, and Primary Production sectors. “A great deal of ‘cultural product’ is imported from elsewhere, though all media. NZ’s core responsibility is to contribute to the global wealth in artistic expression by producing the work of NZ artists.

“While the major target market for NZ-produced artistic product is New Zealanders, it is expected that some works will be of a style and quality that makes them attractive to international audiences. But that is not prescribed upfront because experience shows that it is culturally specific works that travel best and no-one can predict what will fill that bill.”

Mr Graves, who emailed the leaked recommendation to Theatreview, thinks the idea is outrageous and is happy to go on the record. “So-called cultural product is no different to any other product,” said Mr Graves in a phone interview with Theatreview. “It is exactly like a plastic spoon: there is either a market for it or there is not. It needs to compete on the open market.

“In the 21st century notions of nationalism are passé. We are living in one global village. A story is a story is a story. Likewise a play, a dance, a film, a TV show – they’re all commodities, items of trade, no different than a plastic spoon. The Government has no business picking winners or playing favourites.

All funding to the so-called arts should cease forthwith and all arts practitioners should either be good enough to sell their work in the competitive open market or find something else to do. And if a theatre company, for example, wants to do an American, English or Outer Mongolian play because they think it will put bums on seats and return a profit, good luck to them.”

Mr Graves scoffed at the proposition that cultural distinction was more valuable in promoting trade and tourism than any other initiative; that branding New Zealand as both different and excellent at whatever it does best was crucial to a healthy economy.

“Separate countries are as dangerous as separate religions,” Mr Davies insisted. “They cause wars. We need one world with no borders in which all goods, services and infrastructure are provided and managed by private enterprise. No regulation. Survival of the fittest. How else can we hope to reduce the world’s population?”

Asked how this could be achieved, he replied, “The problem is the concept of family. That’s what is holding us back. Families play favourites. They are the seedbed of protectionism. The use of family names is the crux of the problem. People develop a false sense of identity then attempt to protect and defend it.

“And who is to say the ‘natural’ parents of a child are the best people to bring it up. There is plenty of evidence to say they are not. Private enterprise should offer those services too, competing on an open, global market. Children should be given a unique alphanumeric identifier until they achieve independence, when they will be free to choose a name that becomes their own personal brand,” said Mr Davies.

“Fix the problem at its source. We are all units in a global economic system. We either contribute to wealth and are relevant, or we don’t and we’re not. It’s as simple as that. But I am not so naïve as to think all this will be accepted and implemented anytime soon.”

Derrick Graves emphasised this was his own personal opinion and he expects the ACT Party to distance itself from it, “given it is not yet official ACT policy.”

When Theatreview suggested he had strayed from the topic at hand – i.e. the leaked recommendation that state funding to the arts should only be applied to New Zealand works – Mr Graves became impatient and said I hadn’t been listening. “Don’t you understand? You can’t eradicate a noxious weed by clipping the leaves. You have to dig it out at the roots.”

When asked by which mechanism his policies might be enacted if governments were to be abolished, or how one individual in a tiny and little-known country at the bottom of the world could hope to get the entire planet to conform to his ideas, he hung up.

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