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31 Aug 2020

Waikato councils encouraged to use art as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans

Waikato could lead the country’s Covid-19 recovery, using art as a first responder.

That’s the hope of Creative Waikato’s chief executive Jeremy Mayall who is presenting to all Waikato councils, asking them to factor art into district and city recovery plans.

“People have turned to the arts as a coping mechanism during the lockdown, a way of making sense of being inside for those months.

“They found solace through art and there’s a growing pool of evidence that art can help people heal, it’s a matter of taking that leap, enabling art to happen in a way that benefits each district.”

Mayall said online concerts and musical performances as well as virtual galleries provided entertainment and “cultural uplift” during alert levels around the world.

Recently he presented to Ōtorohanga District Council where he gave examples of how art had been used to recover from a major disaster.

It included the Gapfiller in Christchurch, which followed the 2011 earthquake. It aimed to use empty spaces to create installations and events, such as the Dance-O-mat, a coin operated dance floor powered by an old laundromat washing machine.

”We want to work with the council and community, we want it to be really responsive to what the community is looking for.

“And it sounded like Ōtorohanga was very interested in the idea of installing artwork in empty shop fronts and possibly some kind of festival event, which could be really adaptable to their needs.”

An initiative called The Waikato Arts Navigator was launched in 2018 to develop an arts action plan for the region. Stage 2 would change to focus on art solutions for the Covid-19 recovery.

Mayall said Waikato produced work that was of “an international quality”, whether it be in music, theatre, performing arts, visual arts, installations or toi Maori.

The region was in a good position to leverage off its talented arts community to produce work tailored to each community’s response to Covid-19. It would also generate much-needed income for artists.

Creative Waikato conducted a survey in March, early in the alert level 4 lockdown, and 62 artists responded.

The results showed 76 per cent experienced immediate financial loss, more than half had to cancel future projects and events, collectively inflicting an income loss of about $220,000.

Mayall agreed there would be “hundreds more” artists in the region but the survey was just a snapshot in time, it indicated the pressure the art industry was under.

The uncertainty continued as the Auckland moved back into level 3 and the rest of the country, level 2.

“There is some concern, level 2 means some shows had to be cancelled if there were likely to be more than 100 people.

“But artists are learning to adapt and diversify. It’s also given more time to work in the studio, to finish off projects but when they get be shared and premiered, it’s still to be determined.”

Story originally featured on Stuff.co.nz