Into the light – ki te marama - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 201

Photo by Andrew Empson

Into the light – ki te marama by Alessia Belsito-Riera

From music to film and now diving headfirst into the art world, Andrew Hagen is no stranger to creativity. The co-founder of Schtung, both the band and the international sound recording studios, is now the creative director of Urban Art Foundation, an organisation that aims to take art out of the archives and into the public sphere. You’ve most likely seen their screens in malls, on the side of buildings, on footpaths in Wellington, and across New Zealand. I caught up with Andrew to get the inside scoop.

Where did your passion for music begin?

My passion for music began with Mum bringing home The Beatles. Actually I can go back a little further. I bought the original soundtrack to Doctor Who. I walked down to the Wimbledon shopping centre, paid my 50p, and played it over and over and over. When we came to New Zealand, Mum gave me a transistor radio. I used to stand on the ship near the mast and listen to it. I was only 10 or 11 years old. It just grew from there – just a natural progression.

Then you were in a band?

Yes, a band called Schtung, which played around Wellington and then Auckland. I started getting requests to write music for films. One of the people making those requests was Sam Pillsbury, who’s quite a famous film director. We did two major movies for him. At that time there was a government tax on musical and film equipment, so unfortunately, a lot of people left because we couldn’t afford to keep going and we needed the work. I went to Hong Kong with one of the musicians in Schtung that I wrote music with, and I was there for 10 years. We set up a Schtung Studio there and then I went on my own to the United States and built Schtung Studios in Santa Monica, where I stayed for 20 years.

Why did you come back to New Zealand?

It was time for another adventure. My wife and I don’t have children, so we have a quite a lot of freedom. My company still exists in the United States, and I still do a lot of work for them, but it’s wonderful to be back where I consider home. I started writing music again. Probably the craziest or the most interesting thing I did was write the music for the Orange Man, who appears when there’s an election, so maybe that will be repeated again very shortly.

How did Urban Art Foundation come to be?

I was sitting at a traffic light watching a big screen with all this advertising, and I thought it’d be really nice if we could see something other than just advertising. I went to see Justin Lester, who was the mayor at that time, and he suggested I talk to oOh!media, who owned all these screens. I had a chat with them and before I knew it, they bought three screens on Lambton Quay and we started putting art on there. Then it grew and now they are all over New Zealand.

Urban Art Foundation has just started broadcasting art during Parliament TV’s downtime. Can you tell me about this new initiative?

I didn’t realise [Urban Art Foundation] would be so successful. Then I realised it should be on TV. I thought there was no way we could afford it because if someone wanted to do it, it would be on air already. I thought maybe we could get Parliament TV because they have space when they’re not sitting. After a number of discussions, Mr David Wilson, the Clerk of the House, said yes to the initial idea, and now they’ve upped the ante to 275 days a year. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, every week, all year, and whenever the house isn’t sitting. We’re kind of like the largest art gallery on planet Earth, in terms of the people who could attend at once.

We’re taking art out of the archives and putting it where people can see it. I think one of the issues that every country has is there’s a tonne of art but not a lot of places to show it. About 93 percent of the art that all New Zealanders own is in the archives, so only seven percent is ever shown. By broadcasting it on television, we’re getting it out and letting people see it. And it’s free, and it doesn’t matter where you are.

With the sophistication now of our screens and interchange of digital information, we’re not damaging the artwork, we can get that enormous colour range, and of course we don’t do anything to the artwork when it’s given to us. It’s provided by the galleries as a photograph and so it’s the safest way for the artwork to be displayed because nothing can happen to it.

What artwork is on display?

If your readers click on, they’ll see Fletcher Trust, the Wellington City Council, and The Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award. We have interviews with Lisa Reihana, Mr G, and the curator of the National Portrait Gallery.

When new exhibitions come up, are they instead of or in addition to current ones?

It just adds on. We’ll probably run six or seven new exhibitions this year. But of course we’re starting to build this library. We won’t run like eight programmes at a time. We’ll take one away and put the new one on and then about a year or six months later, it will come back. They move around, so it’s not the same thing over and over again. But it’s ever expanding.

Viewers will never miss anything!

Yes, if we get funding then we’ll be building larger sources of distribution. We are a charitable organisation, whose principal aim is to make art accessible to the general public. We say, ‘out of the archives and into the light’.

What’s coming up next for Urban Art Foundation?

Coming up next is Melvin Day’s exhibition, the Adam Art collection, the Parkin Drawing Prize, and the Young Urban Art Awards.

We are talking in the future about [working with] hospitals, rest homes, Air New Zealand. The possibilities are enormous.

What do you love about Urban Art Foundation?

I think what’s important is that it’s now on air and that it’s free. It’s important that we do this for upcoming generations. And also, it breaks down barriers. A lot of people don’t like to go to art galleries, a lot of people can’t – they can’t afford it, it’s too far away, or they don’t have time. And some people feel uncomfortable in galleries, but galleries are for everyone. And Urban Art Foundation is too.

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« Issue 201, August 1, 2023