Brand Wellington: When City Imaging Is GLAM’ed
City imaging is part of the creative industries portfolio of policies. Yet the relationship between institutions of public culture and urban regeneration is under-researched. This chapter explores ‘GLAMs’ – Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums – to show how a city can be transformed through these knowledge institutions. Tara Brabazon shows the transformations of Wellington led by Te Papa, the national museum, that created the conditions for Wellywood and the making of Lord of the Rings.
KeywordsNational Identity Film Production Creative Industry Cultural Policy Film Industry
My first fulltime academic appointment was in the History Department at the Victoria University of Wellington in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I was a stop-gap replacement for an ambitious male researcher who was taking up a year-long funded post in the United States. I was grateful and surprised at the opportunity. Baby boomer ‘mentors’ at the time suggested that the next generation of academics would be waiting another 10 years to achieve a full time post in Australia. One of these senior scholars was horrified at my movement across the Tasman and into a lectureship, warning, “if you go to New Zealand, you’ll never make it back.” In some form of reverse deportation, a young Australian would be exiled and imprisoned - rather than employed - in a neighbouring former colony that did not share a convict past.
I did ‘make it back’ to Australia, but often return to the city that gave me a start. I remember Wellington in 1994 was seen as a dull place populated by politicians and civil servants. It was a city where drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows on the side or a bitter micro-expresso accompanied by giant garabaldis was exciting performance art. Coffee culture was pretentious. Film culture was pretentious. Shopping culture was pretentious. But it was a quiet place to be gainfully employed between coffees, while adventure tourism beckoned in the South Island and exciting nightlife lured style-lifers north to Auckland. The exodus of excitement away from Wellington created a social, economic and cultural vacuum in the capital, with the occasional earnest film festival to tempt the espresso drinkers out of the chrome, white and black of the Lido coffee shop. There were always good bookshops, with Unity in both Wellington and Auckland being – along with Waterstone’s in Manchester and San Francisco’s City Lights – featuring the best range and being among the most knowledgeable sellers in the world. The city had the profound advantage of being compact and walkable, only hampered by a wind that transformed a good hairstyle into a wig similar to Grandma from the Adams Family.
I know that Wellingtonians are unbelievably proud of our city. We like its compactness, and the ease with which we can get around. We like the wind – Wellingtonians don’t carry umbrellas, as they’re redundant in a southerly! We are people who carry cash because we don’t like to use eftpos to pay for just one coffee – and we drink plenty of coffee. Living in Wellington encourages passion. We embrace the hills, civil servants, trolley buses, the stadium, the weather, the cafes, the basin, the creativity. We have it all in one great city. And like it or lump it, everyone knows everyone. (Donsorth 2006)
All the creative industries checklists of renewal, city imaging and branding are found in this statement. Suddenly, boredom became ‘passion.’ An ‘embrace’ of the climb replaced the heart attack-inducing walk from Oriental Bay to Kelburn. Significantly, ‘creativity’ was present as a reality, an inducement, a thread within the cloth of the city.
Revolving around the success of Te Papa, this chapter tracks the branding and function of Wellington in the creative industries literature. I situate this innovative city imaging project into the histories of transforming creative and cultural policy, with particular attention to GLAMs, galleries, libraries, archives and museums. My work is part of what David Hesmondhalgh and Andy Pratt have termed “this explosion of writing and thinking about the cultural and creative industries (Hesmondhalgh and Pratt 2005).” But Wellington is not just one more example to add to the Florida-driven checklist. New Zealand’s rapid and ruthless engagement with the international market economy has generated a range of remarkable initiates that go beyond a ‘case study’ or a footnote in a wider policy revolution. Hesmondhalgh and Pratt realized that, “in many respects, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have developed more coherent approaches based not only on a recognition of the economic value of the cultural industries, but also on the importance of the construction and defense of a national culture. These approaches, at their best, respect aboriginal rights, high culture and, to a lesser extent, ‘new cultural forms’ (ibid., p. 1).” Significantly, all three nations were formerly colonized by the United Kingdom but deploy divergent and complex methods to configure indigenous rights, settler populations and new migrant communities. Simple or glib answers to questions about identity, colonialism and economic development do not function in such nations. Research – particularly with regard to the multiple meanings of a place – is required. Therefore, this chapter explores how Wellington became the business park of Middle Earth, deployed GLAM strategies and created a horizontal integration of development between museums, tourism and film.
Part of this project to transform Wellington’s city imaging emerged through the former New Zealand Labour government-commissioned document, released in 2000, Heart of the Nation (Heart of the Nation Project Team 2000). While many of the findings were rejected (Volkerling 2000), there was a significant shuffling of cultural categories and audiences. While phrases like the Creative City, cultural quarter and cultural cluster (Cornford and Charles 2001) have been deployed by Charles Landry and others (Landry and Bianchini 1995), such initiatives are – at their most basic – about the advertising of cities and regions, rebranding declining locations and facilitating entrepreneurial initiatives to reinvigorate buildings, shopping complexes and events management (O’Connor and Wynne 1996). The assumption is that creative industries will – intrinsically – regenerate declining areas through innovative reconfigurations of ‘quality’ culture, access to art and entrepreneurialism (Kunzmann 1995). The result is a heady mix of economic, social and cultural development.
There has probably never been a more exciting time to be involved in the cultural sector, but neither has it been more challenging. The MLA’s role now is to identify best practice, to strive for excellence and encourage innovation. We support our sector in the contribution it makes to learning and fostering communities so that museums, libraries and archives can continue to play a vital role in the lives of everyone. (Motion and Clare 2008)
The MLA Council was sponsored by the organization that culturally mapped the Creative Industries in the U.K., the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But even though this initiative has now ended, there is value in seeing how these ideas, policies and strategies, which began at the heart of the former empire, moved into the most antipodal of former colonies. Wellington is a special and strange location for this test. Adding a ‘G’ – galleries – to the British MLA initiative and integrating the sector into the unpredictable vortex of creative industries creates a currently under-researched feedback loop that may offer new insight for the international literature.
19.1 World Famous in New Zealand
One way to understand New Zealand’s place in international creative industries is to apply an oddly appropriate advertising slogan for a local beverage. On first view, the soft drink seems quite ordinary. It has bubbles and some flavouring. What makes the product remarkable is its slogan. The drink, L & P (Lemon and Paeroa), mobilizes a marketing campaign that works off a series of archetypes about laconic Kiwi masculinity, including the capacity to fix any of life’s emergencies with number 8 fencing wire. The slogan that has stayed with the company is “World Famous in New Zealand” (World Famous in New Zealand 2009). This phrase captures the paradoxes, confusions, irony, disappointment and confidence in and with the country. A tiny place can be world famous – in New Zealand. In the context of international creative industries though, New Zealand is simply world famous. There is a reason why this small place is significant.
Bryan Gould was born in New Zealand, educated at Oxford, became a Member of the House of Commons and served in both the Kinnock and Smith Labour Shadow Cabinets. He returned to his homeland upon leaving British politics in 1994 to become the Vice Chancellor at Waikato University. In reviewing the international transformations of capitalism, he realized that New Zealand is important, “not because the country is a particularly significant part of the world economy in terms of its size, but because it offers an instructive example to the rest of the world of how policy and practice concerning globalization and monetary policy have developed over recent years (Gould 2006).” Intriguingly, a research team from Competitive Advantage New Zealand used the L & P slogan to tell “the story of how ten of New Zealand’s finest companies became world-class competitors (Campbell-Hunt 2001).” Yet Peter Jackson, his company Weta Digital and the Lord of the Rings film series are not mentioned in the monograph. However, there is a management consultant who has not been so reticent in welcoming the hobbit.
It’s often been said that in this age of high technology, ‘geography is dead’ and place doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. Witness how high tech firms themselves concentrated in specific places like the San Francisco Bay Area or Austin or Seattle. Place has become the central organizing unit of our time, taking on many of the functions that used to be played by firms and other organizations … In this environment, it is geographic place rather than the corporation that provides the organizational matrix for matching people and jobs. Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron was to steelmaking. (ibid., p. 6)
In this first book, his case studies were Seattle, Austin, Toronto and Dublin. But Wellington’s City Council took these ideas so seriously (K. Prendergast, Meeting with S. Redhead, Wellington, October 4, 2006), that by Florida’s The Flight of the Creative Class, he opened the book with the story of Jackson and Wellington, discussing The Lord of the Rings and the combination of intelligence, technological advancement, education, music, food, lifestyle and business acumen that drew new workers to the city.
We must take advantage of the success of the New Zealand film industry while we have such high levels of international recognition following the success of the World Premier of the Return of the King. The film industry is a crucial one for the Wellington region and, on behalf of the regional Mayors, I applaud Government involvement in this important partnership. It will benefit all New Zealanders and will ensure that the Wellington region continues on its path to become one of the leading Creative Capitals of the World. I also congratulate Positively Wellington Business in identifying this opportunity and bringing the public and private sector partners together to make this happen. (Prendergast 2003)
For example, in the 2005 financial year, the New Zealand screen industry grossed NZ$2.6 billion, generated by 2,085 businesses, split between 506 production companies and 1,579 independent contractors. Even if King Kong and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were removed from this revenue, it would still top NZ$2.3 billion.1 While the data was not differentiated by city or region, it is clear – even through Peter Jackson’s continued negotiation between Wellington and Hollywood – that the branding of the city has increased the viability of the industry.
Wellington is home to more than 300 cafes, bars and restaurants, and it rivals the world’s top culinary destinations for flavour and variety. Wellington, the seat of New Zealand’s national identity, tells the country’s story better than anywhere else in the country. That national museum, Te Papa, set on Wellington’s stunning waterfront, tells the story of New Zealand and her people. Wellington is a magnet for creative thinkers and it has an instinct for the arts. It is home to many of the country’s significant arts organizations and there are live performances on offer almost every night of the year.2
Cafes and museums, restaurants and the arts are aligned into a creative sector. Yet differentiation also takes place. WellingtonNZ.com developed tourist maps for distinct industries, including ‘The Fashion Map’ and ‘The Arts Map.’ Notably, the latter includes heritage sites, museums, culture and dealer galleries. But it is film that – for Florida – made Wellington world famous beyond New Zealand.
19.2 Horizontally Integrated Creative Industries
As discussed in my chapter on the Swan Valley, it is difficult to predict which film, television programme or popular music performer will reveal cross-media, cross-platform influence, facilitating the horizontal integration of creative industries. The film Sideways was not only a surprise success, but led to a range of tourism operators capitalizing on wine tours of central California (Risling 2005). Popular cultural spaces and narratives inform and inflect the modern and the urban to create marketable tourist locations (Shiel and Fitzmaurice 2003). The success of Wellington in refashioning itself into a creative hub built on the long-term building of the New Zealand wine industry, fine dining, Te Papa and cultural institutions, which looped back into the branding of a modern and urban gateway into the filmic locations of Middle Earth. Publications such as Off the Menu, Wellington’s ‘Modern Dining Magazine,’ reinforced this reputation.
Education has also been integral to these developments (Matheson 2002). Wellington’s Institute of Technology launched a Centre for Creative Industries in 2000. After completing a 2 year diploma qualification, graduates could study for two more years to obtain a Bachelor of Creative Industries. Victoria University of Wellington runs an “Organizing Creative Industries” course in their Management School. Te Papa housed the Second International Conference on Cultural Policy in January 2002 around the theme Cultural Sites, Cultural Theory, Cultural Policy. This rich cultural and policy environment has also offered an opportunity for scholars to consider the positioning of the arts and humanities in Creative Industries initiatives.
Horizontal integration of industries, such as film, music, fashion, food production, education and tourism increased the branding and visibility of Wellington. Te Papa is part of this project. Te Papa is a museum that holds a strong position in the landscape, but also captures what they describe as a “key government goal – To Strengthen National Identity and Uphold the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”3 Te Papa was established after the government approved the new site on the waterfront. It was a replacement for the first National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum opened in 1936 and situated on Buckle Street. However Te Papa was different from the institution it replaced. It utilized the existing collections from the National Museum and National Art Gallery but also fulfilled a leadership role supporting other museums through the country via the National Services programme. The integration of history and art, Maori and Pakeha, culture and environment, entertainment and education, led the way for the integration of the wider GLAM Sector.
Since 1993, in a combined project of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Statistics New Zealand, surveys were conducted and data collected from the cultural sector, including employment trends, cultural experiences, cultural spending from households and government.4 The report, Cultural Indicators in New Zealand, instigated a map of the cultural sector showing how “cultural identity contribute[s] positively to economic growth.”5 Nine categories provided a framework for shaping the data: Taonga Tuku Iho, Heritage, Libraries, Literature, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Film and Video, Broadcasting, and Community and Government Activities. The report noted that between 1996 and 2001 the number of people in creative employment increased more than any other part of the economy, with spending on cultural goods increasing to 28 % from 2000/2001 to 2003/2004.6 From this wider context of success, a specific history of Wellington can be revealed.
19.3 Welcome to Middle Earth
Film and television production is a key driver in Wellington’s regional economy but the lack of a world class screen production facility has meant some offshore productions have chosen not to come here. This facility will mean New Zealand can attract more big budget films more often, and attract studio-based productions which don’t currently consider New Zealand as a location. (Anderton 2003)
Brand Wellington amalgamated two policy initiatives: Creative Capital and Absolutely Positively Wellington. Together, they formed a reciprocal relationship between creative industries initiatives and a city imaging branding strategy.
to be that creative and ingenious and to be able to work with major American movie moguls, who are renowned for their cut-throat attitude to business, is an unbelievable task. (Allen 2006)
The potential for a policy intervention is often based on the windfall of a remarkable cultural event like Manchester’s Hacienda and Liverpool’s Merseybeat. Lord of the Rings was the moment that thrust Wellington into visibility in the international creative economy. Weta Digital, based in Miramar, only 15 minutes from central Wellington and 5 minutes from the airport, continues this profile not only through effects, but with merchandise, and even a chainmaille company. In June 2008, Weta Digital completed the full circle and commenced tours through ‘Weta Cave,’ and an affiliated mini-museum. Entry is free and – not surprisingly – merchandise is available for purchase (WETA Cave 2009). Weta is a part of a considered building of relationships between diverse sectors, including museums. What ended with Weta Cave commenced with Te Papa.
Creating a tight convergence between film and tourism is complex, as cinema configures imagined places and summons displaced authenticities (MacCannell 1973; Olsen 2002). Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca offers distinct possibilities to Sex and the City’s New York. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies created the potential for a distinct tourist policy that is comparable to Roswell in New Mexico (Paradis 2002), particularly in terms of facilitating leisure and consumption practices. Much touristic literature discusses the marketing of authenticity and nostalgia (Lowenthal 1985). Yet popular cultural tourism is based on the marketing of the imaginary, the fictional and the excessive. The sites for the filming of cinematic fantasies create – through excess – the construction of place. Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine, filmed at Matmata Tunisia, is matched by J.R.R. Tolkein’s Hobbiton in Matamata in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Shefrin 2004). Locations become layered with intricate systems of representation. Sue Beeton termed this phenomenon Film-Induced Tourism (Beeton 2004). It is also tourism seduced (by) film. By using Wellington as a base for Peter Jackson’s operation and as a film making and creative ‘hub,’ affiliations were formed between cities and regions. Not all of these imaging strategies were ‘real’ and ‘authentic.’ For example, during Christmas 2001, Wellington was renamed Middle-Earth for the premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring. This was not a ‘real’ relationship, but scaffolding advertising and marketing initiatives.
He plays to perfection the role of the professional, always praising the rest of the company (“The play has about a dozen main roles and it never works unless the Lear is surrounded by a great group of actors”) and underlining the love of this country that he repeated whenever he was interviewed about The Lord of the Rings. (“I told them when I took the part, and this is no bullshit: ‘If we are not going to New Zealand, I’m not playing King Lear’.”). (McKellen 2007)
The effect of such publicity and support is difficult to measure or assess. Like all exercises in branding, the results are unpredictable. But there is no doubt that Wellywood is based on the spatial commodification of an imagined space offering unique opportunities for attracting the cinematic tourist (Tzanelli 2004). The intermingling of fan and tourist behaviour creates a new industrial formation, supported through online advertising (Jancovich and Faire 2003). Wellington’s city imaging transforms through the success in film, music and design. Books such as David B. Clarke’s edited anthology, The Cinematic City (Clarke 1997) demonstrate how urbanity holds an increasing role in cinema.
There have been critics. While Brand Wellington signified a modern, mobile, urban and creative city, Jenny Lawn asked, “where does ‘national’ identity find a place in this surreal world of film production?” (Lawn 2003) Clearly, the relationship between city and nation is volatile. Yet Film New Zealand chief executive Judith McCann confirmed that the industry was “healthy” on the back of Jackson and the Weta Workshop (McCann 2006). In institutional terms, the Wellington film industry is successful through the development of infrastructure. Weta Workshop and Weta Digital are sustainable businesses that mobilize their Lord of the Rings reputation.
We highlight the theme of ‘location’ by linking LOTR with a national tourism campaign which has been developed side-by-side with the film project, forging connections between the Middle-earth of the LOTR trilogy, and the New Zealand of the present. We argue that LOTR has both shaped, and been shaped by, ideas of national identity, and that the success of LOTR as a flagship of the ‘new’ creative industries is central to emerging visions of nationhood. (Jones and Smith 2005, p. 923)
While Jones and Smith argued that “The LOTR project has become the poster child for a new kind of New Zealand national identity (ibid., p. 924),” it is clear that by looking back with some perspective and distance from the expansive success of the trilogy, a much wider range of creative industries developments have been supported and enhanced through the increased tourism, including Te Papa. Jones and Smith’s fine article probes diverse theories of ‘authenticity,’ rightly questioning the imagining and invention of place and identity to suit the purposes of economic development. In their work, there is an assumption that there is a ‘correct’ representation of Wellington. Post-Baudrillard and post-postmodernism, it is unproductive to hope that advertising companies will demonstrate a detailed history of postcolonial nations or that tourism operators will desist from constructing marketable fictions. There is a broader series of connections with other industries to be revealed. Indeed, there are two films focusing on Lord of the Rings, one by National Geographic7 and another by Planet BB Entertainment, Ringers: Lord of the Fans.8 Both jut and weave through geographies and histories. Real fictions and fictional realities blur and merge as fans construct a filmic New Zealand that is not accurate or rigorous, but playful, malleable and relevant.
19.4 GLAMing Creative Industries
History, in its traditional form, undertook to ‘memorize’ the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces … in our time, history is that which transforms documents into monuments. (Michel Foucault 1989)
There are many historical relationships between museums and archives, galleries and museums, libraries and archives. To integrate all four institutions of documents, monuments and memory is a rarer trajectory and goal. In 2003, the Australian Society of Archives used GLAM as the hook for their Annual Conference, actively seeking strategies across the cultural sector, to “glamorize culture” to assist diverse curatorial traditions while building relationships between school and university collections, along with business, labour and corporate archives. Once this term was publicized online through this conference, its usage increased, moving very strongly east to New Zealand. As with the MLA in the UK, an American-based website – http://hangingtogether.org – is the “hangout spot for libraries, archives and museums.9 Focusing on digitization, they explore not only the creation of content, but how content is shaped, stored and preserved. The alliance of galleries and the wider creative industries however is underplayed. The web and the challenges of digitization are often the catalyst for unifying agendas about storage, preservation, accessibility and platform migration.
New Zealand policy makers, so well marinated in creative industries strategies and languages, also offered integrated strategies of GLAMs. As local and national institutions, they are not only depositories for information, but part of an integrated matrix to understand New Zealand/Aotearoa history (Dyson 2005). The GLAMs have an important role not only in understanding postcolonialism and cultural differences, but also for the creation of new relationships. Local government models combine the management of galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Whakatane has an Art and Cultural Business Unit responsible for GLAM. In Porirua, the library, gallery and museum are located in the same building as a business group, assisting resource management, collection management and research asset management. This model has been important. Leslie Clague, Manager of Kapiti Coast District Libraries, requested information and models to expand her services. She explained to me that “I did find enough information to convince our Council to expand the role of our Arts Advisor to an Arts and Museums Development Officer, with the museums in our district already gaining benefit (L. Clague, Online interview with Tara Brabazon, July 7, 2008).”
I know that top quality, creative, and New Zealand content has a critical role to play in promoting and enhancing our unique heritage and national identity so that it remains strong, visible and accessible. (Tizard 2007)
Collaborative voice to policy and legislation
Shared services, storage and ICT systems
Distribution of funding
Working more coherently with communities with the aim of preservation
Working with iwi
Building relationships with the Australian sector (Meeting of like minds as GLAM gets together in a leadership role, News room, LIANZA March 27, 2008, http://www.lianza.org.nz/news/newsroom/news1206577017.html)
The key connections to the next – more complex – stages of Creative Industries are witnessed here. This is Creative Industries 2.0., where professional development, larger sectoral relationships – rather than ‘The Independents’ – share best digital migration practices rather than a permanent revolution in platforms. This is a movement from city imaging to active regional engagement and working with citizens, not only consumers. This is the gift that GLAM initiatives bring to the creative industries. Such a project is also found in the Cultural Ministers Council of Australia and New Zealand, who met under the title “Building a creative innovative economy.”10 The problem with the resultant document is that the New Zealand voices are under-represented, as multiple Australian ministers dominated the discussion. Ironically, from Te Papa to Return of the King and beyond, New Zealand policy in museums, libraries, film and tourism have seen a success far beyond the Australian examples, including the film Australia.
Underplayed in the Cultural Ministers’ document was recognition of the social and economic value of research, broadly defined. A commitment to – and a need to service - research is the basis of many GLAMs. They also must address much wider audiences beyond academic researchers. University libraries often have some exhibition space, archives and special collections that could draw a broader audience than textbook-carrying undergraduates. The literary archives at Leeds University include letters by Lord Byron and Charles Dickens. The British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent Library offers a fully integrated library, archive, gallery and museum that captures the last 200 years of cartooning.
As we go into the future, there are some questions to keep in mind … While museums and art galleries are part of the GLAM sector, not all the parts are equal: museums tend to be content rich, and resource and skills poor. We have not yet been at the forefront of things digital, having tended to prioritise the immediate aspects of museum work, such as exhibitions and collection care. In the wider context, there is a huge challenge to integrate all the content initiatives across the culture, heritage and information areas. (ibid., p. 48)
From Tocker’s incisive diagnosis, the strengths and potential of Te Papa can be fully recognized. Te Papa has deployed innovative architecture, interactive displays, a strong archive and a dynamic capacity to respond to contemporary concerns. While there are critics, it is a curatorial triumph. It has embodied its function as the national museum embedding biculturalism in its structures, histories and languages. There has been a parallel development in the librarian, information management and archival communities, through the development of Māori Subject Headings/Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku to ensure a Māori world view shapes and informs the search for information. Te Papa includes a fully functional marae, along with 170,000 rare photographs in their Images collection. There is a strong use of multimedia through Tai Awatea/Knowledge Net, along with an integrated library and information centre that connects with the exhibitions and collections. Te Papa affiliated channeled New Zealand’s knowledge and memory institutions into a new age, and signaled the start of a new history for Wellington.
The integrated branding of these memory institutions and repositories is also part of the transformation of production and consumption through post-Fordism and digitization. This process, where ‘consumers’ construct identity through goods, is what Scott Lash and John Urry described as the “semiotisation of consumption,” (Lash and Urry 1994) requiring not only heightened information literacy but a capacity to build upon texts in new contexts. This content creation – which Charles Leadbeater termed Living on Thin Air (Leadbeater 1999) – involves both private and public organizations aligning to form productive distribution networks to commercialize ‘creativity.’
Te Papa is a museum that has provided the foundation for branding, job creation and reimaging of Wellington. It has reached beyond its walls to link tourists with other Wellington-based players in GLAM.11 The huge representation of the Treaty of Waitangi is used to remind visitors that the original is held in Archives New Zealand/Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga o Aotearoa, on Mulgrave Street in Wellington. Archives New Zealand features a Constitution Room with documents on display including the Treaty and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. A reading room allows all visitors to access documents free of charge. Similarly, other museums, such as the National Tattoo Museum of New Zealand on Abel Smith Street, are also promoted along with the New Zealand Film Archive on Taranaki Street in Wellington.
Dr Lawn says Brand Wellington – comprising Creative Capital, and Absolutely Positively Wellington – is an integrated, ‘urban chic’ brand, centred around the cafes, the art gallery, the studio, and the theatre: contemporary, sophisticated, cultured, intellectual, creative. She says while ‘Wellywood’ enables Wellington to distinguish itself in the global competition for film production, it remains to be seen whether that means more local films are made here.“Some commentators query the purported economic benefits of hosting ‘runaway’ film productions, which are not strictly investment in New Zealand films so much as the purchase of services and use of facilities, including scenery.” Filmmakers John Maynard and Vincent Ward have already warned that runaway productions can actually harm the local film industry in the medium term. It’s also been suggested that reports estimating benefits to the New Zealand economy of The Lord of the Rings are flawed in their methodology. (Lawn 2003)
Flawed the methodologies may be, but the success of a brand cannot be measured by ticket sales, tourist flights or Weta contracts. The more obvious point is that if Lord of the Rings had been filmed in Los Angeles then New Zealand would have received few benefits except Peter Jackson’s directorial Academy Award. Instead, tourist operators, effects companies and migrants also followed the ring. Importantly though, Lawn has reminded researchers that the wider story of Wellington’s reimaging, beyond medieval Middle-earth, requires discussion.
Part of the answer to Hesmondhalgh and Pratt’s question as to why particular cities managed to transform their ‘brand’ and city imaging must be desperation. In a post-manufacturing age, with population haemorrhaging and economic growth stagnant at best, a new rationale and reason for both economic and social development had to be found. Yet the strategies instigated in locations like Wellington have created new relationships between often disparate industries, people and technology. It was not triggered by desperation. There were other motivations and opportunities. When activating a study, not of creative industries but of critical urbanism (Graham and Marvin 2001) there must be research of horizontal affiliations between sectors rather than “cultural diplomacy,” (Bound et al. 2007) then a space is found not only for Brand Wellington but world fame, outside New Zealand.
19.5 What Changed?
Waitangi Day 2007 saw the opening of The Centre for New Zealand studies at Birkbeck University in London. It was the first Centre in the world – outside of the home country – for New Zealand Studies. It operated as a hub for the northern hemisphere research of the nation, while also providing a base for Kiwi scholars on study trips. Centre resources included films, posters, journals, magazines, books and tourist brochures. It was headed by Ian Conrich who was acclaimed as the 2008 New Zealander of the Year from the New Zealand Society Annual Awards for his research, efforts and support for scholars in the field. Soon after, Prime Minister Helen Clarke gave the Centre support of NZ$255,000. As an odd inversion of colonial culture, perhaps Richard Florida is correct, “everything interesting happens at the margins” (Florida 2002, p. 184).
But the margins are not stable. The past tense was used in the previous paragraphs because Birkbeck University closed the Centre on September 25, 2009, just over 2 years after its opening (Brabazon 2009). Restructuring and the credit crunch were the managerial justification. British knowledge for British students was the cry from the University’s supporters. Conrich has fought for the specificity of New Zealand. His co-edited book (with Stuart Murray) of Contemporary New Zealand Cinema is masterful, complex and intricate (Conrich and Murray 2008). However, popular cultural studies theorists have underplayed both his work and the specificity of New Zealand in the recent research monographs on Lord of the Rings.
Most of the people who made Rings are New Zealanders, and New Zealanders must be among the world’s friendliest and most hospitable people. For four weeks in October 2003, I was able to visit Wellington, where I toured facilities and watched some of the postproduction work. (Thompson 2007)
Her reified nationalism, kind if overstated, then entered more mythic proportions. She states that, “The story has a charming David-and-Goliath quality. A Hollywood studio entrusts hundreds of millions of dollars to an eccentric, largely unknown director from a distant country where film production barely exists (ibid., p. 17).” Obviously, the many, many books, articles and magazines on New Zealand film were unknown to her, as was Jackson’s innovative and successful body of work before Lord of the Rings. His “lack of a track record,” (ibid., p. 18) continued to be stressed throughout the book. What her monograph captures, as does many of the subsequent books on the trilogy, is a change of focus from creative industries/Wellington/New Zealand and into textual analysis/audience studies/internationalism. Obviously ‘internationalism’ is code for reclaiming a New Zealand film into a trans-Atlantic hub. This stripping of city imaging, policy development and history from this study once more serves to replace specificity and history with generalized theory and generalizations.
Significantly ‘international’ audience studies (dominated by the United States and Europe) have written over New Zealand’s specificity in the Lord of the Rings ‘story.’ Instead of creative industries, new books have returned to the well-trodden grounds of textual poaching, slash fiction and ‘active audiences’ reanimated through Web 2.0 platforms and collaborations. There has been a cost. The cost is – an unreflexive – neocolonialism. Three examples of this tendency are Ernest Mathijs’s The Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in Global Context (Mathijs 2006), Martin Barker and Ernest Mathijs’s Watching The Lord of the Rings (Barker and Mathijs 2008) and Ernest Mathijs and Murray Pomerance’s From Hobbits to Hollywood (Mathijs and Pomerance 2006). Geography and history are emptied out of the film making to return to the older cultural studies motifs of slash fiction and ‘text and reception.’ In the combined 52 chapters of the three books, there is (only) one chapter on New Zealand cultural policy,12 one on heritage, Middle Earth and New Zealand13 and one on Wellywood.14 The rest are filled with “ludic narratives,”15 “online blockbuster fandom,”16 “whiteness,”17 “text as global practice,”18 and “global terrorism.”19 The generalities and generalizations have swamped a very distinct history, ignoring the subtle and careful studies from the creative industries literature, such as Deborah Jones and Karen Smith’s “Middle-earth meets New Zealand” (Jones and Smith 2005). Significantly, this study was placed in the Journal of Management Studies. Cultural studies, as a paradigm, keeps returning to the intellectual cul de sacs of textual analysis and/or audience studies. Even when there is the potential to create new and fresh interdisciplinary links with tourist studies and GLAMs, it seems it is still too easy to return to representational politics.
Surely, Lord of the Rings foregrounded its New Zealand locations, and through supporting documentation deliberately established the uniqueness of the country’s involvement in the productions. Lord of the Rings’ appeal was also the way in which New Zealand was sold. (Conrich 2008)
I was pleased to see Ian Conrich’s review of our book Watching the Lord of the Rings (4 December), but I was puzzled by some aspects of it. Conrich highlights, as though it were somehow inappropriate, our claim that this was the largest study of audience responses to a film yet undertaken. Why the slight sneer? I am honestly not aware of any other research that has come close to matching this, and I am proud of this as an achievement in itself. The resulting database of audience responses is already being mined by other researchers. Secondly, Conrich somewhat dismisses Guiselinde (sic) Kuipers’ and Jeroen de Kloet’s findings about the films’ transnational appeal with a riposte that “surely” the films must have been sold on the basis of their New Zealand locations. This is interesting. Audience research, complexly carried out and analysed, does not indicate this as a major ground for the film’s appeal. Yet it is apparently acceptable for scholars simply to assert the opposite. (Barker 2008)
The suggested ‘slight sneer’ may not be due to the fact that it is ‘the largest study of audience responses to a film yet undertaken.’ The question is why that was the focus of scholarship. This bigger question drills deeply into the history of cultural studies. Is it possible, useful or relevant to study “the actual audiences”?20 Nearly 20 years ago, Ien Ang was Desperately Seeking the Audience (Ang 1991). While Barker and Mathijs’s project was able to attract Economic and Social Research Council funding, it was likely that this “very ‘English’ story,” (Barker and Mathijs 2008, p. 7) with very English funding would underplay not only New Zealand in this story, but the creative industries literature that is less interested in ‘the audience’ and more focused on economic development, regional regeneration, city imaging and the development of an infrastructure. Their ‘World Data Set’ asked questions such as “What did you think of the film? (with the optional answers listed as extremely enjoyable, very enjoyable, reasonably enjoyable, hardly enjoyable, not enjoyable at all or no answer). When asked to list “Where do you live?” more respondents came from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands than the rest of the world combined. This is a selective ‘world’ for audience studies. This is not a real or natural audience. This is European and American audience. The 194 responses from Columbia were not a sufficient corrective.
While there are new cultural studies monographs carefully cutting Wellington from this international story of fandom and audiences, there are other more subtle research projects to value, reclaim and rejuvenate. One of these explores the horizontal linkages between GLAMs and screen and sound cultures. Surveys of film are easy to construct and simple to administer. Understanding a more complex history of branding, renewal and city imaging will never be as straight forward as an online survey. It may not have a trans-Atlantic audience of semioticians and audience studies theories. However it will offer a moment of productive convergence, strange synergies and urban differences that is too often lost from academic research.
“Industry bigger than King Kong,” OnFilm, September 2005, p. 5.
Wellington: Official Visitor Guide 2006, (Wellington: Pulp Fiction, 2006), p. 2.
What we do, Te Papa, 2009, http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/TePapa/English/AboutTePapa/AboutUs/WhatWeDo/
B. Pink and M. Matthews, 2007, Cultural Indicators for New Zealand 2006, (Wellington: Ministry for Culture & heritage), No. 16001, p. iii.
ibid., p. 1.
ibid., p. 13.
National Geographic, The Lord of the Rings, (NGT, 2004).
Ringers: Lord of the Fans, (Planet BB Entertainment, 2005).
Hanging together, 2009, http://hangingtogether.org
Building a creative innovation economy: opportunities for the Australian and New Zealand creative sectors in the digital environment, Creative Innovation Economy Roundtable, Cultural Ministers Council, 2008, http://www.cmc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/7817/Building_a_Creative_Innovation_Economy.pdf, http://www.cmc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/85596/Building_a_Creative_Innovation_Economy.pdf
“Frequently Asked Questions: Wellington and New Zealand,” Te Papa, 2009, http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/TePapa/English/VisitingTePapa/FAQs/WellingtonandNewZealand.htm
J. Lawn and B. Beatty, “On the brink of a new threshold of opportunity,” in Mathijs (ed.), The Lord of the Rings: popular culture in global context, op. cit., pp. 43–60.
S. Jones, “Fixing a heritage: inscribing Middle Earth onto New Zealand,” ibid., pp. 43–60.
D. Thornley, “Wellywood and Peter Jackson,” ibid., pp. 101–118.
J. Dovey and H. Kennedy, ibid., pp. 254–269.
K. Pullen, ibid., pp. 172–188.
L. McLarty, “Masculinity, whiteness, and social class in The Lord of the Rings,” pp. 173–188.
L. Mikos, “Understanding text as cultural practice and as dynamic process of making,” in Mathijs and Pomerance (eds.), op. cit., pp. 207–212.
K. Gelder, “Epic fantasy and global terrorism,” ibid., pp. 101–118.
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