An image by Johnson Witehira. Used with permission. See

An image by Johnson Witehira. Used with permission. See

The Future of Māori Arts

As a Māori artist, I have long been interested in ‘Māori Arts’ and have advocated for a larger vision and ambition for Māori Arts than we currently see across Aotearoa-New Zealand. I believe that Māori Arts are an extraordinarily valuable taonga (treasure) and while numerous examples of extraordinary Māori Arts do exist, I believe that the true potential and value of Māori Arts overall has yet to be fully realised.

What is or are Māori arts?

Like arts and art-making generally, ‘Māori Arts’ are hard to define and subject to much debate. For the purposes of my advocacy of ‘Māori Arts’, this is what I mean when I use the terms ‘Māori Arts’:

  • The participation of Māori people in the arts - individual Māori as artists, Māori arts groups contributing to and working in the arts.

  • Arts which speak to and reflect the identity, history, experiences and lives of Māori people.

  • Arts which are designed to advance a Māori issue or cause (e.g. Māori language revitalisation) or generate certain Māori outcomes (e.g art in iwi development)

  • Distinctive, including Mātauranga Māori, approaches to arts and art making (e.g. taonga pūoro, whakairo, kōrero etc)

The description firstly captures and includes Māori people as artists. It secondly includes works of art that speak to, express and reflect the experiences of Māori people both in history and today. Because we have a such a powerful tradition of protest and cultural revitalisation, I also include those artworks which are designed to further a Māori cause of some kind. Finally, the description includes distinctive ways of making art that arise from mātauranga Māori and more generally our experiences as Māori people. (You will note that whilst I assert that Māori Arts are lead by Māori artists, the description acknowledges and makes space for those who are not Māori and who contribute to ‘Māori Arts’ either as artists themselves or through various kinds of support for Māori Arts.) This is an imperfect description but it offers us a ‘place to start’ when thinking about the broad sweep of Māori Arts and artmaking.

aspirations for māori arts, 2017

Late in 2017, Creative New Zealand initiated a series of discussions and consultations concerning the future of Māori Arts. As a preliminary, they engaged Moana Maniapoto to convene meetings with Māori artists and Moana invited me to attend a meeting held in Wellington on December 11, 2017. At that meeting, I was keen to ‘lift our sights’ when thinking about Māori Arts and its potential impact in the world. I wanted us to get ambitious and courageous both for the artforms themselves and for the resources and structures we require for them to succeed. My presentation commences with some ideas about the value and importance of the arts and also offers a way of defining ‘Māori Arts’. You can see my presentation here.

The Future of Māori Arts, a presentation to a meeting facilitated by Moana Maniapoto, Wellington, 10 December 2017

the need for a dynamic national advocate/voice for māori arts

Following the December 2017 meeting, I wrote the following notes:

  • Māori Arts are an extraordinary taonga and a deeply important dimension of New Zealand’s overall society, culture and economy.

  • The potential of Māori Arts to contribute to Aotearoa-New Zealand is significant. This potential, however, can not be yielded unless certain arrangements and infrastructure are in place.

  • Māori Arts are worthy of significant investment and support and they require, among other things, a dynamic, energetic and deeply informed national advocate that can speak for Māori Arts with authority.

  • Such a national advocate requires the ongoing support of Māori artists and the Māori arts community (non-Māori artists supporting and contributing to Māori arts, organisations, institutions) to speak for Māori Arts,

It is proposed, therefore, to establish a Māori arts advocate whose role is to design, advocate for and implement a comprehensive strategy for Māori Arts which:

  • Describes what ‘Māori Arts’ is

  • Describes the significance and value of Māori Arts at local, regional, national and international levels

  • Articulates an inspiring vision for Māori Arts

  • Outlines roles and responsibilities for relevant parties and organisations:

    • Artists - the people who create Māori arts

    • Arts and cultural organisations - the organisations that present and support Māori arts

    • Funders/Investors - the people and organisations who fund and invest in Māori Arts including Creative NZ, local government, private sector and philanthropic organisations

    • Education institutions and organisations - the organisations responsible for educating and growing the capability of Māori artists

    • Libraries, museums and archives - the organisations which archive (artworks and associated materials) and hold ‘memory’ pertaining to Māori Arts

    • Researchers - the people who research Māori arts and its impacts in the world

    • Critics, Analysts - the people who provide critique and analysis pertaining to Māori Arts

Following this, I approached Toi Māori Aotearoa with these ideas in mind.

Advice to Toi Māori Aotearoa - national māori arts organisation, 2018

Toi Māori Aotearoa is the national Māori arts organisation based in Wellington. It was established in 1995 as an independent ‘voice’ for Māori arts and Māori artists. I have served on Pūatatangi, the music committee, and have supported the organisation since its inception.

In 2017/18, Creative NZ conducted consultations with Māori artists to assist them in the development of a new strategy for Māori Arts. This initiative prompted me to write to the Chair and CEO of Toi Māori Aotearoa. I was concerned that Toi Māori Aotearoa was not doing enough to advance its role as national advocate for Māori arts and Māori artists and that it ought to have a significant presence in the development of a new Creative NZ strategy.

It was my view that Toi Māori Aotearoa - as national representative of Māori arts and artists - was better placed to develop a comprehensive strategy for Māori arts than Creative NZ. This is because, ultimately, Māori arts are in the hands of Māori artists (and involved non-Māori artists) and it is they who will finally determine the future of Māori Arts. Given that TMA represents Māori artists at the national level, TMA ought to make use of this mandate and assist Māori artists to develop a comprehensive plan in partnership/collaboration with Creative NZ.

Hence, on 19 May 2018, I wrote to Wana Davis (Chairperson) and Garry Nicholas (CEO/General Manager) communicating these ideas. You can read my letter here:

  • 19 May 2018 - Letter to Wana Davis and Garry Nicholas, asserting that Toi Māori Aotearoa is ‘losing ground’ as national Māori arts advocate, Toi Māori Aotearoa ought to lead the development of a comprehensive strategy for Māori Arts

Following an initial and positive response, I then wrote a second letter proposing a ‘three point plan’ which focused upon preparing Toi Māori Aotearoa to successfully renew its funding contract with Creative NZ. You can read this letter here:

Following the letters, Garry invited me to speak at the Toi Māori Aotearoa AGM on the 26th of May 2018. I was pleased to be invited and took the opportunity to deliver a deliberately provocative presentation. My provocation went as follows:

The current Creative NZ funding contract with Toi Māori Aotearoa concludes at the end of 2019. We must not assume that this contract will be renewed. There are a number of aspects of TMA’s activities which make it vulnerable to the possibility of losing this funding. Chief among these issues are the erosion of support by Māori artists for the organisation, the creation of annual surpluses suggests that TMA does not need the funding (at least to the level that it usually receives), the committee structure continues to be unwieldy and expensive, the leadership has not renewed itself and after close to twenty five years of investment by Creative NZ, Toi Māori Aotearoa ought to be much more powerful, established and dynamic as an arts advocacy organisation than it currently is.

It was my intention to paint a deliberately bleak picture, to provoke so as to inject and inspire new energy and direction in the organisation. There is much to acknowledge and celebrate in the work of TMA since its establishment in 1995. However, my presentation at the 2018 AGM was not the occasion to dwell on the successes but rather focus upon what ought to be done to secure the future of the organisation.

My presentation urges TMA to assist Māori arts and Māori artists to ‘speak out’ and in a dynamic way. It proposes the development of a comprehensive strategy for Māori arts and provides an overview of the contents of such a strategy. It also offers thoughts regarding the relationship with Creative NZ and discusses strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. Finally, the presentation includes an overview of a ‘three point plan’ to successfully secure ongoing Creative NZ funding. You can read my presentation here:

Toi Māori Aotearoa into the 2020s: Strengthening TMA as the national leader and advocate for Māori arts and Māori artists. A presentation by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal to the Toi Māori Aotearoa Annual General Meeting, Wharewaka, Wellington 26 May 2019

Refreshing and Updating Toi Māori Aotearoa

Following the AGM, I then met with Garry Nicholas on a number occasions in the months that followed. We discussed a host of matters which are described in my report to the Board of Toi Māori Aotearoa dated, 30 August 2018. The report commences by describing progress with the ‘three point plan’. It responds to the then recent CNZ report to TMA before presenting four urgent issues:

  • Strategic Plan

  • Succession Planning

  • Membership

  • A New Operating Model

The report is appended by a discussion document (to be sent to TMA members) concerning the future of the organisation, the TMA response to then CNZ report and the CNZ report itself. You can read my report here:

Finally, attached below is a document which outlines a range of proposals concerning the future of Toi Māori Aotearoa. Some of the proposals are:

  • Focusing the organisation on three functions - Advocacy, Capacity/Capability Building, Opportunity Enabler

  • Changes to the Model of Operation including (this is not exhaustive):

    • Establish the Board as the primary decision making authority for the organisation as a whole

    • Establish an Artists Advisory Committee to the Board to assist with assessing proposals

    • Establish an annual calendar of events and projects that are approved once a year by the Board for implementation by the organisation.

    • Bring all existing artform hui/wānanga into one annual Māori arts convention for the purposes of advocacy, capacity and capability building and opportunity enabling

    • Establish a high quality online facility to collectivise Māori artists and the Māori arts community, to assist in raising the profile of Māori artists and their works and to demonstrate Māori artists support for TMA (make use of surplus funds to build this online facility)

    • Convene a limited number of regional artform hui wānanga on an annual basis for the purposes of advocacy, capacity and capability building and opportunity enabling (arranged so as to service all artforms within a single year period - rather than attempting to support all artforms in a single calendar year)

    • Convert existing artform committees into online communities where committees can organise online

    • Develop and implement a mana enhancing succession plan for Board and staff

You can read a brief description of these proposals here:

Here is a further and draft note entitled ‘Toi Māori Aotearoa - into the 2020s’ which provides an overview of the proposed model for TMA going forward. It was first drafted on 20 May 2018.