Cooks Islands Art Needs More Government Support: Opposition

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Bishop: Tourism, economy would grow with more investment in art

By Cameron Scott

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 7, 2016) – Under the CIP government, Cook Islands art is languishing when it should be encouraged and supported, says new opposition leader Teina Bishop.

Bishop, who launched a landmark new exhibition by Rarotonga artist Mahiriki Tangaroa at Bergman Gallery on Monday night, says while some of the performance arts such as dancing are recognised as being a vital part of the tourism economy, art is virtually ignored.

Bishop attacked the government for its apparent lack of interest in art and said it was telling from the large attendance at the event, that there was plenty of private sector support for art in the Cook Islands.

"It’s time for the Cook Islands government and maybe the Tourist Corporation to realise that in a small country like this, the concept of "PPP" – Public-Private Partnership, is the only way the country is going to grow its economy.

"With such an event as this (Tangaroa’s exhibition) I see the private sector support behind this art but I hope that one day that government – whoever is in government, will see the importance of the PPP principle, that will only support our country.

"If we get into government – when we get into government, I promise you then I will influence the Tourist Corporation to be part of the sponsorship of this very important sector of our tourism industry because I believe it is so important."

On Tuesday Bishop told CI News he believes art and crafts are an important part of our economy and an important drawcard for tourists.

"We need to encourage Cook Islands artists like Mahiriki Tangaroa and we also need to be encouraging art in schools.

"Maybe Mahiriki and recognised artists such as Tim Buchanan, for example, should be paid to visit schools and conduct art programmes for the children, because an interest in art needs to be encouraged at an early age. And children need good role models to follow."

Bergman Gallery owner Ben Bergman says Bishop is "spot-on" with his comments.

"Our government needs to do much more for the creative sector than it does. A serious art curriculum must be developed and implemented as well as a funding entity designed for existing artists and galleries.

"We have incredibly talented, creative people here capable of generating value-added, cultural statements. We have a developing tourism market that is looking for distinct, Cook Islands experiences and art is a leading light.

You only have to look at tourist attendances at any city art gallery (large or small) to realise the phenomenal cultural value of art. Throw in the fact that this nation has an unenviable trade deficit and you really begin to wonder why more is not being done.

"None of this is new information, the model for contemporary art exists and its results are abundantly clear. It simply needs to be applied to our circumstances. It is refreshing to hear exactly that from a political leader."

Describing support for the creative sector as a "no-brainer," Bergman says Bishop’s comments described public funding for the art industry as "low hanging fruit."

"You only have to look as far as New Zealand to see the sensational results public funding achieves via Creative New Zealand.

"The New Zealand art market is a $100 million exercise annually, a small cog in the wheel of a worldwide art industry that is valued at $NZ102 billion a year. It is little wonder that artists are highly valued and supported in most developed nations."

Meanhile, Bergman describes Tangaroa’s exhibition as a milestone achievement, in terms of scale, delivery and presentation.

"The five large canvases are a triumph in storytelling, communicating a unique Cook Islands message. The show is simply a must-see and we have given everyone the chance until May 28."

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