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3 May 2023

Enriching a strong Māori arts practice

Kāore te kumara e kōrero ana mo tōna ake reka.
(The kumara does not brag about its own sweetness).

By celebrating the uniqueness of the ELEVATE Toi Māori cohort these Waikato based artists support each other artistically and through collaborations, creative connections, financial contributions, shared experience, exchanging ideas and aroha.

The kaupapa of Creative Waikato’s ELEVATE programme is to support artists into sustainable creative careers. Participants in 2022 included a significant number of Māori artists so Creative Waikato responded by creating a dedicated Toi Māori cohort. Although the programme was already well established, by the creative development team, two facilitators from within Creative Waikato: Kereama Clarke, (He uri tēnei ō Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Ngāti Maahanga, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Naho Ngāti Hāina hoki) and Kelly Joseph (Ngāti Maniapoto) were tasked with applying a Māori lens to the programme.

Against the backdrop of 2022 Covid-19 lockdowns the programme ran as a hybrid of online learning via zoom and in-person sessions. Kereama and Kelly made seemingly small, yet significant changes to be responsive to the group’s needs, while keeping the integrity and aims of the programme intact. This meant switching a few elements about, such as translating the programme into te reo and opening each session with a whakataukī to set the tone of the sessions.

Practitioners came from multiple disciplines, including tā moko, painting, weaving, spoken word and music, and were very engaged in the programme, often talking so animatedly on topics that these invariably spilled over into their break times. “What I saw and what I already knew is that Māori artists generally aren’t stuck in one genre and they like to cross genres and cross-pollinate ideas.” One of the participants, Daniel Ormsby (Ngāti Maniapoto Ngāti Kaputuhi, Ngāti Uekaha) echoes this sentiment. “Maui was a tutu.” He asserts, acknowledging that that Māori often like to play around with ideas and experiment across materials and disciplines.

When the lockdown levels dropped to level three, those who were able meet in person at Lake Rotoroa met for their session against the backdrop of the natural environment. Mindful of physical spacing and comfort levels there was emphasis on tikanga with karakia, kai and a lot of kōrero. Kelly facilitated this first in-person meeting unpacking some of the content of their previous online sessions. This was originally planned for a half day, but because of the high levels of interaction and engagement ran late into the day.

Similarly, at the end of the programme a hangi was put down in Garden Place and again the cohort stayed late. This final session which focused on celebrating success and moving forward also had the elements of sharing kai and being in each other’s company. A standout for Kereama was to observe a participant, who hitherto had been shy in speaking up in a group setting, choosing to present first and articulating her journey confidently.

As a postscript to the programme several group members were involved in Matariki celebrations at Te Whare Toi o Ngaaruawaahia. An active facebook group serves as an ongoing place to reconnect, exchange ideas and support each other. Kereama has no doubt that when the time is right more opportunities will happen for this group and indeed there are plans afoot for a weekend wananga in Waitomo. He says, “As they are all working towards some sort of end goal the awhi continues beyond the programme through encouragement and ensuring they’re on the right track and can manage issues outside their control.”

Multi-disciplinary painter/carver/ tā moko artist and entrepreneur / (Ormsby) runs a collective for about fifteen artists who operate out of the Karamaha/ Red Shed in Waitomo. He originally envisaged a dedicated ELEVATE programme in situ, but now thinks joining the larger cohort in Kirikiriroa/ Hamilton has had multiple benefits and lots of spin offs. He believes that as an artist you need to be able to sustain yourself and wanted to do the ELEVATE course for both himself and his team to gain those tools. “It’s important for our roopu to observe and participate in the unseen aspects of art and to experience a peek behind the curtain and see another world and its depth.”

He had explored other options and opportunities, including business courses, but they didn’t gel and from his own experiences of study knew the importance of the right fit. Daniel says that Māori art is a different beast to western art with different conventions, purposes and that Māori thrive in an environment that reflects this. “ELEVATE fits all those things so I’m really happy because we moved to a space that was productive and that further learning opened up.”

Daniel is very conscious of his leadership role within his community and by joining ELEVATE he was able to share his experience and learnings to others in the programme, while at the same time learn some new tricks himself. He believes that “nobody is better than others, but you might be more experienced, and the sharing of obstacles or successes may be beneficial to others. This is so that you don’t pull the ladder up behind you rather the structure of this model is about us succeeding together…..The rewards are in the people around me.”

Ariane Thompson’s (Ngāti Tiipa, Ngāti Pukenga, Ngā Pōtiki) creative journey followed an academic one which began in medicine, before moving to law. Creatively she had been experimenting within the painting medium and came to ELEVATE thinking she would continue this practice. Starting the programme, she thought she would continue in her practice, build networks and meet like-minded people, but it led to so much more. She unexpectedly found herself enrolling in a graduate diploma in communication at Wintec, Te Pūkenga to help her to tell stories of others in the way she wants.

Ariane intends to set up a wraparound support service for artists to add value to each other and is seeking support from funders to do so. She acknowledges that her own left-brain skills (including copy writing, marketing, and promotion) are often outside the natural inclination of artists to build their careers. Post study she hopes to provide scaffolding for them to build up their platforms. “The one thing I couldn’t get past was the fact that all of my friends on the ELEVATE course have so much talent and so much to say, but they were too shy to put themselves forward. There’s a reluctance, particularly amongst Māori and Pasifika to talk about ourselves, so I felt an urgency to change that and that’s shaped the path I’ve taken myself.”

“One of the beautiful things about the ELEVATE Toi Māori cohort is that we’ve been connected to each other and it leaves the possibility open to collaborate, not just artistically, but in this way as well and when I think about everything, this cohort is always my starting point.”

For Ariane it is important to create an audience who understand the nuances of art to preserve wisdom from a time before. “Authenticity is paramount, so that meaning, and spirituality and a deeper significance is both recognised and preserved, rather than just being purely visual.”

Artist Jordyn Daniels (Ngai Tahu) gained her Diploma in Māori weaving (Toi Paematua- Raranga) and a bachelor’s degree in Māori visual art (Maunga Kura Toi- Rauangi) from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. She also went on to complete a post graduate adult education certificate, initially looking to teach, and an internship on the collection of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. These experiences and learning cumulatively brought other opportunities to mind and she has continued to develop as an artist. Jordyn brings her knowledge of both customary and contemporary Māori art practice and her works are an exploration of mātauranga Māori, inspired by atua wāhine, tupuna wāhine, whakapapa and connection to te taiao (the natural environment).

As her art practice started to take off, she found out about ELEVATE and jumped onboard with a desire to bring focus to the business side. “Making art is easy, it’s all the other stuff I didn’t know.” Moreover, a dedicated Toi Māori programme tailored by creatives for Māori artists offered up an unmatched pathway and Jordyn says that the steps she took during her ELEVATE time was so much more than she imagined. She made a pact with herself to get on and just do the things and have the experiences. Although it was a challenge Jordyn also saw that doing this would help others in the cohort and achieve her own aims, including a dedicated website and bespoke business cards.

All the Toi Māori participants came into ELEVATE with their personal goals and have been exposed to different skills and methodology which they’ve able to implement in ways as diverse as their group. It’s been imperative to work alongside other as Māori practitioners in this artistic eco system. Many of the practitioners now see each other as colleagues, collaborators or indeed family. Kereama believes that approaching the programme in this way gave room for people to have honest conversations and to deal with some of the barriers they’ve experienced along the way. “By joining in creative circles to move past the negative and focus on the positive.”

For Ariane her key takeaway was to apply a different lens of experience to try and get people to understand things from an another perspective. ELEVATE “gave me confidence in what I have to offer, to enrich the community and achieve necessary goals by connecting with people.” Jordyn appreciated the tikanga of the ELEVATE Toi Māori cohort, which is without a hierarchical structure and felt “supported and uplifted by two amazing facilitators who showed their vulnerability as creatives.” Daniel says of his experience. “When you lift, everything lifts, and I’ve loved seeing our crew grow and it’s cool knowing I was part of it.” He affirms how important it is to “live Māori values like manaakitanga to help each other and enjoy this life together.”

– Megan Lyon, Freelance Writer.

Piqued your interest in taking the leap from creative practice to creative career? Elevate is back, more accessible than ever, and open for applications from Waikato artists now. Check out the info and criteria on our Elevate page and apply today!