Language gives voice to telling your stories


Included in the NZSL Awards, presented by Deaf Aotearoa on Thursday 10 May, were presentations to two people I admire for their work in increasing participation for Deaf people in theatre and film.

Dr Laura Haughey of Waikato University has developed Equal Voices Arts into a theatre company with an excellent track record of integrating New Zealand Sign Language and English in innovative ways. In its most recent project, Salonica, the Serbian language is also used.

Richard Benge, Shaun Fahey and Laura Haughey at the Deaf Aotearoa Awards 2018At the NZSL Awards 2018, Laura was accompanied by Deaf actor Shaun Fahey whom she warmly acknowledged as a partner in achieving a truly Deaf-led and hearing theatre group. It meant a lot to me to be asked by Deaf Aotearoa to present the inaugural NZSL in Arts Award to Laura, and I look forward to seeing future work by Equal Voices Arts.

If you imagine what the world was like before films, TV shows and live performance, you will get a glimpse into understanding what it’s been like for Deaf people. If your language is not included in cultural platforms such as theatre then it’s not able to develop, flourish and attract more users. Your stories are not told.

The similarity can be drawn to the challenges that faced Māori over many years – and even now – to protect and develop te reo.

The second recipient at the NZSL Awards, whom I am proud to mention, is Jared Flitcroft. Jared received the NZSL Māori Champion Award for his work with Jack O’Donnell on their award-winning short film Ashleigh Flynn, Jared Flitcroft and Jack O'DonnellTama.

Tama has become a benchmark for Deaf film in Aotearoa – a standard bearer for Deaf filmmakers and others who want to incorporate NZSL in film and video. It is highly significant that Jared’s work incorporates te reo and NZSL as they are two of the three official languages of Aotearoa. The guardians and promoters of both languages understand how important it is to have them used regularly and promoted.

Deaf Aotearoa’s purpose is to increase awareness, promote New Zealand Sign Language and strengthen the rights of Deaf people. It was responsible for offering the NZSL in Arts Award for the first time. I congratulate Deaf Aotearoa for establishing this award because it recognises the development of NZSL via inclusion in the arts such as film and theatre.

If there is language there is also a voice. Throughout New Zealand, there are organisations, groups and individuals giving voice to people and communities. They take different forms and we use a general term called “creative spaces”, which encapsulates the places and spaces where creative expression and art making happens.

A stronger voice for creative spaces

Arts Access Aotearoa is working with creative spaces to help this sector have a clearer, stronger voice and be recognised for the value community arts organisations provide. Why? Because for too long the sector’s members have been under-recognised, undervalued and underfunded.

These are the three themes that are highlighted in the report Creative Spaces in Auckland: a review of inclusive organisations. The review was undertaken by Arts Access Aotearoa in November 2017 to provide an in-depth picture of the creative spaces sector in Auckland. Anecdotally, we know the issues highlighted in Auckland play out across the sector around the country. More national research is needed.

Who is listening and who can help the sector become sustainable? Who can understand the value the arts play in health and wellbeing so everyone can experience accessibility and inclusion without barriers?

Well, we are being listened to these days and I was very pleased to read the Prime Minister’s media release about the importance of our arts, culture and heritage.

Room 5 artist Carmen Brown and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern“Arts and culture are not a ‘nice to have’. They are an essential part of our individual, community and national identity,” she says. “For too long they have been treated differently when it comes to sustainable growth, career paths and economic benefits. There is increasing evidence of the many benefits of cultural participation in areas such as health and education, and of its value to social cohesion and community resilience.”

Arts Access Aotearoa has a busy schedule advocating for the sector’s needs and issues to politicians and senior public servants. Associate Minister for the Arts and Culture Carmel Sepuloni has requested information from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to better understand the situation of the creative spaces sector.

That’s because Arts Access Aotearoa has highlighted that there are multiple ways that funders and potential funders can either fund or abrogate their responsibility. Investment in creative spaces is low or non-existent because of historical siloed approaches to funding.

Under the radar for long enough

Our sector has been under the radar for long enough. Stronger, more co-operative and connected networks across education, health, social development, arts and culture departments, local government and philanthropic agencies are needed. If you are a creative space in New Zealand, we invite you to be part of our national register. Please contact Creative Spaces Advisor Jenny Hutchings (email or call 04 802 4349), check out the creative spaces section of our website, and join the Creative Spaces NZ Facebook group.

The task of recognising who should and can be responsible for improved policy, action and funding in all these areas is complex and will be hard work. It is   heartening, however, that we have been heard by the Government and are working with officials and anyone who will help us advance improvements for the sector and its people.

Submissions to the Government’s Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry close on 5 June and your voice is needed. Many creative spaces respond to people with mental health needs and it is well-documented that arts and creativity is a great aid to the wellbeing of people recovering from mental ill-health.

The Government wants to hear from everyone who has anything to say about mental health in New Zealand, Arts Access Aotearoa is working to complete our submission and we look forward to hearing the recommendations of the final report. Check out our Opportunities page and find out the various ways you can have your say.




Language gives voice to telling your stories


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