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Love letter authored by Jacinda Ardern to be auctioned for BATS Theatre

Artworks by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Karen O’Leary of Wellington Paranormal and New Zealand artist Tim Christie are to be auctioned to raise money for Wellington’s BATS Theatre.

Launched on Valentine’s Day, the week-long silent auction of bespoke Valentine’s Day art card pieces coincided with the start of the theatre’s new donor programme which, if successful, would allow it to keep its shows accessible for audiences.

“If it wasn’t for donations, sponsorship and funding, BATS would have to charge $150 a ticket,” the theatre’s partnerships manager, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, said.

Tickets are $16.50 on average currently. The new programme would allow donors to provide a small one-off donation, a large one-off donation for lighting gear, or sign up to regular giving.

From left, BATS staff Stevie Greeks, Pearl Kennedy, Michaella Simpson, and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford with the artworks.

Michiel van Echten

From left, BATS staff Stevie Greeks, Pearl Kennedy, Michaella Simpson, and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford with the artworks.

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Since the pandemic began 87 shows at BATS have been cancelled, with hundreds more affected. That represented about $100,000 in trading revenue each year of the pandemic.

Rutherford said the love-themed artworks – by Ardern, O’Leary, Christie, New Zealand artists Jane Blackmore, Glenn Ashworth, Richard Boyd-Dunlop, and Nic Marshall who brought The Muppets to Wellington – were “unbelievably sweet”.

Ardern’s piece is a signed, framed black card with the text: “All you need is [love] (and BATS…)”

“It sums up what we’re trying to say,” Rutherford said.

Michaella Simpson, Pearl Kennedy, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Stevie Greeks with Ardern’s piece.

Michiel van Echten

Michaella Simpson, Pearl Kennedy, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Stevie Greeks with Ardern’s piece.

Ardern was the first person to say yes to being included in the campaign, after Rutherford reached out to her via her parliamentary email address, and also the first participant to get her work back to BATS. “She came back really quickly [and] followed her brief to a T,” Rutherford said.

Ardern is known to have attended the pandemic-themed play Transmission by Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt during its Wellington run at BATS last year.

After the theatre company organised the prime minister’s involvement, it was approached by several visual artists who heard about the fundraising campaign.

Artist Tim Christie said BATS was continuing to run most of its productions in the face of adversity, with social distancing, reduced audiences and strategic timing between shows.

Artists rehearse ‘Paper Jam’ at BATS Theatre earlier this year.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

Artists rehearse ‘Paper Jam’ at BATS Theatre earlier this year.

“This is a cool initiative to help [them] ride out the storm,” he said, adding the collection of artworks would be diverse and interesting.

While visual art sales in the professional art market have been skyrocketing and breaking records since the pandemic began, much live performance art has postponed or cancelled.

BATS had been working on its new donor programme for several months, but made the decision to cancel its in-person unveiling event due to Covid-19, too. The auction would kick-start the fundraising campaign digitally.

The commissioned art was hung in the BATS bar and gallery at the Kent Tce venue, with the auction able to be accessed via the BATS website or Trade Me.

BATS has continued performances under the red traffic light setting with reduced audiences.

SUPPLIED

BATS has continued performances under the red traffic light setting with reduced audiences.

“BATS Theatre, like all arts organisations, needs our love more than ever,” Rutherford said.

Ninety-eight per cent of BATS’ donations were one-offs when people bought tickets to shows, she said.

“The … campaign was planned before the pandemic but now sits at the context of a time when so many individuals involved in the performing arts face ongoing losses and great uncertainty,” said BATS chief executive Jonty Hendry.

“Whether as an artist, crew member, designer, goods supplier or producer, together we face an even tougher year ahead. The ongoing effect on those making our local art is very concerning.”

BATS Theatre has lost about $100,000 in revenue each year of the pandemic.

Ciaran Jack/Supplied

BATS Theatre has lost about $100,000 in revenue each year of the pandemic.

Some of Aotearoa’s most well-known artists, including Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords, started their careers at BATS.

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