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Shona McCullagh | Artistic Director, The New Zealand Dance Company

A fearless leader dedicated to transforming New Zealand’s arts sector through unconventional risks and an ever-expanding passion, this year’s Hynds Creative Entrepreneur, Shona McCullagh, is setting the stage for nurturing a rising generation of creative entrepreneurs.

The award recognises McCullagh’s passion for invigorating the sector but it isn’t just the swathe of awards or the impressive milestones as a director, producer, choreographer, dancer and as the founder, chief executive and artistic director of The New Zealand Dance Company that serve as reminders of her talent and craftsmanship. It is her spirit of generosity and commitment to change that is honoured and valued as an ongoing legacy for our industry.

Enormously grateful to be “shoulder-tapped” for this award McCullagh was “shocked and surprised” to receive the news.

“When I received the call, I admit, yes, I did have a wee cry. It was an outlet of relief because after an incredibly intense period of time an arc had been completed – and this award gave me an opportunity to pause – just for a moment and let that squeeze of moisture have its place.”

Having nominated two people herself for their “tenacity and good humour”, McCullagh is delighted to be the recipient of an award that celebrates not just artistic excellence but the drive and risk-taking that characterises the growing calibre of industrious talented individuals who make up this growing sector.

“A creative entrepreneur,” she explains, “embodies a mad, passionate and dedicated die-hard arts practitioner and good things can happen because of those people who are ready to serve the community, serve their craft and serve their art.”

As judges of this year’s award both Tara Pradhan and Charlie McDermott (2013 award winner) were impressed by the innovation and emphasis on enabling others that McCullagh has demonstrated over the years with the McDermott declaring:

“Shona embodies and epitomises all the qualities of a creative entrepreneur. She has the drive and willingness to take risks to make change happen and create new opportunities – not only for herself, but for all those who participate in, study, and experience. The obstacles and challenges are often bigger in a lesser supported sector, but Shona has met these head on and driven innovation over many years, making her one of THE most influential change-makers in her industry.”

Reflecting upon the changing dynamics of the industry, and her own pivotal role over the past two decades, McCullagh is adamant that the conversation needs to start taking risks.

“We’re not telling the full story, we’re not telling the cultural stories that are of deep social value and it’s time the media took advantage of the opportunity to tell these stories – because there’s only so much sport we can digest and there is plenty of room for other kinds of conversation and debate that deserves to have a lens put on it. We need to encourage people to engage and participate because let’s face it, without the arts life would be dullsville with a capital D.”

While the media may have an obvious responsibility that needs to be addressed, McCullagh’s focus is also on growing and nurturing individuals who are brave enough to think beyond prescribed expectations.

“The wonderful thing about someone who is lucky enough to work in the creative sector is that we are constant witnesses to the fact that the world needs ideas; and those ideas need platforms to be able to ACT in ways that challenge the right-wing dominance that our society is facing.”

Her vision for the The New Zealand Dance Company and its long-term future is to enable interfaces where such bold and brave conversations can take place and to do so with an infrastructure that serves the longevity of the company, its creators and its audience.

“Good work comes out of creating good conditions,” explains McCullagh. “My service is about creating a structure that will last and that is an ongoing legacy project – creating a space for choreographers, designers and dancers where we can be generous and supportive of what we have achieved and collaboratively create pan-sector pathways that will inspire our creative entrepreneurs with the realms of possibilities that lie ahead.”

It’s time, says this year’s Hynds Creative Entrepreneur award winner, “that we start taking these conversations outside the comforts of having them in twos and threes at bars and cafes and start addressing the changing dynamics of our industry and the responsibilities that go with it.”

And awards such as these are invaluable to the arts because as McCullagh points out, it showcases a “genuine recognition and acknowledgement that the arts sector is populated with individuals who possess the business acumen of creative entrepreneurs” and sponsorship is vital to support of a heavily under resourced industry.

The $10,000 cash award is accompanied by a beautiful taonga (brooch) and of course the recognition from the arts community that Shona McCullagh is indeed a visionary pioneer for the arts, dedicated to empowering and enabling those in the dance sector to soar beyond all expectations.