Stand up speak up

LEE MATTHEWS
Last updated 12:03 22/08/2012
ARTIST06
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

MANAIA PROTECTION: Massey University’s new artist in residence Vanessa Stacey wears a bone manaia carved by her father, Richard Stacey. It was the first piece of carving he did after the catastrophic September 4, 2010, earthquake wrecked his home. She wears it for spiritual protection and peace.

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Society needs artists to stand up for what they believe in and to speak up when things aren't right, says Massey University's latest visiting artist, actress, film maker and musician Vanessa Stacey.

New Zealand is such a fortunate country that it's easy for people to be apathetic and let unjust or unfair things roll on.

"That's what's exciting about the arts, music.

"You can be expressive and honest, outspoken about things - you can work to change opinions and society.

"That's our job as artists, to view and show things differently," she says.

Right now she's really excited about a fundraising project she's working on with musician Jessie Moss, to help raise money for the $50,000 appeal fund Tuhoe are raising for Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, to take their case to the Court of Appeal. They got artists to donate works or goods to the Pledgeme.co.nz site, and people who pledge money are rewarded with artwork.

"We had $1400 pledged in two days. Look, there's so much injustice over that Urewera case. I think Tame and Rangi are political prisoners, that's my honestly held view.

"Yeah, I'm a bit of a social justice advocate. You've got to speak up otherwise wrongs keep on happening."

Massey University, the Palmerston North City Council and Community Arts Palmerston North offer the visiting artist scheme three times a year. The visitor works with Massey's school of English and media studies, and lives in an apartment in Community Arts' Square Edge building, and undertakes to produce work collaboratively with Massey staff, students and for the community.

Stacey's got several projects bubbling already and plans a big community gig toward the end of her residency.

She's having a fascinating life in arts. Her parents are artists but she left Christchurch's Marian College and trained as a hairdresser. Her parents could see her life would be art-focused - she was already singing in a nightclub and had set up after-school drama classes at her school - but they were determined she'd have a practical trade to fall back on.

She was running her own business by 20 and taking psychology papers at Canterbury University.

"All hairdressers are counsellors, believe me - yeah, Educating Rita stuff."

Then at 22, she went for two years to the Hagley Theatre Company, then Christchurch Polytechnic's jazz school to further her voice and keyboard studies, and left that when she was accepted at Toi Whakaari. She graduated from the drama school in 2000, and went straight to making the television show The Tribe.

"Look, say what you like about the show, and everyone's said plenty, it was fantastic experience. I was 26 years old, playing an 18 year old. We were Kiwis, speaking with American accents, working for an English telly company -172 different countries bought that show, and at it's height you'd be recognised in the street. And it was phenomenally fast turnaround. We'd do 11 or 14 minutes worth of drama a day . . . that pace was gold experience for a wannabe director."

More importantly, it was with The Tribe that she got behind the camera and started directing. She socialised with the crew and learned that actors were actually the small change on a telly set.

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She returned to New Zealand from London about 10 years ago. She'd worked in telly, directed shows and taught music and drama, and worked as a hairdresser - "thanks Dad" - but in 2003 it was time to come home, back to Wellington.

She's tutored for Whitireia Polytechnic and Toi Whakaari, and kept working on her own music and film projects.

"Artists have to be able to make their own work. There's this delusion about overnight success in the arts, well, believe me, it takes about six years to become an overnight success."

- Manawatu Standard

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