Doing a lot with a little
New Zealand had just over a year to prepare as Guest of Honour for Frankfurt 2012. Kevin Chapman reports on progress.Never ask a question if you don't know what the answer will be. I remember reading somewhere that this is a key bit of advice trial lawyers learn. If you don't know what the answer will be, you don't know what trouble it could lead to. So, when I opened my mouth and the question popped out, I immediately thought I had a problem: "Claudia and Simone, given our late start on this Guest of Honour programme, where do you think we are compared to previous Guest countries, as far as planning goes?"
Claudia Kaiser and Simone Buhler from Frankfurt Book Fair were visiting New Zealand to discuss planning for the 2012 Guest of Honour Programme. Given that New Zealand had only signed the contract for Guest of Honour in June 2011, we had much less planning time than normal, when countries usually have at least three years to plan. So when we sat down to dinner with the Minister for Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson, and his ministry Chief Executive, Lewis Holden, the last thing on my mind was opening us up to a possible discussion of our weaknesses in front of the Minister. But, mouth ahead of brain, out it came.
The good news was that we felt that we were in pretty good shape, generally. Even given our late start, we had put a structure in place quickly. This included an Advisory Group of "mostly" eminent New Zealanders to open doors and advise on the whole project (I say "mostly" because I was on it!); a Books and Publishing Reference Group of authors, publishers, festival and copyright people, as well as arts funding agency representation to look after our Books programme; and an equivalent Reference Group for the Arts and Culture programme. All that was in addition to a group of officials from funding agencies and government departments - we weren't short of structure.
This was important though because we had to develop guidelines and rules for the
project quickly. The staff hired had to build budgets, contracts and festival-style programmes instantly, all from general aims and targets developed. The areas that we knew would be a struggle, given the lack of lead time, were three-fold.
One, fundraising. The lead time to approach industry with a compelling offer to bring private funds was difficult, to say the least. At time of writing we are still chasing, but government and Crown funding agencies have been magnificent. At a time when demands for finance were severe, especially around the rebuilding of earthquake-ravaged Christchurch, government and arts funders such as Creative New Zealand rose to the challenge.
Two, the translation programme. We had in place from 2010 a translation funding
programme, but the lead times for making publishers aware of the works on offer, then going through the acquisition process, were short. We had a translation catalogue available within weeks, but even so, when acquisitions take years, having a good offer was a challenge. Our
aim was 60 to 80 new titles in Germany in 2012, with 100 by late 2013. What we didn't realise was how receptive the German publishing community was to the Guest of Honour concept. They were waiting to see what we had to offer, and by early 2012 we had 40 new titles on the go with more coming in every week.
Three, the availability of cultural space for that programme. Museums book their space years ahead. So could we find enough space to mount our cultural exhibitions? Again, we were heartened by the response. Not everything we were interested in was available, but what was impressive was the number of potential hosts that had tried to hold space for the Frankfurt Guest of Honour. The regard with which the cultural institutions in Germany hold the Guest of Honour programme was amazing to us.
So we had various platforms. New Zealand was launching a number of feature films at the Berlinale Film Festival, and the New Zealand Film Commission was keen to be involved. A number of the best known New Zealand films are from books (Once Were Warriors, The Whale Rider, etc) so the links are obvious.
The Leipzig Book Fair in March was a launching post for previous Guest of Honour programmes, so we decided that would be good for us. Taking 10 authors (headlined by Once Were Warriors author Alan Duff and Vintners Luck author Elizabeth Knox) and six publishers, we organised author sessions and panels, a press conference, a New Zealand Embassy function, and an evening with the New Zealand String Quartet and soprano Madeleine Pierard.
There are more New Zealand authors going to Germany throughout the year for romance, comics and science fiction events, and a complete New Zealand/Germany poetry programme around the transit of Venus in June. And New Zealand contemporary dance and art will feature on German stages and in German galleries.
And then there is our attendance as the special guest at the "Museumsuferfest" in Frankfurt at the end of August. A cultural event that takes over the banks of the River Main, it draws millions of visitors. New Zealand will have traditional Maori performers, cultural arts, contemporary performers, and food and wine to entertain the attendees.
Of course, the finale will be the book fair in October, and the lead up to it. There will be authors touring Germany, special events linked to our film and special effects expertise (think Lord of the Rings, Avatar and Tintin), chefs and wine experts, all leading in to our national showing at the Fair. Plans for our pavilion in the Forum are advanced. It will be different and, if you are at Frankfurt in October, you must stop by. You will not be disappointed. Regular literary and cultural events - not just high-brow - will inform and entertain.
While you were sleeping
The NZ programme is built around two key ideas. The brand is "While You Were Sleeping" - the concept that while Europe slumbers there is a creative world happening in New Zealand. The programme also aims to deliver around a Maori concept called "manaakitanga" (an expression of hospitality, generosity and mutual respect). Manaakitanga promotes us as a country that comes bearing gifts: our writers and literature, our artists and performers, our innovation and technology, our food and wine, and our offer to reciprocate and host at our place, New Zealand.
So, back to "the question". As I asked it, I looked at the Minister and wondered what I had done. I needn't have worried. "You are at least on course with other countries," was the gist of the response. "Lagging in some areas, which you know, but impressively well-placed in others." New Zealanders pride themselves on doing a lot with very little - in this case, not much money and very little time. It was good to hear.
Now, how to learn not to ask whatever pops into my head.
Kevin Chapman is Managing Director of Hachette New Zealand and President of the Publishers Association of New Zealand
This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Show Daily