Hamish Keith: form over substance?

by Hamish Keith / 09 December, 2013
It's time to devise a more responsive and effective way to nurture and grow the arts, says Hamish Keith.
Several decades ago, in another time, the painter Tony Fomison made an application to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council for a year’s support to paint. His letter – application forms were not invented then – provided a complete list of what he would need for a year – including soap and toothpaste. The sum of money asked was exact to the cent, and the panel gave him a grant exactly to the cent. The artist, the panel argued, knew exactly what he needed and that was exactly what he got.

Sport #1.


Pondering Creative New Zealand’s decision not to fund the literary magazine Sport apparently on the grounds that there appeared to be some small errors in the application form suggests the Fomison grant was made not only in another time but on another planet. The first error was a discrepancy in the figures for sales and income – it was not Sport’s error; the official processing the form failed to take into account the 10% discount given to booksellers. A further error involved sums of money previously granted to the magazine. The former could have been sorted with a phone call, the latter by looking up CNZ’s own records. Too hard. Never mind. Grant declined.

Put aside the fact that Sport had applied for and been given the same grant for the 40 issues it had published since 1988. Ignore the fact too that the grant application had been in much the same format for all those applications. A mistake is a mistake, and mistakes in forms are a serious breach of CNZ cultural protocols. Forget what the application was for: for CNZ, form wins over substance every time – particularly its own forms, which are often more than a dozen pages long and written in such opaque, bureaucratic gobbledegook that they come with another document to explain what they mean.

Since 1988 Sport has introduced more than 200 new writers. Among its alumna are current literary heroes Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize, and Elizabeth Knox, whose new novel Wake is in serious contention for the year’s best. In the last issue of Sport 75% of its contributors are publishing for the first time. There has not been such a nurturing vehicle for the nation’s literary talent since Landfall appeared in 1947. This is exactly what Creative New Zealand is there to support, without small minded pin-pricking about misread figures and background information a few key strokes would have revealed.

It is time for Creative New Zealand to go. The arts deserve better. Election time looms. Time for the contending political parties to wake up and devise a more responsive and effective way to nurture and grow the arts than this constipated and convoluted bureaucracy. Beyond the All Blacks being unbeaten for a whole season, and Emirates Team New Zealand coming second in a two-boat race, what put New Zealand on the world’s front pages in 2013 was a novel, a song and a film.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.

Latest

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's prescription for success
104920 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's pr…

by Clare de Lore

Eileen Merriman doesn’t have to dig too deep to find the angst, humour and drama for her award-winning novels.

Read more
We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day reading
105020 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day…

by Russell Baillie

The tide of great New Zealand books on the world wars shows no sign of going out. Russell Baillie reviews four new Anzac books.

Read more
Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for kids
105028 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for…

by Ann Packer

A telegraph “boy”, heroic animals and even shell-shock make for engaging reads for children.

Read more
Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more