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Ara amplifies indigenous voices in the Creative Industries

06 March, 2020

New Zealand may be known globally as a powerhouse for film talent, thanks to the ongoing efforts of luminaries such as Peter Jackson and Jemaine Clement, but as Aotearoa’s latest Hollywood success Taika Waititi recently pointed out during his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, indigenous youth still need to take their rightful place amongst the coming generation of storytellers.

"I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories…we are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well,” Waititi said when accepting his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit.

Ara Institute of Canterbury is actively working to improve access and recognition for indigenous talents. Ara’s Framework for Māori Achievement for 2020/2021 sets out the Institute’s mission to deliver positive experiences from beginning to end through kaupapa Māori & mātauranga Māori.

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Māori Performing Arts student Sophia Gottlieb in NASDA’s 2019 production of 42nd Street - photo credit to Triebels Photography.

“Brave advocates such as Taika who are unapologetically proud of their culture and heritage go some way to opening the doors for others, but it requires more than the indigenous communities to make sure they are recognised. Institutions need to be leading the charge, ensuring culture can be the foundation of the craft and doesn’t need to be hidden away,” says Hemi Hoskins, Acting Head of Ara’s Department of Creative Industries. “We want to celebrate what mātauranga Māori contributes to the creative industries and encourage our people to engage in this.”

Bruce Russell, Manager - Art and Design, agrees. “It is important for New Zealand’s culture that a range of young people from all backgrounds enrol in creative courses and build our cultural sector in many diverse ways. The specific importance of young Māori is that their voices and culture will be heard nowhere if they do not engage here. And their perspective will be lost to the NZ cultural landscape. That would be a crime.”

Andrew Snell, Manager - Performing Arts at Ara adds, “The performing arts are predominantly about telling stories and Māori stories are a vital part of the New Zealand cultural landscape. Ara’s programmes provide the training and develop the skills to enable Māori students to tell those stories in effective ways through music, dance and acting.”

Performing Arts at Ara encompasses both Music Arts, and the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) where students can immerse themselves in musical theatre. This year there are 34 Māori students and 19 Pacific students enrolled in Ara’s performing arts programmes, which have seen an increase in enrolments from Māori and Pacific students in recent years.

Tony Simons, Manager of Ara’s New Zealand Broadcasting School (NZBS) says, “It is vitally important that indigenous peoples are represented in the media in order to accurately reflect NZ society. Without positive representation there’s a real danger we will miss out on hearing many stories that need to be told.”

Third-year NZBS student Isaac Gunson agrees - he chose to study broadcasting because he wants to bring more of a focus back to small-town stories.

“My hometown is quite small. I’m from Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty and my iwi is Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Porou. I don’t know a lot about my background; that’s something I’m making efforts to fix. It was actually through Broadcasting School that I learnt my pepeha for a marae trip and through that I’ve been able to connect the dots a little bit more.”

Gunson dreams of being a news presenter and is currently completing an internship at TVNZ.

“I think it’s helpful for young Māori to see other Māori achieving on screen and not just exclusively in Māori news, but on primetime too.”

Simons is confident the NZBS positively contributes to this societal shift.

“The success rates of those who study with us is very high and because the demand for Māori and Pacific graduates exceeds the supply, these students are often the first to gain internships and employment.”

Creative Industries programmes at Ara boast an impressive list of alumni, many who are Māori or Pasifika, including TVNZ newsreader Miriama Kamo (NZBS), musical theatre star Akina Edmonds (NASDA)- (remembered from stage shows including Avenue Q, Hairspray and The Lion King), and Kim Garrett (NASDA), a Christchurch Court Theatre regular and former Shortland Street actress.

Hoskins is unapologetic himself, “At Ara, we work hard with our teaching teams to guide artists, performers and broadcasters to embed their culture and New Zealand’s culture into their creative practice. This will set them apart on the world’s stages.”