Image: Gabrielle McKone
Community and Accessibility
I want to write about community. At least, that’s what I thought I wanted to write about, heading into TEZA 2015. Building and actively participating in communities is something I have become increasingly passionate about over recent years. I am also interested in the way many communities fail to see those they exclude; the outsiders and the left behind.
I talked a lot about community to some of the great people I met at TEZA on Thursday. I told them about how a while back I’d joined my local neighbourhood Facebook group, and then very quickly left again, feeling disillusioned. There had been so much talk about the types of people living in the community, so much negativity towards people who were different. The group’s members couldn’t understand that these people they were so afraid of were also a part of their community. They were too caught up with what the community in their heads looked like. It looked like themselves, and no one else.
I go to numerous literature events, and more often than not they are exclusively white. White writers speaking to a white audience. I talked about this in my discussions on Thursday, about how so often creative events are inaccessible. There are huge swathes of people they simply do not reach. “Who do you think isn’t being reached here?” I’m asked. I think.
On Tuesday I’d seen people drawn into conversations on their lunch breaks while walking past TEZA participants. When I sat on Cobham Court with Pip Adam, writing an article for ‘The Made Up Times’, people were able to offer a quick headline as they passed by. In less than a minute, while on their commute they had been given the chance to participate, to contribute. Pip went into some of the surrounding shops to talk to the local business owners and their staff. The workers who couldn’t get away from their stores had TEZA brought to them, made accessible.
On Thursday morning I sat in while groups from Corinna School made salads with Rosalind McIntosh. Children are one of the most disenfranchised groups of society. They are rarely welcome at creative events unless those events are catered to them specifically. They are so often a forgotten, invisible portion of our communities, and yet here they were, involved.
That afternoon I took part in the Raps & Monologues workshop run by Pikihuia Haenga, Amelia Espinosa and Te Kupu. After introductions and some quick writing exercises we adjourned to work on our pieces while Te Kupu headed off to pick up his seven year old daughter from school. When they returned she participated in the workshop, reading her own original writings along with the rest of us. Children were not confined to a quiet corner until their parents were finished partaking in the day’s activities. Parents were not restricted by childcare hours. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was catered to. Accessibility.
But I don’t want to paint a picture of a utopian community. I can’t ignore that TEZA is taking place in Porirua, and yet the vast majority of people I interacted with had come from out of town specifically for the event. Does that even matter? As the day began to wear on me I headed over to North City Shopping Centre to try and distance myself from the critical thinking and analysis that TEZA had inspired in me. Compared to the outlying shopping strips where TEZA has set up camp, the mall is full of the hustle and bustle of life. I’d been tricked into thinking of Porirua as a dying community, but inside the mall I saw that it is thriving. I thought about all of these people going about their business, and wonder why TEZA isn’t aiming to draw them in as its audience. Surely these locals are a valid arts audience.
That evening I realised I’d got it all wrong. TEZA is not primarily about creativity. Creative thinking is a major foundation of the week, no doubt, but the clue is right there in the name: Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa. This is about economics, a fact I have managed to conveniently ignore because I thought I had no interest in economics. I’m as guilty as anyone of creating an imaginary community, blind to what I don’t want to see.
At the Creative Summit on New Economy Thinking I discovered that I’m more interested in economics than I thought I was. I listened as people shared their desire for a new economic system, one that values things such as time, knowledge and even mood over money. The conversation was unsettling. I couldn’t help but think of the book Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal, which discusses how Smith, the father of modern economics, neglected to take into account his mother, who prepared his meal every night when constructing his economic theories of food production and labour. I thought about who we might have been forgetting in our discussions. I heard about the supposed “poverty of soul, mind and spirit” that people are suffering from, and then heard about the large amounts of labour that people are already performing free of charge. I heard about how beneficiaries are supposedly “rich in time” and wondered why we were talking about, and not to. There was hope in these conversations, but there was also a sense of the enormity of the task at hand. No one seemed to have the answer we were all so desperately searching for.
From what I can tell, TEZA isn’t about finding answers. It is about asking questions. It is about suggesting alternatives. And it is about bringing together a community. Not necessarily a geographic community, but a community of like minds. I wanted to write about the community I saw in my head before experiencing TEZA. Instead, I am grateful for the community that I built for myself with each conversation I had, each question I asked, and each workshop I participated in.