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Arts community bereft at loss of commentary

Nov 14th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

WELLINGTON’S arts community is upset the city’s daily newspaper has sacked its resident art critic, ending a long tradition of locally based art commentary.

Mark Amery has been reviewing and critiquing the visual arts in his Dominion Post column for five years.

He was preceded by art critics such as Ian Wedde and Peter McLeavey, who wrote for many years in the Dominion Post’s predecessors, the Evening Post and Dominion.

There are at least 30 public and dealer art galleries in Wellington and with thousands of attendant visitor numbers it is hard to believe there is no readership for discussion around the visual arts, says Mr Amery. 

“With criticism, it doesn’t matter a jot whether my opinion is the right one,” he says.

“What matters is that it’s a lightning rod for people to feel the licence to offer their own opinion and openly discuss the art over coffee or a beer.”

Suzanne Carty, editorial consultant for Fairfax NZ Ltd (and former Evening Post editor), says she can understand the arts community’s disappointment at the end of the visual arts criticism, and the paper has received a few letters about the loss.

“Sadly, when economic times are tough, tough decisions have to be made,” she says. “We continue to cover the arts as best we can with the resources we have and we sponsor events, too.”

Members of Wellington’s arts community have expressed dismay at the Dominion Post’s decision.

Whitireia Community Polytechnic head of visual arts and design Rudy Whitehead-Lopez says he is “shocked and utterly devastated that such an important cornerstone of our culture, of thought, intellect and soul is being eroded”.

The director of Victoria University’s Adam Art Gallery, Christina Barton,  says it is a real tragedy for the arts in Wellington that they will not be covered critically.

“Any civilised city, especially one that calls itself the cultural capital, needs a newspaper that is prepared to take a role in discussing and presenting commentary about culture in general. Newspapers do play a crucial role whether they like it or not,” she says.

“The visual arts are my area and I feel very strongly that there are very few venues for any kind of critical discussion. 

“In Wellington, we are only served by one newspaper and to have nothing there – except paid-for promotion and previews – it’s really a failure to provide, what I think, is quite a fundamental service,” says Ms Barton.

Eastbourne actress and artist Florence McFarlane has taken to reading the New Zealand Herald and feels resentful about the column’s demise.

“To cut the ground from under the feet of the arts in Wellington is tantamount to self destruction, as Wellington is the arts capital of the country, without question,” she says.

The Dominion Post has also targeted other areas of the paper for cut backs: “Our racing readership is not happy, either, because its coverage has been limited, too,” says Ms Carty.

Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst was away in the US covering its election and was not available to comment.

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