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Need For A Mark Of Excellence - A No Brainer

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Creative New Zealand's CEO, Stephen Wainwright, claims 'a changing landscape' was one of the factors instrumental in his council's decision to disinvest in toi ihoTM, the Maori trademark of authenticity and quality. Former Te Waka Toi Chair, Elizabeth Ellis partly agrees, "Yes the landscape is definitely changing, with the need for toi ihoTM increasing, not diminishing." But Ellis stops short of agreeing with Wainwright's assertion that 'toi ihoTM was expected to produce economic benefits to New Zealand and therefore hasn't delivered'."It was never just about artists making money - toi ihoTM identified the authenticity of the artist, matched by quality, and therefore the integrity and uniqueness of the work. The cultural value and benefits of toi ihoTM were always the underlying and prime considerations." Ellis also points out: "As we all know from the current recession, economic value fluctuates, whereas cultural value appreciates over time and never diminishes." Former CNZ Policy writer and project manager for toi ihoTM Margaret Te Hiko says, toi ihoTM came about after decades of Maori asking for a Maori mark, concerned about the number of fake Maori look-alike products flooding the market. "It was to be a mark that would inspire and motivate emerging Maori artists to achieve levels of excellence in their works - this will always be an intrinsically worthwhile aim of toi ihoTM and one that will never diminish in its cultural value and significance," says Te Hiko. Fellow campaigner, and one of the initial toi ihoTM design team, publisher Ata Te Kanawa, says she is astonished with CNZ's process. Citing the effort by CNZ to establish toi ihoTM as including an extensive consultation process, engaging branding and legal professionals and elite Maori artists at an alleged $1m cost to the tax payer. In contrast, she says, the unilateral, behind closed doors CNZ council decision to dispose of in toi ihoTM, based on a CNZ report commissioned in 2007 was never made known to stakeholders or those involved in its creation. "We understood (then) we were involved in an extremely important project that had longevity, with the potential to make a significant difference for current and future generations of Maori artists and that's why so many of us gave huge chunks of ourselves, our knowledge, expertise and, to a certain degree, our intellectual property," says Te Kanawa. Prompted by rumours, and given the absence of an official press release regarding CNZ's stance, the trio requested an urgent meeting with CNZ early last week. They say there is now a growing swell of support in the Maori artists' community to save toi ihoTM... The women are also disappointed the allocated $320K annual budget for toi ihoTM has been shifted to a community arts development pool, which they see as an unacceptable dilution and demise of an extremely positive arts initiative in New Zealand's proud art arena. An initiative that has been applauded at an international level by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation), and other indigenous cultures, particularly in the Pacific. Further to the question of the commercial viability of toi ihoTM, raised by CNZ as the main reason for its decision to disinvest in toi ihoTM, Te Kanawa says,"I would've thought it careless for the Government's arts body to play the commercial viability card for fear other CNZ initiatives might be measured by the same yard stick." Margaret Te Hiko says it is well documented, and agreed by all parties, that CNZ - through the Te Waka Toi Maori Arts Board, would simply be the guardian of toi ihoTM until such time as it could be transferred to an autonomous Maori entity at a future date. This appears to have not been upheld by CNZ. At their meeting with CNZ last week, Ellis, Te Kanawa and Te Hiko requested CNZ hold a stakeholders hui as soon as possible to discuss the future of toi ihoTM, and they are hoping CNZ will live up to its responsibility as the Crown partner in this intrinsically valuable project.

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