8 Nov 2013

Growing desire in the Cook Islands to earn a living from arts

5:53 pm on 8 November 2013

The cultural and creative arts industries in the Cook Islands want more recognition from the government, so they are more likely to earn a living from their skills.

The Ministry of Culture says it will lobby for a bigger budget to help not just preserve cultural heritage, but also to use culture and arts to bridge the gap into the economic sector.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

The secretary of the ministry of culture, Sunny Williams, says the cultural and arts sector is always one of the poorer cousins when it comes to allocation of government resources. But Mr Williams says statistics show that more than two-thirds of the population are engaged in the cultural sector and the ministry is looking into how it can try to meet their needs.

"SUNNY WILLIAMS: Right across the board, utilising these activities for people to earn their living out of, so it's not wholly traditional, although that is an important basis for us, but it's also looking to get support to develop young people into the arts creative industries."

Motone Productions creates music events and holds performing arts workshops in the Cook Islands to cultivate young talent. One of its directors, Maurice Newport, says the government has to help fund contermporary arts like dancing, writing, and singing, otherwise they will just become a fading dream for young people. But he says creatives don't hold their breath for support, and if artists like painters and carvers want funding, they don't waste their time waiting on the government, they'll apply for money overseas instead.

MAURICE NEWPORT: The arts, it is here in the Cook Islands, obviously it's not being very well supported at this stage, but there is a strong arts community here who, just basically get on with it, knowing that we're not gonna get much support from the government at all. So if you did worry about trying to get money out of the local government you'd give yourself cancer, so basically you've just gotta enjoy life and keep moving.

The president of the Koutu Nui, traditional leader Parekura Turi Mataiapo Maria Henderson, says she wants to see a national arts theatre set up, to cultivate classical Cook Islands dance. She says it would be like the Cook Islands equivalent to the Royal Ballet company. She says because cultural values are strong, there's still plenty of room for the contemporary dance, that tourists are used to.

MARIA HENDERSON: They hype it up for the tourism industry, the drumming has gone a blah, blah, blah, and the movement is just - we as classical performers look at it and say 'oh my goodness what is happening,' but what the heck, tourism people that come just love it, the main thing about this being contemporary performance, it hasn't lost the joy, the exuberance of the dancers.

The Ministry of Culture is also looking into how much of the cultural sector is aimed at the tourism market. It says the international canooeing festival, Vaka Eiva, is a classic case of bringing traditional and modern worlds together, with vaka carving and modern paddling. Vaka Eiva's co-ordinator, Victoria Dearlove, says the traditional element has been part of the event since its inception.

VICTORIA DEARLOVE: We always thought that it was important to keep all the cultural traditions that were involved with Oi Vaka, keeping in mind that before it became an international sport, the canoes were used for fishing and for travelling between island to island.

Sunny Williams says he is looking for more equitable support to the culture sector, because there is huge, untapped potential.

SUNNY WILLIAMS: For our people to be engaged, to create their businesses and earn their living and stay in our country instead of all going to Australia in the mines and on the dole in New Zealand or something.

He says if it's given the proper recognition, the culture and the creative industry could keep more people in the Cook Islands.