Renowned poet and scholar, Selina Tusitala Marsh, has taken up the role of co-director at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Arts and Social Transformation.
A professor in English and Drama in the Faculty of Arts, specialising in Pacific literature and creative writing, the former poet laureate and author will join director Professor Peter O’Connor at the helm of the centre, whose projects include taking an arts-based approach to issues like homelessness, post-disaster recovery, disengagement from school and youth mental health.
Professor Marsh says accepting the co-directorship of CAST, an organisation where her community-based critical and creative output has found a natural home these past years, means she can help the centre cast its net wider, particularly within the Pacific and diasporic communities.
“I’m thrilled to be able to bring my background in the humanities, English literature and performance poetry into creative synergy with CAST and the Faculty of Education and Social Work to enrich our world,” she said.
Professor O’Connor said he was also delighted with the appointment.
“Selina began working with the centre nearly four years ago when we started our work with the Sir John Kirwan Foundation in primary schools, using the arts to teach about mental health.”
He says “kids love it” when Selina, who is also the author of three Mophead books, comes to visit and it’s a joy to watch her work with children of all ages.
“When we launched our arts-based resources, Te Rito Toi, at a primary school in South Auckland a few years ago, the fan club for Selina extended to the then Minister of Education who politely requested Selina sign her copy of Mophead.
“We are expanding our work nationally and internationally and having Selina help lead that growth will be fantastic. Like most of us in the centre, Selina is an artist*academic who uses the power of her art and research to bring about social transformation.”
As well as ongoing research projects, notably an extension of the Te Rito Toi resources to include early childhood, plans for CAST this year include hosting the International Teaching Artist Collaborative Conference which is expecting more than 250 teaching artists from around the world.
“Selina will play a major role in shaping and hosting this event,” says Professor O’Connor.
Other projects under the centre’s banner include a study of New Zealand-based Asian survivors of sexual violence and how to help their recovery through art therapy and addressing the lack of creativity and imagination in classroom teaching.
Of Samoan, Tuvaluan, Scottish, French and English descent, Professor Marsh was the New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2017 to 2019, with her poetry collection, Tightrope, making the longlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Best Book of Poetry.
She was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community in the 2019 New Years Honours and was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
In 2020, her book Mophead was the supreme winner at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and also won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction.
The Centre for Arts and Social Transformation has recently secured its existence for a further five years with a substantial pledge from the Chartwell Trust, which follows a similar donation in 2019 and reaffirms the trust’s status as the centre’s principal and founding donor.