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Auckland's Most Influential: In the Arts and Entertainment

Jul 26, 2015 Art

The performers may sing, but it’s the money that talks.


In the arts, it’s about how the money gets pushed around. Philanthropists like Jenny Gibbs, James Wallace, Adrian Burr, the Friedlander family, Erika and Robin Congreve and a handful of others have enormous influence. It’s their donations, board memberships and direct patronage of artists that determine (partly and sometimes wholly) who gets to work. To their credit, they’re good at backing the artists and the organisations without wanting to decide what they do.

Queen of them all, the woman who is most able, and most likely, to pick up the phone and tell the others what they need to see, hear and support, is Dayle Mace. Everyone speaks of her, and her husband, the company director and investor Chris Mace, in tones so brimming with respect, it’s practically awe.

Straight-out collectors also have clout. Sue and Rob Gardiner of the Chartwell Collection can — and frequently do —make a young artist collectable with the swipe of a credit card.

If you’re on the board of an arts group, you have one of two roles: you bring in the money or you are the money. Which means the influence of people like Pip Muir (chair of the Auckland Writers Festival board), Richard Scoular (Auckland Art Fair) and Geraint Martin (Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra), resides in their skills at the delicate, sophisticated business of bringing it in.

And working for them, the CEOs and general managers. The Auckland Theatre Company’s Lester McGrath has run a remarkable campaign to raise $35 million for a new Waterfront Theatre. Anne O’Brien pushed the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival to a record 60,000 tickets sold. In the week Whitcoulls announced it was closing on Queen St, she filled the Aotea Centre with session after session, and on one occasion the queue for book signings filled the foyer and stretched out the door and right across Aotea Square. For books!

At APO, the inspirational Barbara Glaser has changed the role of classical music in the city. APO runs a big community programme with school concerts, support for community players and heavy involvement in Sistema Aotearoa, which now teaches music to more than 300 kids. As for the orchestra’s full concert programme, it goes far beyond simply massaging the classic greatest hits. That’s the work of the programmer, Irishman Ronan Tighe, whom Glaser headhunted.

The NZ Music Commission’s Cath Andersen, once tour manager for Shihad, is the first call for major international managers looking for a local act. A skilful, decidedly hip public servant, she keeps New Zealand music front-of-mind among politicians (no budget cuts!), mediates music industry spats, runs events and outreach programmes and, best of all, goes to everything.

Ashley Page is the promoter on the rise (Broods, Kids of 88), while Campbell Smith is the promoter at the pinnacle. He does the Winery Tours with Brent Eccles and his 2014 Big Day Out at Western Springs was magnificent — although Australia has shut that down and Smith won’t be influential forever if he doesn’t reveal soon what’s coming next.

Red Bull Studios engineer Ben Lawson and manager Dan Woolston are the guys who nurture established artists like Shapeshifter and Ladi6, and they’re good on the new talent too, like Chelsea Jade and Young Tapz.

And who’s more influential in music than any of them? That would be Adam Holt, head of Universal, the guy in charge of turning Lorde (see page 40) and Sol3 Mio into worldwide successes. If you fancy yourself as the next big thing in music, it’s almost certainly Holt you’ll have to impress. Yes, there are other ways to get there, but he is the man.

But if being more arty than poppy is your thing, it’s Carla van Zon you’ll need to inspire. She runs the Auckland Arts Festival, now an annual event, and is a commissioning powerhouse across all kinds of performance.


Enough with the admin, what about the artists? Michael Parekowhai is the man of the moment, as he has been ever since he took his pianos and bulls to the Venice Biennale in 2011. Art lovers embrace the bravura of his work, art insiders grumble about all the money he gets, art sceptics complain he’s going to bugger up Queens Wharf. Parekowhai himself, in grand artistic tradition, refuses to comment.

The artist who’s done more to transform our public spaces, on his own and through inspiring and mentoring others, is graffiti artist Askew One. The actors who put the most bums on seats are Lucy Lawless, Robyn Malcolm and Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and the latter’s husband Michael Hurst is usually the director of the sex-with-singing shows that prove it.

Guy Williams sets the standard, and quite a lot of the style, for comedy, although all the other comedians would probably prefer to swallow a bucket of vomit than agree. Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing but collegial competition at the Comedy Club, after which they all shake hands and share out the tips.

Eleanor Catton has been profoundly influential. The Luminaries broke all records for New Zealand fiction and with it Catton changed the way we think of ourselves in the world; and besides, how many other 29-year-olds can use words like a cattle prod on the hide of the prime minister?

And the reigning king of hip hop is David Dallas, which is important in itself but also because the reigning style of music is hip hop.

Jasmax is the biggest architectural firm, which should make senior partner Richard Harris the most influential architect in town. But the commercially ruthless Warren and Mahoney are on the rise (they’re doing the SkyCity Convention Centre), which gives John Coop and Andrew Barclay a rival claim. The young Nat Cheshire (Britomart and more) has the highest profile, although that very profile gets up the noses of quite a few architects. They prefer his less iconoclastic father Pip. Out in the hinterland, the go-to guy for lifestyle properties is Ken Crosson of Crosson Clarke Carnachan.

Jamie McLellan is the most respected designer, not just for the beautiful objects he’s designed here, but for his ability to build his business globally: Cathay Pacific have just commissioned him to redesign all their onboard service stuff like cutlery and plates. Also with an airline, the brand design darlings and perennial award-winners Special Group have picked up Qantas.

Albert Tupuola has been a strong influence among young Pacific men, as a member of the Samoan dance group Tatau, as a tutor for the St Paul’s Samoan Polyfest group and running workshops for prisoners. He’s also the star of a Samoan-language movie series called Matai: The Chief, which sells in markets and dairies. The films prompt vital community discussions on the role of cultural traditions.

If you’re young and into theatre, you’re in the right city. Sam Snedden, Elise Sterback and Gabrielle Vincent at The Basement run a ridiculously busy venue, and the Auckland Theatre Company has all sorts of community programmes. Mika is a beacon of light and sparkling creativity in the LGBT community, particularly with youth; and Sam Scott has nurtured untold numbers of emerging actors through her Massive Company shows.

The publisher at the new powerhouse in books, Penguin Random House, is Debra Miller, but she’s not the most influential person in the book world. Instead, it’s Joan Mackenzie, head buyer at Whitcoulls. Miller might want to publish something, but the size of Mackenzie’s order will tell her whether she should.

Rhana Devenport and her principal curator Zara Stanhope have sharpened up the Auckland Art Gallery immeasurably. Michael Lett, still shy of 40, is the top private art dealer. His stable includes Parekowhai, Shane Cotton, Jacqueline Fraser and Simon Denny, and at the Venice Biennale this year he co-hosted a party in a palace with powerful dealers from New York and Berlin. That’s influential.

Sarah Hopkinson, the young gallerist of Hopkinson Mossman, is the rising star. It is she, not Lett, who represents last year’s Walters Prize winner Luke Willis Thompson. And Tracey Williams at Papakura Gallery has a huge community following for her shows, which always open on a Saturday morning: everyone comes in for a cup of tea, not warm white wine.

Peter Robinson is highly respected as an artist, but even more influential as an educator. He runs Elam’s master of fine arts programme, which a kind of sausage factory for artists that occasionally coughs up a great piece of steak. Desna Jury is dean of faculty for design and creative technologies at AUT, which ranks top in those subjects in New Zealand and 42nd in the world.

And what about the people who’ve made buying and owning art sexy all over again? Hamish Coney and Ben Plumbly, with their company Art+Object, have pushed aside Webbs to become the leading art auction house, although we feel obliged to say their “Important Paintings and Contemporary Art” sales do not always feature any actual important paintings.

The Top 10 Influential in the Arts and Entertainment

1. Lorde
2. Dayle Mace
3. Adam Holt
4. Jenny Gibbs
5. Carla van Zon
6. David Dallas
7. Joan Mackenzie
8. Campbell Smith
9. James Wallace
10. Michael Lett



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