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On Giving: John & Jo Gow

In this series, we're shining a light on our generous giving community – inviting our Kotahi whānau across the country to tell us how and why they give to the arts.

John and Jo Gow will be a familiar name to many, being long-time givers to the arts community, visionaries of the Connells Bay Sculpture Park on Waiheke Island, and recipients of the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi 2016 Award for Patronage. This year, they extend their generosity to fund a new Laureate, who will be receiving the John & Jo Gow Sculpture Award. John and Jo Gow have been committed to supporting NZ sculptors since the opening of their Park on Waiheke Island back in 2004. We caught up with John to ask him why they are thrilled to extend that focus to an outstanding sculptor, and what it means to give to the arts.

Tell us a bit about you?

We have been involved in funding musical theatre in New York’s Broadway, London’s West End and in Australia since the early 1980’s. It was a very specialised activity and some of the larger shows included Cats, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Whilst that activity was done strictly as a commercial business, it enabled us to form a charitable trust in 1996 to focus and channel our philanthropic support for the arts.

Our other main arts based project has been the creation of the Connells Bay Sculpture Park on Waiheke Island. We have purchased or commissioned over 35 sculptures carefully placed on a 20 acre bush clad site. Jo enjoys sharing the stories behind each work during walks of the sculpture park in the summer months.
I have lent my business skills to several theatre based entities including The Performing Arts School, Q Theatre, Indian Ink and the Arts Foundation.
We also have an active life outside of the arts which includes boating, walking, re-vegetating our Waiheke property, travelling and family.

Why do you give to the arts? And in what ways?
The arts form an integral part of society whether it be visual or performance. The most important way to support artists is to buy their works or attend their performances. We enjoy doing both as well as supporting their projects or guiding them with their art practice.

What was the first creative experience that turned the light on for you?
We have enjoyed collecting visual artworks over a long period of time. Not necessarily the first experience but we belonged to two separate visual art collecting groups in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That exposed us to different opportunities to meet artists and better understand their works. Especially important is the relationship we develop with each artist.

What do the arts give you?
Above all, the arts enriches our lives. We change our wall art every 12 months and although we may have owned the works for many years, re-hanging them for the next period is like we have bought a new work. We commit to more arts festival or film festival events that we will ever have the time to attend because buying a ticket is the best way to support those events.

Why have you chosen to give through the Arts Foundation and to create a new Laureate Award?
We chose to create a sculpture Laureate because that genre has been our strong focus for the last 20 odd years as we established the Connells Bay Sculpture Park. It might have been easy to simply support another sculptor every couple of years but this time, we chose to support the Arts Foundation because they have a robust process that selects recipients from the entire sculpture field and not just from the artists that we know. Put differently, the Arts Foundation eliminates the bias that we might have and it has the ability to promote the arts far better than we could ever achieve as individual patrons.