A new initiative could make the arts as popular as sport in Southland, writes Ashleigh Reid
Angela Newell dreams of a time when the arts are as popular as sports in Southland; a time when going to an art gallery or show will be seen as normal and the creative culture is thriving.
It seems like a tough ask in this sports-obsessed region, where the Southland Stags are all leading men and Rugby Park is their stage.
Now, Newell believes, it's time for Southlanders to take their cue and support the creative arts sector.
To kick things off, Venture Southland has established the Project Art Southland Initiative with the aim to get different arts projects started in Southland. These projects will hopefully increase the popularity of arts events.
Newell, Venture Southland's creative projects and events manager for the past 12 years, says $20,000 of research has been put into finding out what Southlanders really want arts-wise.
Do we really have a clue about something that doesn't involve rucks, refs or Rutledge?
At a conference held in Windsor North Church Hall last year, artists and groups from around Southland put forward suggestions on how to make the arts sector better.
Newell says the 45 delegates were a good turnout, despite their numbers being fewer than the conference in 2010.
"Not everybody was there, but you have got to start somewhere . . . I have to help other people facilitate things . . . help with planning again, it [the ideas] needs to come from people."
From the conference came many suggestions. Some people proposed having an artist directory or publication to keep artists in Southland in touch with each other.
"Quite often that information sharing, that is certainly strengthening. Just making sure everyone knows where everyone is," Newell says.
Some thought showing off local talent in farmers' markets would help make the arts and performances more accessible to the public.
However, it seems, finding ways to get younger people involved in the arts was the most prominent suggestion.
Newell says getting children taking part in arts at a young age is a good idea.
The Southland arts sector will benefit from having mums take their children along to art galleries and shows, she says.
It is also important to recognise that children's art is just as important as art for adults.
After hearing proposals from the public, Newell says she is interested in helping all of them get up and running.
"Venture Southland will help push any of those ideas to the point they need to get pushed to, stretching to where they need to go."
There are, she says, seven sections involved in the process of changing the arts direction - plan, resource, advocate, market, develop, connect, and grow.
For example, establishing a Performing Arts Excellence Academy for the holiday periods would be put forward in the "development" bracket. Whereas helping local productions tour different areas in Southland could be put in the "connect" category.
Newell says a group of Southland actors has already performed outside Southland. The group took to the stage at Alexandra's recent Thyme Festival, which gave members the chance to perform in front of a different audience.
The audience will hopefully have their interest piqued and realise the talent before them is normally just a couple of hours away. This will hopefully bring more visitors to Southland, Newell says.
Boosting audience numbers to events such as Shakespeare in the Park was something which should be improved, Newell says.
"Instead of 4000 [audience members] in the park, there's actually 10,000. That's my vision."
During the past few years, she says, there has been a greater awareness of the Southland Festival of the Arts, Shakespeare in the Park, and the Buskers Festival.
And because people were more aware, "it all helps" bring people to the region.
"Having 10,000 more people in the city would certainly help."
Newell, however, says she appreciates everything takes time to come into action and not every plan can be started straight away.
"We're not trying to do everything at once."
Newell says Venture Southland will start by implementing one idea, such as an artist directory, and work on it for a while. Once those wheels are in motion, it will start on another one.
If people are keen to get more ideas in motion, Newell says, they may not be alone in their hopes.
"It's important to have big visions . . . If they [the public] are interested in pursuing an art idea, no matter how big, small or impossible, there may be other people who want to do that too."
- The Southland Times
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