(Eva Corlett’s article appeared in the Irish Times–from Wellington–10/14.)
New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades. Photograph: iStock
Relevance of event in New Zealand schools is questioned by country’s art council
New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades after questioning its relevance to the country and because it focuses on “a canon of imperialism”.
Every year, the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand runs the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival — a secondary school competition where students perform excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays.
Students are given the scope to direct, compose music, perform and create sets and costumes for their show. It has been a popular event, with more than 120,000 high school students from more than half the country’s secondary schools having participated in the festival since its inception.
The festival regularly secures about $30,000 (€17,400) a year from the government’s arts funding body — Creative New Zealand. But this year, the council has decided to pull the money.
In the funding assessment document, the advisory panel said that while the festival has strong youth engagement, and a positive impact on participants, it “did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape”.
The board signalled concerns that the organisation was “quite paternalistic” and that the genre was “located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance”.
One assessor said the application made them “question whether a singular focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond”.
The board felt the centre did not offer a strong proposal compared with other groups seeking funding.
The centre’s chief executive, Dawn Sanders, said the organisation was dismayed by the decision.
“Creative New Zealand say it is irrelevant to modern day New Zealand — the opposite is true,” she said. “We’re dealing with what people are thinking, the human psyche, competition, jealousy, misogyny and so many things that are totally relevant.”