Lack Of Funds For Cook Islands Arts Festival Delegation Slammed

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Government criticized for ‘poor planning’ with 4 years to prepare

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 5, 2012) – The Cook Islands Arts Council is exceedingly disappointed that no Cook Islands contingent is representing the country at Honiara’s Festival of Pacific Arts.

Chairman Mike Tavioni says it is "stupid" that the Cook Islands failed to send a delegation, and believes there was "no bloody excuse" for it.

The Ministry of Cultural Development has said there was no budget to fund a team’s travel to Honiara, but Tavioni dismisses that explanation as a fob-off.

"Firstly we’ve had four years to plan and budget for it (the Festival of Pacific Arts)," he said. "It’s not a surprise."

Neither, he said, was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee a surprise. Government set aside NZ$130,000 [US$103,424] in additional funds for the ministry to send a team of about 30 dancers to London, but Tavioni says that should have been budgeted in advance, as should the cost of sending a junket to the Festival of Pacific Arts.

"The country failed the people," he said. "It seems to me people’s priorities are wrong. People say to hell with the festival but my question is why spend millions of dollars to promote the Cook Islands as a tourist destination if we’re going to miss opportunities like this?"

Tavioni says being present at the festival would have afforded Cook Islands art and culture invaluable international exposure.

"People are boasting about tourism as the backbone of the country – we spend millions to have offices in other countries promoting the Cook Islands and dance teams to go all over promoting the Cook Islands. This thing (the festival) the world focuses on and we are not taking advantage of that."

He says the impact of festivals like the one underway in Honiara is huge for artists and arts communities.

"(Artists) learn from the experience – there are people weaving, carving, jewelry-making, doing poetry and they’re the best in the Pacific. Some art forms we think we’re best at until we’re exposed to what other people can do. (The festival) allows people to go and learn something new. The artists of our country have been denied that opportunity."

Deputy chairperson Anna Rasmussen recalls the hype and spirit of the 1992 Festival of Pacific Arts, hosted here in the Cook Islands.

"It’s the best event I’ve been to in my life," she said. "The pride you had in your country and the passion you felt for indigenous peoples of the Pacific was just huge. There was so much going on... (it was) this whole movement of people coming together and making a statement about themselves. It was absolutely, absolutely fantastic and we should never be missing that."

Rasmussen estimates that between airfares and per diems it would have cost less than NZ$30,000 [US$23,867] to send a handful of artists to the Festival of Pacific Arts. She contrasts that figure with the NZ$130,000 spent on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and says she believes that "this is so much more important than that."

"We just feel so disappointed our country is not being represented," she said. "Our artists – traditional dancers, traditional artists, contemporary artists – could give so much and get so much back from something like this. "It’s just poor planning by our government. It’s four years in the planning – you’d think surely (they would) be putting some money aside for this over the years."

A member of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society aboard vaka Marumaru Atua has expressed the crew’s deep disappointment in the dismal turnout of Cook Islanders at the opening ceremony for the Festival of Pacific Arts.

"The festival is fantastic with some beautiful art, craft, dance, traditional displays, etc. Feel blessed and privileged to be present for this event," she wrote in an email to friends and family. "Lack of Cook Islands delegation to welcome Marumaru Atua was saddening, disappointing, and felt deeply by not only our crew, but the whole fleet and other delegations too. Our golden girl, Uirangi Bishop, even shed a tear as we watched every other vaka get welcomed by their family during the opening, while we watched in silence and performed our pe’e to a single Cook Island woman (our hero)."

She reiterated: "The Cook Islands should have been here."

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