Tanea Heke honoured for contribution to Māori arts

By Jessica Tyson

Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School director Tanea Heke of Ngāpuhi has won Creative New Zealand's Making a Difference Award, Ngā Tohu Hautūtanga Auaha Toi.

She was one of 13 recipients honoured at the 2020 Te Waka Toi Awards this week. The Ngā Tohu Hautūtanga Auaha Toi award recognises leadership and outstanding contribution to the development of new directions in Māori art.

Heke has worked in theatre and the arts in Aotearoa for many years. She founded Hāpai Productions with the late Nancy Brunning to create excellent theatre as independent Māori theatre practitioners supporting kaupapa Māori.

“Winning this award this year is a combination, I think, of the work that Nancy and I had been doing together for many years and, if anything, it just is another tohu of aroha for Nan and her work, because even though she has died, she’s in my ear the whole time telling me there is more mahi to be done. So I’m doing this for her, for us,” Heke says.

Previous recipients of Ngā Tohu Hautūtanga Auaha Toi award included Briar Grace-Smith, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, Rāwiri Paratene, Taiaroa Royal, George Henare, Lisa Reihana and Brunning, who won it last year. 

"I give my thanks for this recognition. We are the storytellers, and to me making a difference is actively celebrating our voices, words and people. It is a double honour to receive this award after Nan." 

Tanea Heke at 2020 Toi Whakaari graduation ceremony / Photo credit: Philip Merry 

One of Heke's recent projects, the multi-award-winning film, Waru, brought wāhine Māori directors, writers and characters to the fore. One of Heke's favourite roles was performing as the council worker in the upcoming television series of Wellington Paranormal and Mistress Motel in her Toi Whakaari graduation production of Insurrection.

Heke says she feels a sense of responsibility to support young people coming in the industry.

“There have been people before us so we could stand on the atamira (stage) and so I think our responsibility is to do the same thing for others to follow and it becomes even more important to me now as being the tumuaki (director) of Toi Whakaari, the NZ Drama School. There are all these young people wanting to come through into our industry.”

Heke says it’s important to make sure working in the arts industry provides a sustainable career for others.

“Of all the things you choose to do, working in the arts must be one of the most difficult and working in Māori arts, in particular, you’ve got to be tough.”

Toi Whakaari Board chair Tim Walker says Heke’s commitment and contribution to toi Māori is what makes her such an exceptional tumuaki.

"On behalf of the board, staff and students, I congratulate Tanea for this award. Tanea's vision, leadership and global scope is to be admired and this award is further proof our kura is in safe hands,” he says.

Heke continues to act as producer for the company and Hāpai Productions will be working with the Auckland Writers Festival to present Brunning's last work, Witi's Wahine at their festival in 2021.

Other recipients of the Ngā Tohu Hautūtanga Auaha Toi award include ceramicist, composer and musician Baye Riddell of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare descent as well as musician Tama Waipara of Ngāti Ruapani, Rongowhakaata and Ngāti Porou.