Topic: The Cultural Renaissance in Auckland and Glasgow (2009) by Debbie McCauley

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This paper on the ‘cultural renaissance’ experienced during the 1980s and 1990s by Auckland and Glasgow was written by Debbie McCauley on 14 June 2009 as part of a BA in Humanities and Information & Library Studies.

This essay will consider the role that humanities have as part of social and cultural development. Particularly, can they act as a positive counter-cultural influence leading to a ‘cultural renaissance?’ This renaissance could be prompted by a reinvigoration of the physical arts environment for specific reasons, including migration, or by the deliberate highlighting and promotion of art forms and movements to arouse public interest and appreciation. The ‘cultural renaissance’ experienced during the 1980s and 1990s by Auckland, New Zealand and Glasgow, Scotland will be explored as an example of this reinvigoration, along with a discussion as to whether these cities have benefitted from this resurgence of the humanities.

Interaction with humanities can enrich every facet of people’s lives. Stimulation can be found within philosophy, art, art-history, architecture, advertising, classics, history, anthropology, music, literature, film, television, media, theatre, dance, sport and religion, as well as European, Māori and Pacific languages. Humanities function as a counter-cultural comment on the style, form and ideology of society. The appreciation of them can work to positively fuel attitudes, beliefs, home and work environments, studies and vocations. Humanities serve to enhance the population’s appreciation of the world around them, culturally, intellectually, socially and materially. This enriching experience, in whatever guise, influences how society functions on a daily basis. The humanities have played an integral part in the development of civilization. As Beatson & Beatson (1994) explain:

The arts play an active, even indispensable role in shaping their society. Without them, community life would be soulless, politics stark, information dull and economic activity joyless. They help structure everything from the subconscious mind to the image a nation projects on the global screen. The arts are not a dispensable frill. They lie at the very heart of the human condition. (p. 258)



During the 1990s Auckland City experienced its own cultural renaissance with Polynesian influences at the forefront. Today, it is often referred to as the ‘Polynesian capital of the world.’ Whilst the majority of Aotearoa’s pacific peoples are now born in this country, the Polynesian cultural mix includes: Māori; Cook Islanders; Niuean; Samoan; Fijian; Tokelauan, Tongan and Tuvalu Islanders.

The Pacific Islands experienced population surges in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly due to the increasing availability of healthcare which led to lower mortality rates and the overpopulation of some islands. This overpopulation, along with the fact that Aotearoa required a supply of cheap labour, prompted large scale migration. Many migrants travelled on temporary permits and, as demand for low-skilled workers was high, overstaying was tolerated and these migrants assimilated into society. By the mid 1970s however, the ever-increasing levels of immigration, together with a wave of anti-immigration feeling, as well as difficult economic conditions, led to the National Government’s controversial dawn raids, random street checks and deportation of Polynesian overstayers.

Auckland’s cultural renaissance is widely considered a flow-on from the Māori Renaissance which began in the 1970s. This Māori counter-culture was a reaction to Aotearoa’s colonial history and an attempt to depart from the colonial mindset. It was partly driven by increasing numbers of urban based Māori and saw the formation of urban protest movements including Ngā Tamatoa (the young warriors) in 1970, along with the first Pacific rights and social activist movement, the Polynesian Panthers, in 1971.

The 1990s renaissance saw a reawakening and a greater appreciation of and reassertion of Polynesian culture. This was especially by youth who sought ethnic expression through the musical genre of hip-hop. Auckland led this dramatic growth and embracing of hip-hop as an artistic expression. Hip-hop incorporates rap music, DJ-ing, MC-ing, graffiti art and break-dancing. It was originally developed by African-Americans living in the 1970s ghettos of New York.

Well known local hip-hop names include Dawn Raid Entertainment, Urban Pasifika Records, Che Fu, Nesian Mystik, King Kapisi, Scribe and the Otara Millionaires Club. Whilst originally adopting the art-form from America, these artists have evolved the hip-hop genre into a unique manifestation reflecting issues, identity and culture belonging entirely to Aotearoa and her pacific neighbours. This counter-cultural protest movement can be seen in the lyrics to Nesian Mystik’s song ‘Lost Visionz’ which refers to the dawn raids of the 1970s:

‘From the Islands to Aotearoa the new issues arise

Yet still run parallel to those of years gone by

Misuse of good nature by the royal symbols

Abuse the people then ship them back

Keep it cheap and simple

Treated less than criminals cause we all look the same

Just tools of instrumentation in political games’

Nesian Mystik (Polysaturated, 2002) 

It is also a statement of how strong the local voice is in that artists are not influenced by the misogynistic lyrics and violent gangster rap that so permeates American hip-hop. Aotearoa’s hip-hop scene manages to combine both a cultural celebration and a protest movement in a non misogynistic and non-violent but assertive way. As Mitchell (2003) states: ‘It is an indication of the strong position traditionally held by women in Māori and Pacific Islander societies that the misogynist aspects of U.S. hardcore rap are totally absent from its Māori and Pacific Islander appropriations’ (p. 50).

As well as hip-hop, Polynesian influences have been felt over a wide array of humanities disciplines including dance, painting, writing, fashion, food, drama, religion, architecture and sports. New Zealanders are familiar with names such as Beatrice Faumuina, Bernice Mene, Michael Jones, and Jonah Lomu among others who have distinguished themselves in the sporting arena. Artists like Fatu Feuu, authors such as Albert Wendt and singers like Annie Crummer have a high profile and provide important role models for the next generation.

In a celebration of this cultural diversity, many Auckland events are geared towards the enjoyment of Polynesian culture.  This includes the annual Pasifika Festival, Pacific Fashion Awards, the Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Festivals, Auckland City Art Gallery’s Polynesian exhibitions as well as Pacific sporting competitions. There are also Polynesian newspapers, magazines and television programmes (Tagata pasifika), radio stations, a Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs as well as Otara’s famous flea-markets.

There is no doubt that the Auckland renaissance of the 1990’s has resulted in positive trends for Pacific people and a more vibrant city for all citizens. The outcomes include increased education standards, job participation, representation in white-collar jobs, greater self-employment, less overcrowding and better standards of living, as well as the development of a burgeoning Polynesian middle-class who now embrace and celebrate their culture. In the words of New Zealand-born Samoan writer and lecturer, Melani Anae (2004), ‘The ‘browning’ of sport, the arts, fashion, academia, business and the corporate world, politics, music, performing arts in New Zealand has created a unique Auckland identity – and one that should be celebrated’ (p. 103).



Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has a traditional history of cotton spinning, mining of its rich supplies of coal and iron ore, heavy engineering and shipbuilding. The city’s greatest natural asset, the river Clyde, was one of the main reasons that heavy industry thrived in this location. In the second half of the 1700s the depth of the river was doubled, allowing the development of major industry along its banks. Later, the river was further deepened and by the mid 1800s shipbuilders yards were springing up. The unfortunate consequence of this development is that by-products from untreated chemical, iron and human waste transformed the Clyde into a fetid cesspool.

Heavy industries such as shipbuilding were hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Demand was still reasonable during the First and Second World Wars, but a global shipping recession saw diminishing markets for such goods. The industry declined rapidly and the 1960s heralded its collapse. Glasgow’s reputation developed into one of violence, drunkenness and filth; a dangerous and dirty place where unemployment, football violence, street gangs and crime ruled supreme. As Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly once famously said:

‘The great thing about Glasgow is that if there's a nuclear attack

it'll look exactly the same afterwards’ 

The stirrings of Glasgow’s renaissance occurred in the early 1980s and came about as a result of both good planning, commitment and hard work. In a strategy for urban regeneration Glasgow’s City Council, Labour Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and other business and government agencies united to work on the cultural renaissance of the city. They put forward major initiatives to emphasise post-industrial Glasgow’s heritage whilst attracting business and tourist revenue. Their ‘definition of culture was all-encompassing, incorporating not just music, drama, theatre, and visual arts, but many other fields of human endeavour which characterise Glasgow as a unique, dynamic city: architecture, design, engineering, shipbuilding, education, religion and sport’ (Glasgow City Council, 2007, para. 20). The Glasgow Development Agency was created in 1991 to assist with the economic development and attract new industries to the city.

A major building block of Glasgow’s renaissance was the Burrell Collection which opened in 1983. It consists of 9,000 artefacts donated to the city by millionaire ship-owners Sir William and Constance Burrell in 1944. A purpose-built art gallery was constructed in Glasgow’s Pollock Park specifically to house the collection which has since become a major tourist attraction. The restoration and marketing of art nouveau architecture and designs by famous Glaswegian Charles Rennie MacKintosh (1868-1928) also contributed to the surge of interest in Glasgow’s history.

Promotion of the humanities became integrally tied into the economic survival of the city. ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better,’ an extensive and award-winning nationwide television campaign promoting Glasgow in 1983, undoubtedly lifted the city’s profile and aided in its transformation. Also helping to lift this profile was Glasgow’s Garden Festival held in 1988 which aimed to enhance the image of the city both nationally and internationally. This event successfully attracted more than 3 million people during a five-month period and according to Glasgow City Council injected an estimated £100 million into the local economy with and a further £170m spent in the five years immediately following. 

Other major events include Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture (1990) which incorporated over 3000 public events with artists and performers from 23 countries as well as the commissioning of many major works in the visual arts and theatre arenas. In 1996 Glasgow celebrated a Year of the Visual Arts, marking the centenary of Mackintosh’s School of Art and the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art.

The provision of better facilities had a major impact on the development of the city. Some of those facilities include: the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (1985) on the Queen’s Dock site; the Royal Concert Hall (1990); the Gallery of Modern Art (1996) which houses Glasgow’s modern art collection; the Glasgow Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1997) and the Glasgow Auditorium (1997) which has been likened to an armadillo due to its striking design and shape.

The cultural renaissance has brought a dramatic change to the landscape of the Clyde River which historically shaped Glasgow’s industrial identity. Former bustling shipyards and dockland which lay abandoned and neglected for years as relics of industrial history, have been revitalised. Docks were filled in and landscaped with new building developments and shopping complexes which have served to redevelop and reinvigorate the Clyde.

The decline of heavy industry saw the increase in service industries in Glasgow. Increasing tourist numbers have led to an increase in hotels and restaurants. The inner city revival has brought with it wine-bars, art galleries and designer clothes shops. Glasgow is a diverse city which now boasts the largest municipal museum service, largest public reference library (the Mitchell Library), concert halls, and libraries, whilst playing host to a variety of cultural events which both reflect the large migrant population and draw new tourists into the area.

The pinnacle of the renaissance seems to have been when Glasgow was elected the United Kingdom’s City of Architecture and Design in 1999 over Edinburgh and Liverpool. A year long programme of exhibitions and events was held. As well as bringing economic benefits to the city, these events provided the impetus for further urban renewal. Several of Glasgow’s museums and art galleries were restored at this time, including the City Chambers. The Homes for the Future project, where new homes are built on derelict infill sites, was also initiated.

Glasgow, as a post-industrial city, is now known for its arts. The initiatives that made up the cultural renaissance raised the morale of Glaswegians, attracted business investment and helped develop a tourist industry. The legacy of industrial decline, unemployment and poverty has been reversed and Glasgow has become as an example to other centres of how humanities can revitalise a city:

Glasgow in 1990 was the first British city to implement a strategy where the arts were used as a catalyst for urban regeneration – a revolutionary model which has since been replicated worldwide. The positive economic repercussions of this successful policy have been huge, and are still being felt well into the new millennium. (Glasgow City Council, 2007, para. 24)



In summary, the examples explored above from the cities of Auckland and Glasgow are just a small representation of counter cultural interventions globally that can be seen to influence society in a variety of ways. These can be significant influences or small incremental influences that people are mostly unaware of until they are highlighted by others or the media. Whether counter cultural issues are seen as bringing about positive or negative changes is dependent on the view-point of the critic. For example the recent freedoms that Auckland citizens took in protesting over the right to cross the Auckland harbour bridge on foot or by bicycle in May 2009 illustrate the way in which protest and civil liberties can inform mainstream debate. Each country and, indeed, each individual city, develop their own style and cultural formation depending up what has influenced their growth and development. Glasgow, especially, can be held up of an example of what influence culture can have on revitalising communities undergoing significant change.

That counter-cultural interventions can make a positive difference to society in the sense of advancing shared public beliefs and cultural practices can be seen from other counter-cultural movements from the 1960s. The feminist and black civil rights movements encouraged a more balanced and fair society, the anti-war protests put pressure on the American Government to end the war in Vietnam, society is now much more aware of environmentalism, and the legacy of sixties music and art still influence artists today. The sixties ideologies, once considered fringe, have been incorporated into our daily lives. So while counter-cultural responses may have a geographical and temporal location, their influence can spread far and wide from these locales and through time in informing the practice of culture, the arts, giving definition to media, entertainment and even influencing politics, ideology and societal beliefs. 


APPENDIX: Some key dates


Auckland, New Zealand


1950s-1960s         Waves of Polynesian immigration to New Zealand,

1960                       New Zealand's first official television transmission began (Auckland),

1970s                     Use of hip-hop in the New York ghettos as an African-American voice.

1970                       Nga Tamatoa (Young Warriors) founded in Auckland to express dissatisfaction of Māori  youth.

1971                       Polynesian Panthers formed. The first Pacific rights and social activist movement in NZ.

1971                       Vietnam protests reach their height.

1973                       Labour sends frigate to Muroroa to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

1975                       Massive Māori land march to Wellington led by Dame Whina Cooper.

1976                       First Auckland Secondary Schools’ Māori and Pacific Island Performing Arts Festival held. Becomes an annual event.

1977                       Ngāti Whātua occupation as a protest of the development of tribal land at Bastion Point, above Ōkahu Bay in Auckland.

1978                       Police and Army remove protestors from Bastion Point.

                                Eva Rickard occupies Raglan golf course.

1981                       Springbok rugby tour divides the nation.

1981                       Polynesian rock band ‘Herbs’ release their first album Whats’ B Happen a synthesising of distinctive Polynesian sounds.

1984                       Dalvanius Prime as part of the Patea Māori Club release Poi E, the first song in Te Reo

to make it to number one.  Break-dancers appear in the video.

1988                       Auckland student radio station bFM hold a rap competition at the ‘Powerstation’.

1988                       Māori band Upper Hutt Posse realise their single E Tu.

1989                       New Zealand on Air established with part of its mandate to increase New Zealand music on radio and television.

1989                       Upper Hutt Posse move to Auckland where Southside Records release their first album Against the Flow.

1989                       Semi MCs, a band of four Pacific Island teenagers from James Cook High School in Manurewa, win a rap competition.

1990                       XIVth Commonwealth Games held in Auckland.

1990                       Aotea Centre, a performing arts centre, opened in Auckland’s CBD.

1990                       150th anniversary of Auckland celebrations.

1993                       Inaugural Pasifika Festival held. A showcase for Pacific Island dance, music, craft and cuisine.

1993                       Upper Hutt Posse (UHP), a Māori rap group, perform at the first Polynesian Music Festival in Rarotonga.

1994                       Proud: An Urban Pacific Streetsoul Compilation album of the ‘Otara Sound’ released.

1994                       Bland Sand Shore released by North Shore Polynesian soul group, Grace.

1995                       The lone pine on One Tree Hill attacked as part of Māori protest.

1995                       Urban Pacifika Records launched.

1996                       Population of Auckland region exceeds on million.

1996                       Otara Millionaires Club’s song How bizarre makes New Zealand rock history by going Top Ten around the world.

1996                       Rarotongan Cook Islander Annie Crummer’s album Seventh Wave released which uses a variety of Pacific Island sounds (including birds, church hymn choirs, log drums).

1996                       Pacific hip-hop arrives with the single ‘Chains’ (lead vocals by Che Fu) being the first hip-hop track to break through into the mainstream, spending six weeks at number one.

1997                       Beatrice Faumuina named New Zealand Sports Person of the Year.

1997                       Town Hall refurbishment completed.

1997                       Sky Tower built (328 metres tall). Architect: Craig Craig Moller (corner Hobson & Federal Streets).

1998                       Che Fu releases his first solo album 2b S. Pacific.

1998                       Proud: Pioneers of a Pacifikan Frontier released as a follow up to Proud by Urban

Pacifika Records.

1998                       Auckland City Council and private enterprise invest in the redevelopment of the Viaduct

Basin as a result of New Zealand’s successful America’s Cup defence.

1999                       Dawn Raid Entertainment formed to produce, promote and distribute music.

1999                       Pacific Vision International Conference held in Auckland.

1999                       King Kapisi (Bill Urale) wins the Silver Scroll Award (NZ song-writing honour).

2000                       Southside Story released by Dawn Raid Entertainment.

2001                       Che Fu’s album Navigator enters the album charts at number one.

2009, March         Auckland hosts Pasifika, the biggest Polynesian festival in the world, at Western Springs, organised by the Auckland City Council, the Pacific community and sponsors.

2009, 24 May      Thousands of protestors demonstrate on Auckland Harbour Bridge. The group said it wanted to celebrate the bridge's 50th birthday as well as protesting the lack of cycle and pedestrian access by crossing it.

2009, 25 May      Auckland Supercity Hikoi led by Māori after the Government dumped a Royal Commission proposal to have three Māori seats on the new 23-member super city council, two elected and one appointed by local iwi.


Glasgow, Scotland


1967                       Pollok House and adjoining estate gifted to the city by Mrs Ann Maxwell Macdonald.

The National Trust for Scotland manages the eighteenth century mansion which houses the finest privately owned collection of Spanish paintings in the entire United Kingdom, including works by Goya, Murillo, and El Greco.

1983                      Burrell Collection. A purpose built art gallery is constructed in Pollock Park to house the 9,000 artefact collection donated to the city in 1944 by millionaire ship-owners Sir William and Constance Burrell.

1983                      Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign. A successful, award-winning television campaign to positively promote Glasgow.

1984-5                                   Miner’s Strike.

1985                                      Opening of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) on the 65 acre former Queen’s Dock site and the redevelopment of the Clyde corridor. SECC has become Scotland’s national venue for public events and is also the UK’s largest integrated exhibition and conference centre.

1988                                      Glasgow Garden Festival: aiming to enhance image of the city nationally and internationally. Attracted more than 3 million during the five-month period, and many of Glasgow’s citizens admit to visiting every single day. An estimated £100 million was injected into the local economy, and a further £170m spent in the five years immediately after.  The once desolate 60 acre former Princes Dock is used as the location.

1988                                      Bell’s Bridge built for the garden festival. A swing bridge that was the first significant footbridge to be built across the Clyde in 120 years, linking the site to the SECC across the river.

1988                      The 240 feet high Clydesdale Tower, celebrating the Clydesdale Bank’s 150th anniversary, built as part of the garden festival.

1990                                      European city of culture. A vast cultural programme was scheduled to run throughout the entire calendar year. Over 3,400 public events took place, involving performers and artists from 23 countries. 40 major works were commissioned in the performing and visual arts, and there were 60 world premieres in theatre and dance. Add to that lot some 3979 performances, 656 theatrical productions, 1901 exhibitions and 157 sporting events.

1990                                      Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Designed by Sir Leslie Martin, it was built at a cost of £29.4 million to replace the much-loved St Andrews Hall burned down in 1962. Hosts some of the world’s greatest orchestras including The Moscow State Orchestra; The St Petersburg Philharmonic and The Vienna Philharmonic. Annually showcases the eclectic Celtic Connections music festival.

1993                                      All four major Scottish orchestras - the RSNO, the BBC Symphony, the Scottish Opera Orchestra, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – play together for the first time ever at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

1996                                      Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Houses Glasgow’s principal modern art collection. Set in the heart of the city centre, the neo-classical mansion in Royal Exchange Square had previously been Stirling's Library. On four floors and representing the elements earth, water, fire and air, it has an impressive selection of post-war art and design work by international artists including Andy Warhol and David Hockney, and Scottish artists such as Ken Currie and John Bellany. GoMA is now the second most visited contemporary art gallery outside London.

1996                      Glasgow celebrates a Year of the Visual Arts to mark the centenary of Mackintosh’s School of Art and the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art.

1997                                      Glasgow Auditorium. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, and adjacent to the SECC in land reclaimed from the former Queen’s Dock. Built at a cost of £38m and known locally as the Armadillo for its inspired silver shell design. This state-of-the-art 3,000-seater venue is Glasgow’s answer to the Sydney Opera House, and can house all sorts of events from rock concerts to chamber music recitals.

1997                      Glasgow Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies bringing together over 60 scholars to work on Scottish Medieval and Renaissance Studies topics.

1998                      Glasgow celebrates the centenary of the People’s Palace.

1999                      Glasgow appointed European City of Architecture and design. Prompts the refurbishment of ‘The Lighhouse’, building designed by noted early 20th Century Galswegian architect, Charles Rennie MacKintosh.

2000                      New science centre built as part of the Millenium Celebrations at Pacific Quay. IMAX centre.

2004                       BBC Scotland relocates to Pacific Quay.

2007                       Queen’s Dock 2 (QD2) major upgrade with addition of purpose-built entertainment and outdoor events arena.



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