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5 Apr 2023

Singing with a shared voice

By Dr. Jeremy Mayall
Creative Waikato, CEO

As creatives, we all know the value of arts, culture and creativity in our lives. We feel how it connects us to ourselves. It encourages new ways to view the world, and helps us forge relationships with the people, places and spaces around us. It is important to see more of those creative activities that inspire, taking place all around us throughout our communities.

For Creative Waikato, alongside our mahi as a capability builder and creative development organisation, we celebrate our role as a champion for arts, culture and creativity. We strive to proactively work towards positive change to support the development and enhancement of the systems and structures that serve our creative ecosystem and the broader communities of our region. We do that through our ongoing advocacy work. This is work that draws from research and community engagement. It examines the current state of our systems and highlights ways we could do things differently to achieve greater impact and outcomes.

Advocacy connects community voices to the systems and enablers that can contribute to the vitality of the creative ecosystem. It sees our engagement with local councils, ministries, community funders, Iwi organisations, regional enablers, crown agencies, and others to use a strengths-based, vision-led approach toward strategic change. One that builds upon the vision for a Waikato Region that thrives with diverse and transformative creative activity and this process we will continue to engage with.

The advocacy voice is made much stronger with a choir of voices singing the same song, sharing the same messages and vision. This collaborative approach to collective impact will be one of the most powerful ways to support system change that is needed. It ensures the sustainability and accessibility of the creative sector and ecosystem that we are all so passionate about.

Creative New Zealand recently worked with research group The Workshop and Te Rōpū Mana Toi to develop an advocacy toolkit resource. It works to support the arts, culture and creative sector by having a shared approach to advocacy and is designed to support all of us in the sector. It allows us to collectively advocate for the changes we need and presents a set of options and techniques. It is packed with proven tips, hacks and advice on how to advocate and share the story of the benefits of the arts to the public and wider communities. This guide is informed by a vision for a future where artists and creativity thrive so all New Zealanders flourish.

Advocacy often emerges to the forefront in a crisis, but it is important that we also have the patience to pursue an aspirational approach. This long-term process shapes thinking, collective understanding and ideally shares an inspiring vision through compelling stories for the whole community to connect with. One that leads with wellbeing as a holistic approach.

Fundamentally, advocacy is about commitment to move proactively to a better future. To get there, we all need to improve in telling our stories, share the wider narrative about the impact of arts, culture and creativity in the Waikato and beyond, and to tell that story to everyone. The guide is here to support us in talking to broad communities, not just key enablers but our completely persuadable audience about the things that would allow more creativity, more work, more impact, more art.

This guide acknowledges that so many of us are already in our communities doing this work and that there is real value in a collective approach. It aims to provide support and insights to make this process slightly easier and more consistent. There is no way to create something that is the master switch to convince everyone and everything all at once. But we can see how a strength-based approach to narrative advocacy can make a substantial difference over time.

Remember, none of us can do this alone. Regional Arts organisations can’t do it alone. And we certainly can’t put the weight of responsibility on artists. We have to remember that we are all in it together. We’re stronger if we raise our voices with collective spirit and intent. If we can focus our energy on changing public mindsets (rather than fighting over the scraps) – we have a better chance of shifting the dial in a long-term sustainable way. Art, culture and creativity as public good.

The impact and connection of this work sits beyond the sector itself. There are shared values to be explored with our other community organisations, active recreation and sport organisations, economic organisations, and other regional partners. If we can support one another to achieve better outcomes for the people who live, work and play here, we can know that there is a holistic commitment to the wellbeing/hauora of our people.

We can collectively determine which stories to tell – we are creative, we thrive on telling stories. We want to ensure that we use the golden thread of helpful narratives, shared in the guide, which can help to string together all our diverse and beautiful stories into a compelling new overarching narrative about art, culture and creativity in the Waikato.

There is scope in our collective advocacy and in the way we connect with our persuadable audience to use creativity, to use our strength and the unique talents and perspectives that we can collectively bring to this work. There are so many ways to tell our collective stories, and the diversity of tone, medium, sound, look and feel all contribute to the big picture.

So, as we look ahead to councils working through annual plans and setting intentions for the future, national government elections, and other pathways for change and development both in our sector and beyond, lets us collectively share our voices to celebrate the strengths and vision for the arts, culture and creative ecosystem in the Waikato and beyond.

If you want to know more about our advocacy mahi, research and insights, or other ways to can share the strengths of creative activity in your community please contact the team on hello@creativewaikato.co.nz