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On Giving: Abby McCormick O’Neil and Carroll Joynes on the importance of long-term giving to the arts

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.

Abby McCormick O’Neil and her husband Carroll Joynes are a generous and deeply committed duo currently based in Queenstown. For the last three years, they have funded the Springboard Award for Dance – supporting an up-and-coming dancer with a year of funding and mentorship. We caught up with Abby to ask her what it means to give to the arts.

Why do you support our Springboard programme?

I have had a love of and passion for dance for as long as I can remember, and it’s a pleasure for Carroll and I to support the prestigious Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi Springboard Programme. As part of its mission, the Arts Foundation recognizes the need to identify and cultivate a diverse new generation of artists and highlight their unique voices – voices which are significant and relevant an increasingly changing, challenging and diverse cultural scene in New Zealand. Springboard is a vehicle to support and promote this visionary initiative.

As dance patrons, Carroll and I support the Springboard Programme knowing the award enriches extremely promising young dancers. Many dancers and small dance ensembles simply do not have the resources and wherewithal to expand their reach, and Springboard plays an integral part in helping nurture them – and the larger dance community – through cultural credibility, financial support and general institutional stability. It’s vital to the continued success of dance in New Zealand to have a ‘pipeline’ of new creatives coming through, and that pipeline needs to be perpetually nourished! In addition, Springboard dance recipients – by virtue of their existence – expand dance‘s overall reach to broader audiences all over New Zealand. This in turn helps build, enrich and solidify a network of cultural communities nationwide.

What was the first creative experience that turned the light on for you?

There are two projects in the arts that have really profoundly changed my life. One is The Harris Theatre of Music and Dance in Chicago, a project I helped create and build as part of a small core group of founders in 1995. The second is a much more recent project, Te Atamira, the community arts centre in Queenstown, that I had the privilege of creating and building along with my husband Carroll Joynes, Te Atamira’s Director, Olivia Egerton, along with other philanthropic arts enthusiasts in Queenstown.

My involvement with the Harris Theatre has completely informed and expanded my outlook on the arts generally, and especially the performing arts over the past 30 plus years – challenging me to engage in arts in ways that sometime are uncomfortable, but ultimately have broadened my horizons and making me more curious and open.

Te Atamira was born out a need for a dedicated cultural community space; one that could house local artistic endeavours, and provide an multi-purpose facility for young children to be introduced to the arts, and nurtured (along with their families) into a growing collective of people who are switched on and tuned into artistic expression. Te Atamira’s mission is to be a platform for creativity to flourish everyday… and it doesn’t disappoint!

Being a founding donor of both these projects – and working alongside others who had the vision and philanthropic wherewithal to give these communities what they needed to flourish in the arts – has been a profound and joyful experience for both Carroll and myself. There is nothing better than being with a group of creatives to expand one’s horizons, and feel you’ve found your community.

What does giving to the arts give you?

The arts – visual and performing – have given both Carroll and myself so much joy, and introduced us to so many incredible creatives over the last 30 plus years. It’s a privilege to give back and support artists and their craft. Knowing we can play a role in helping creatives grow, and helping them foster their practices is very meaningful to us both.

What does New Zealand need most for the arts?

New Zealand arts need people to lean in! That means to care, appreciate, respect and understand what the arts offer... and grasp how profoundly the arts influence culture, regionally, nationally, and globally – especially through avenues like the ones provided by the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi. The arts soothe our souls, and add so much richness and vitality and dimension to our individual lives as well as to the community as a whole. In these uncertain and challenging times, we need the arts more than ever.

However, in order for the arts to thrive, we need sustained long term financial support from donors at all levels. Being involved long-term financially is what helps build durable infrastructure for the now, as well as the future. This means giving more than just one-off donations – in order to provide continuity and long term stability. Beyond this, involving oneself as a donor to the arts offers opportunities for personal growth, and can perhaps transform an individual’s perspective over time.

Places like the Harris Theatre and Te Atamira will be around for a long time – because a core group of founders understood what the community wanted, and helped build the foundations that ensures long term existence, growth and ultimately long term success. The Arts Foundation is much like these two extraordinary organisations: in that it has a mission specific to helping source and maintain the highest level of artistic endeavour, always mindful to bring on new emerging artists representing the diversity of voices in the various art forms. In their own unique ways, these organizations understand the impactful role they play in identifying new audiences, cultivating wider community outreach and showcasing outstanding artistic talent – ultimately making their communities better places to live.