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20 Aug 2020

A treasure to find and a hard place to leave

It’s been a huge year for all of us, and I’m glad to have done it with Creative Waikato. My time here has gone by way too quickly and I’m leaving grateful, humbled, and inspired.

I wanted to say thank you and goodbye properly, and here’s my chance. So, I’m dumping the heart-stuff. Strap in.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones to have been a part of the Creative Waikato whānau and let’s be real, it’s changed my life forever. The way I see the world and the way I want to respond to the world is completely different compared with the view I had before 1 May 2019.

I get it now. Art is a crucial element of a thriving humanity and I’m proud to have played a small part in it.

Stepping into the Creative Waikato waka was a huge learning curve. Two years out from graduating, for the first time I was tasked with leading the communications and marketing scene; a task I was convinced I wasn’t ready for.

First week in and I discovered what this tight-knit team was about. They fought for me to settle in quickly by subtly-not-subtly helping me feel like I was winning. They asked for advice they totally didn’t need, asked for my help with small projects, said I was needed at their meetings, complemented my tea-making skills, and took me on roadies around the Waikato.

All of it gave me a chance to stand on solid ground so I could take full flight and own (not earn) my spot. Their leadership and support from the beginning meant I was able to spread my wings and grow as a better professional and a better person.

But I’m not an artist, so what was I even doing here?

Having quit visual art after year 10, for the first few months among these creative-nerds I was hyperaware that my ‘new-to-artness’ was showing. I entered galleries and was lost, read poetry and was confused.

What’s the protocol here? What am I supposed to think and do and say? What am I supposed to get out of this? What layers of meaning am I supposed to discover? What does everyone else see that I don’t?

So I sat in the safezone responding, “How interesting!” with varied intonations.

How do you even ‘do’ the arts scene?!

Then came the first moment it clicked. The team had been hustling hard on a project called the Waikato New Works Incubator – a high intensity performing arts programme. Day 38 on the job coincided with the final day of the programme. We walked down to The Meteor Theatre to watch the final performances these young artists had been crafting and rehearsing for months.

Still not knowing how to ‘do’ art, I placed myself in the second-to-last row from the back to keep the audience’s reactions in view as much as the performances.

Art to me had always just been entertainment, or something nice that makes a place more pleasant to look at. Something to feast your senses on before moving to the next sparkly thing.

These ‘things’ had always just been paintings or plays or pretty pieces of pottery. Just things.

Then the Waikato New Works Incubator finalists took the stage. They slammed us with hard hitting truth after truth. This art was tackling my preconceived ideas and standing up for new ones. During each 40-minute block of stage time, each piece took me places I didn’t know I’d wanted to explore.

This was more than entertainment. This art was a powerful voice reminding me what it means to be human. It spoke the lows and the possibilities, it unpacked the darkness and pointed to the light. This was a voice speaking truth, goodness, and beauty.

Art is not about doing or thinking or feeling ‘the right thing’, but something that taps into your soul to inspire learning, enhance wellbeing and boost the economy. Art is about fostering identity, resilience, and joy.

Yes art is a thing, but a damn-powerful thing.

Without it, our lives would be boring, soulless and meaningless.

It’s taken too long, but I finally get it thanks to Creative Waikato. I will never forget banding together during the global pandemic, stepping into the Te Ao Māori world and taking baby steps to understand it, having so many real, deep and important conversations, and laughing till my face hurt. For all of it, thank you.

Also to all the humans I met along the way who threw pearls of knowledge you didn’t know you were dishing out. I kept all the ones I could carry. And to everyone else I had emergency conversations with to understand what this world of the arts was (which is actually the same world seen differently), thank you!

Creative Waikato was a treasure to find and is a very hard place to leave. Thank you for your care and support as I take off on my next great adventure.

Huge respect and love for all of you,

Mon x