As a former Labour Minister of Arts and Culture I was shocked to hear that the Arts Council had decided to remove the annual subsidy to the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival for secondary school students. The sum of money involved ($31,000) isn’t massive. But the decision to cut the subsidy hits at a very significant secondary school cultural festival. The second biggest secondary school in the country, Mt Albert Grammar School, smack in the middle of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s electorate, has performed very well at these Sheilah Winn competitions, with several students, winning scholarships including recently an African international student at the school. The reasons advanced by Creative New Zealand for abolishing the grant related to some weird notion that Shakespeare is part of imperialism; that New Zealand should be “de-colonised”, and presumably that all students should be force-fed kapa haka and Te Ao Maori instead.
The decision was taken by a team that Jacinda Ardern’s government appointed. Their appointments were approved by her caucus of 65 Labour MPs. Each of those MPs claims to uphold Labour Party traditions when they clearly don’t. Peter Fraser, one of the founders of the Labour Party, established state funding for arts and culture, and was, himself, an enthusiastic devotee of Shakespeare. In 1948, as Prime Minister, he made a special trip to Auckland to see Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Fraser knew his Shakespeare and would often choose a relevant quote when speaking in Parliament.
It’s important that those destructive government appointees to Creative New Zealand should be identified so that their contempt for New Zealand’s wider heritage, no matter which of the cultures represented in modern New Zealand he/she comes from, can be known. They are cultural vandals. Did any of them understand that in modern New Zealand, the Arts gain strength from their diverse origins, that “cancel culture” is no culture at all? Apparently not. If any of the named opposed the final decision, he or she should have the courage to stand up and tell us, or forever live with a black spot beside their names.
The Arts Council Board website shows the membership: The dates are when the person’s term expires.
Caren Rangi (Chair) [November 2024]
Michael Prentice (Deputy Chair) [November 2024]
Roger King [September 2022]
Garth Gallaway [April 2023]
Janine Morrell-Gunn [September 2022]
Riria Hotere-Barnes [September 2022]
John Ong [September 2022]
Robyn Hunt [November 2023]
Kura Moeahu [November 2023]
Ane Tonga [November 2024]
Hilary Poole [November 2024]
Bonita Bigham [July 2025]
Whetu Fala [June 2025]
The Chief Executive of the New Zealand Arts Council who has made inflammatory comments is Stephen Wainwright