Nathaniel Herz-Edinger is a former field organizer for the Green Party’s 2020 election campaign, and is now the Canterbury community organiser for Aotearoa’s Living Wage Movement, a grassroots organisation built through local relationships and independent of government funding, members include unions, faith groups, and community organisations.
Herz-Edinger’s current focus is on strengthening the political voice of the Ōtautahi arts community without reliance on Christchurch City Council. Alongside theatre producer, Michael Bell’s Little Andromeda and Green Lab programme director Khye Hitchcock, he is also advocating for a community arts hub in the Performing Arts Precinct next to The Court Theatre on Gloucester Street. The proposal includes an amphitheatre for festivals and pop-up shows, and studios for community arts organisations.
Herz-Edinger grew up in Christchurch, leaving just before the 2011 earthquakes and attending Victoria University, studying History and Latin. ‘I did a lot of writing and after graduating I moved to Berlin and loved it. Its public spaces are welcoming. A park is not an empty square of grass. It is their living room. They own it and use it and that is why it is so vibrant.’
Herz-Edinger describes the Living Wage Movement as an organized network of relationships between communities affected by poverty and inequality. ‘The living wage is a political issue. Anywhere you go, funding always comes up. Community organisations are expected to work miracles on shoestring budgets, and with inflation, they have to do it cheaper every year. NGOs (non-government organisations) often feel like they’re alone and they just need to cut costs or apply for more grants. My role is to get these organisations together and fight for a common cause. The problem cannot be solved by organisations doing grant applications. Get politicians and councils to change the way that they do things so that NGOs, including arts organisations, are supported to do their work.’
Herz-Edinger also emphasises that community gaming trusts, that get their money through pokie machines, have generally not been supportive of the arts. ‘Rugby gets more funding than the arts sector and the reason is that the arts are not well organised politically. There is a misconception among artists that if they have a great idea people will get excited and jump on board. But if you’re talking to the Council, it’s not their job to get excited about your idea - it is their job to ask; what does the community as a whole want? That’s why you need to organise.’
‘Most councillors are good people but they are also really busy, so the local arts community needs to be a united force. To do this we need to build relationships right across the city, across disciplines. Then we need to build the political capacity to run campaigns. I hope the arts precinct campaign shows Christchurch artists that we can win if we organise.’
- The proposed Hexagon proposed theatre hub in Gloucester Street, opposite Tūranga Public Library.
- Christchurch City Council celebrating accreditation of the living wage. Foreground, City Councillor Jake McClellan, 12 August 2021, photograph, courtesy of Nathaniel Herz-Edinger