Magic Calls — 18.07.14

Ever wondered what it's like to be offered an Arts Foundation Award?

The Patrons amongst our readers should take pride this week; we are busy making calls on your behalf that are changing lives.

We have ten artists to contact, out of the blue, with the news they have been selected for a $50,000 Laureate Award , $25,000 New Generation Award , or the extraordinary $80,000 Harriet Friedlander New York Residency.  As you know, recipients have no idea they have been selected as we do not ask for applications.

Each call has good drama.  Our office buzzes every time I pick up the phone.  I love how the calls start… I ask if the recipient has ten minutes to talk in confidence. The response is usually, oh I’m just going into the theatre, or at a collaborative meeting, I’ll just step out of my studio, etc. Artists are always working, sometimes on the other side of the planet.

In the past I’ve had to explain the Arts Foundation before getting to the point. Now most people have heard of us. I always say that we are funded by donors, people that care enough about the arts to give personal funds to change the life of artists. This message is my first gift to the recipients. Yes, people really do care.

I then tell them how we select artists with an independent panel without applications. Most people I call, being humble Kiwis, think I am about to ask them to be on the selection panel. There is a moment of confusion when I tell them the panel has already met. Just as the possibility is forming in their mind that it could be them, I break it to them.

That moment is beautiful. So much is going on inside the mind of the recipient that sometimes they barely speak. They never quite know what to say, they need more information, but they find it hard to listen.

What I hear in the silence, or in the sometimes out of control comments, is a complex mix. There are competing thoughts of ‘why me’ and ‘yes, it’s my time’.  I imagine all of their hard work and dedication must fly past their eyes, then they think of those that are close to them, who have given up things for them, and are humble again. It’s beautiful.

One artist I spoke to this week was overcome with the news. He is in Europe working late on a project in an international festival. I said you deserve it mate, it has been a lot of hard work and dedication. He just said, “thank you so much, I love what I do and who I work with. Is this prestigious award really for me? Thank you.”

I wish I could have all our donors with me when I make these calls. You deserve to join in the excitement. You are giving a gift of enormous encouragement and pride to some of our most precious kiwis. Be very proud.

Oh, and one last thing. If you are an artist working at the top of your game and you have a message from me to call back, you might want to step out of the studio and make that call!

Simon Bowden, Arts Foundation Executive Director