Arts in Action

We live in a fractured and fragmented society where disparities between prosperity and well-being are increasingly evident, where our planet and its natural resources are under threat and where a globalised environment alienates us from a sense of place, belonging and identity.

The arts provide an independent forum and medium through which it is possible to analyse and address issues of concern to humanity and our planet, and in doing so, to celebrate our power to act and to speak out. The arts are a final bastion of freedom.

Arts in Action is created by Depot Artspace, an open and inclusive creative community in Devonport, Auckland.


When Barack Obama took office he committed to reading 10 letters a day from the 10,000 he received daily from the American people, becoming the first president to put such a deliberate focus on constituent correspon­dence. ‘Late each afternoon, around five o’clock, a selection would be sent up from the post room to the Oval Office. The “10 LADs”, as they came to be known – for “10 letters a day” – would circulate among senior staff and the stack would be added to the back of the briefing book the president took with him to the resi­dence each night. He answered some by hand and wrote notes on others for the writing team to answer, and on some he scribbled “save”.’

Starting in 2010, all physical mail was scanned and preserved. From 2011, every word of every email fac­tored into the creation of a daily word cloud, dis­tri­buted around the White House so policy makers and staff members alike could get a glimpse of the issues and ideas constituents had on their minds.

“I think I understood that if somebody writes a letter and they get any kind of response, that there’s a sense of … being heard,” he said. “And so often, espe­ci­ally back in 2009, 2010, 2011, a lot of people were going through a lot of hardship.

This is an empowering initiative; to know one letter can make a difference, that observations, concerns and sentiments of a citizen, often deeply felt, are not simply by-passed or put in a too-hard basket.

Here is the letter I would send to Jacinda Ardern if Labour took a leaf out of Mr Obama’s book.

14 NOVEMBER, 2018

Dear Jacinda,

I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, a portfolio you have held for more than a year. Before that, during Labour’s time in opposition you were the spokesperson for that portfolio from 2011.

When Labour won the elections of 2017 it had a strong Arts, Culture and Heritage platform and we were looking forward to PACE (Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment) being reintroduced and creative internships established.

Jacinda Ardern speaking at Labour’s Arts Policy Launch,
the Depot, 2011, with Arts spokesperson Steve Chadwick

Building Careers
We will ensure the long-term sustainability of the cultural sector through investment in tertiary education and professional development for artists, and a strategic focus on areas of anticipated future growth. Labour will: · Work with education providers, employers, Creative New Zealand, and other invited parties to support the development of measures that support early career cultural workers · Establish ‘Creative Apprenticeships’ as a New Zealand Apprenticeship option for the creative industries This will allow people to combine training and paid employment to acquire a recognised qualification through a mix of on-job and off-job learning · Re-establish the Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE) scheme.

PACE has always been an effective programme when targeted to the demographics of the region it is delivered in. During its halcyon days under Helen Clark, Artists Development Agency established by Antony Deaker in Dunedin and Standing Ovation in Wellington run by Biddy Grant are shining examples of programmes whose success grew from the knowledge of the creative sector in their region.

Biddy Grant ran Standing Ovation, which had the Wellington Pace contract.
“It was really, really successful. There were some years when Standing Ovation got the most people off the benefit in the whole of the Wellington region that includes hospitality and retail, and whatever. Most people who came were new graduates with little idea of how to make a living from their skills. There were some woolly stories at the start with people whose best claim to being an artist was “I own a guitar” but they were weeded out.” What happened to the PACE scheme? Tom Fitzsimons. 2.3. 2011

Depot Artspace has successfully run a PACE programme since it was initiated in 2001, working across the whole spectrum of creative disciplines to support more than 2000 creative job seekers into employment. We are known for our responsiveness to the needs of individual practitioners in relation to trends in both the creative sector and socio-economic environment.

Consequently, we continue to develop projects that enhance the prospects of creatives and build the sustainability of the sector. Our latest innovation is a digital platform and community hub, a place to go, for creatives seeking work and employers looking for creatives.

And we have contextualised our services in a well-being index where quality of life is a primary indicator of achievement.

With regard to the issues outlined above, I have a number of observations, which I hope you would be prepared to discuss in the near future:

Here are some of your pre-election policy promises:

  1. Labour was in opposition for nine years and had adequate time to research the viability of their policies. PACE and Creative Apprenticeships have been part of your MCH policy since you were voted out of office. Led by Steve Chadwick, Labour even held a policy launch at the Depot, which included these initiatives.
  2. It is now more than a year since Labour took office and still Arts and Culture languishes while research is undertaken to determine the efficacy of existing programmes and alternatives that could take their place. We have been interviewed 5 times with four different configurations of six people.
  3. We can tell you from our own research and experience, not only in Auckland but in the Hokianga, of the needs of creatives across the spectrum of disciplines and in diverse regions, that one of the big issues is isolation; isolation in practising alone, as a creative who has no reference group, and geographically from networks of other creatives.
  4. Given that you are considering the development of a wellbeing index, this could be an issue you give serious consideration to; it does not need another extensive, time-consuming survey to ascertain what is already evident, and reflected in suicide statistics and mental health.
  5. We know that CNZ, which receives 90% of MCH funding, is undertaking a survey on the needs of professional practising artists to ascertain their needs, from which appropriate resources and services will be developed. You may be interested to know that the previous survey, initiated in 1999, took 4 years to process with the results published in 2003.
    If that’s the time frame then Labour will be into its next term before it makes a practical commitment to arts and culture.


I’m sorry to sound a little testy, Jacinda, as we know you’re committed, but I think we had great expectations of the creative future under a Labour Government and we really did anticipate you would fulfil many of your policy promises rather than return to ‘the drawing board’.

As previously mentioned we’ve talked to a number of researchers in the past 6 months, who are undertaking research and preparing reports which they say will be ready for February, so we’re not holding our breath for rapid change or action. In fact, given their lack of familiarity with the creative sector, we’ve decided to divest ourselves of hope and just get on with the job we do so well; of supporting creatives and the creative sector to develop sustainability.


Nga mihi nui,

Linda Blincko, MA, QSM
Creative Director
Depot Artspace



Grassroots and Change

Kuini Karanui speaks at the Turangawaewae: Sense of Place exhibition at Depot Artspace

‘Grassroots’ is defined as ‘community-engaged’; grassroots are the people in and of a community, as contrasted with those at the top, ‘the leadership or elite of a private or government organisation.’

Depot Artspace is proudly grass roots. From this point it keeps an ear to the ground, the place where people stand – their turangawaewae – and from which, if nurtured, things grow and are sustained.

Over nearly more than two decades, the Depot has developed facilities, services and new initiatives that respond to the needs and interests of the creative community, both local and beyond. These include: galleries; recording and rehearsal studios; ArtsLab, the biggest professional development programme for artists nationally; creative internships research and development; Cultural Icons, a filmed interview series (78 interviews so far) with people who have been significant in the cultural landscape; Depot Press, including ‘The Vernacularist’ journal, W’akaputanga, Turangawaewae/Sense of Place and LOUD magazine.



Arts and culture have taken a bad beating across the country this year. The following is a litany of losses, both imminent and already undertaken:

  • The closure of the Elam Arts School and School of Architecture Libraries
  • The dire under-funding of Auckland Art Gallery resulting in threats of closure or charging entry fees
  • The cutting of Te Papa collections staff
  • The closure of a number of regional galleries including Manawa, Rotorua Museum and Southland Museum and Art Gallery
  • The threatened cutting of an art history course at Southland Institute of Technology
  • The downsizing of NZ’s biggest architectural firm Jasmax, with significant staff cuts


The Photographer as Nature’s Friend

It’s no secret that our native flora and fauna are under threat of extinction. From the kauri to the dotterel the extent of loss to Aotearoa of living taonga is heart breaking.


A report produced in 2017 by the Ministry for the Environment documents the profound effects on the bird life of Aotearoa and in doing so offers up a challenge to reverse this potential devastation.


Vision and values in Auckland’s urban design: Shaping a liveable city

Arts in Action envisions a society enriched by the values that influence decision making across all disciplines and forms of practice.

Creative thinking is at the nub of social change because it offers alternative ways of viewing what is often regarded as fixed and non-negotiable, being attached to a dominant ideology.


Richard Reid is a visionary architect whose values inform and shape his work. When he returned to Aotearoa in 1997 he added a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture to his degree in Architecture in order to understand and integrate into his practice the natural and social environments of Aotearoa. He established his own practice in 2001 and continues to actively contribute to community and environmental groups, in particular the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society (2003-07) and Ngataringa Bay Society (2007-2011).


Life, Art and Community: A Sunday with Auckland City Mission artists at Depot Artspace

The Depot Artspace ethos embraces the arts community in all its aspects and attributes. The arts have a universal voice with which all are able to speak. This month we have been honoured to host the artists of the Auckland City Mission whose works are showcasing at the Depot Gallery in their second exhibition.

Clare Caldwell, Visual arts Tutor with the Mission, spent Sunday at the Depot Gallery along with the exhibiting artists, enjoying kōrero (conversation) with interested visitors, and sharing their hearty lunch.

Here is Clare’s colourful story of the day.

Arts in Action: The transformative power of creative leadership

Inspiring creative leadership has the capacity to transform a workplace, a community, a region or a country. The creative mind can provide new insight into ongoing issues that are continually plied with the same unsuccessful solutions. A few inspirational leaders have shown the significant difference that innovative solutions are able to make and Depot Artspace has been fortunate to take part in their initiatives.

“I have wanted to meet Jason Smith from 2011, the time I encountered his work as Senior Policy Advisor for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage where he produced a cultural map of Auckland which was initially displayed on the Auckland Council website.” Read More…

Walking, one sense at a time #smell

Our latest addition to Arts in Action is a piece by Iryna Zamuruieva that we received from our call out for submissions. Iryna is an artist, arts activist, researcher and project manager, who has developed an urban walking experience project for the CBD neighbourhood. She has designed a series of walks that will encourage the participants to re-experience city in a playful way. Her first sense-walk took place on Saturday 2 June in the Auckland CBD.

“I would like to believe there is another way – a deeply attentive one, the one where the smells are sniffed, sounds heard, textures touched, and tastes are tasted. Walking this way transforms the city space from a transit zone where a route may be just a way from one destination to the other, into a place where a different kind of experience is co-created, different kind of relationships with material or abstract things are made and maybe even curious questions about the things are emerge“…read more…

Photo credit: Iryna Zamuruieva

Standing the test of time and integrity: PACE/ArtsLab

Well-known and widely quoted politicians are often haunted by a past of broken promises which competing parties and mischievous reporters are wont to exploit. George Bush’ famous “watch my lip…no new taxes” is such an example, never to be forgotten or lived down.

If there’s someone who can’t be faulted when it comes to standing by their commitment, especially in the creative sector which is often under-represented and overlooked, it’s Helen Clark….Read More…

Photo credit: Fairfax Media