Welcoming University of Otago’s arts fellows

The University of Otago’s 2022 Arts Fellows’ projects will explore a wide range of topics with a common thread; understanding and embracing diversity.

The 2022 Robert Burns Fellow is Albert Belz;
Sean Donnelly is the Mozart Fellow;
Michael Parmenter is the Caroline Plummer Fellow in Community Dance;
Swapna Haddow is the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence Fellow;
Sorawit Songsataya has received the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship.

Division of Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer says applicants were chosen from a highly competitive field because their projects would enrich art and culture locally and nationally.

“Through these fellowships, Otago has the privilege of supporting artists to explore pressing social issues and to create expressions of cultural value and importance. I know we will benefit from their presence in our community, as will the wider public,” Professor Palmer says.

The Fellows receive a stipend for between six months and one year and space at Otago’s Dunedin campus to pursue their creative projects. Past Fellows have created dance performances featuring local community members, orchestral compositions, poetry, novels and children’s books during their tenure.


The Robert Burns Fellow is actor, screenwriter, and award-winning playwright Albert Belz (Ngāti Porou, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Pokai).

His work grapples with “class, gender, sexual politics, sex, religion, rock’n’roll, rhythm’n’black and all the stuff that makes us crazy”.

Albert has acted in numerous productions in Aotearoa and Australia and appeared in television shows such as Hercules, Rip Girls and Shortland Street. While he still “enjoys the opportunity to tread the boards”, he now focuses more on writing for theatre. He is looking forward to being in Dunedin and having an immersive writing experience.

During the Fellowship, he will work on two projects examining themes including religion, the cult of personality, identity and sovereignty.

Belz says he was “snoring away through another Olympic track and field event” when news of his Fellowship came through.

“Somebody was trying to jump higher than somebody else, and there wasn’t even a ball involved – weird. Then I got the phone call, heard the news and leapt four metres in the air with joy. Suck eggs GIanmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim.”

Belz won the 2006 Bruce Mason Award for Best Up-And-Coming New Zealand Playwright, and the 2006 Best Overall Production, Most Original New Play and Best New, New Zealand Play at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. In 2017 he was the Cradle Song Winner of the Adam Playreading Award. His latest play, Astroman, has been produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company, Court Theatre and the Auckland Theatre Company. Belz was also creator and head-writer on the Māori comedy series Tongue Tied, which screened on Māori Television in 2018. This year his work can be seen on the second series of Head High for TV3.

He has also worked as a creative writing lecturer, tutor and mentor, and recently enjoyed lecturing in performing arts and writing at Manukau Institute of Technology and South Seas Film School.

“The very nature of teaching works the writing brain and keeps it fizzing. Being in the company of young people helps keep my work relevant (I hope) as I attempt to tap into what they’re talking about and their concerns. Not surprisingly, they are similar to what concerned people my age back in the day – though it was communicated differently.”


Prolific author of children’s literature Swapna Haddow is the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence.

Haddow’s titles have been released through premier New Zealand and international publishers, including Pan MacMillan, Faber and Faber, and Oxford University Press.

Often writing under the pseudonym ‘Swapna Reddy’, she has continued a high tempo of output, with six books released in 2020 and eight in 2021. One of her latest works, My Dad is a Grizzly Bear, illustrated by Dapo Adeola, was the Independent’s Children’s Book of the Week (April 2021), Hive’s Children’s Book of the Month (May 2021), and one of The Guardian Children’s Books of the Month (May 2021).

During the Fellowship Haddow plans to write an “action-packed heist, full of humour, aimed at middle-grade readers.”

“Inspired by my recent Storylines tour, the story will be set in Auckland and feature a diverse cast, with strong themes of friendship and sisterhood. It’ll be my biggest project to date, so I am glad that with the Fellowship I will have space to research, the time to invest in my characters and the support to write a thought-provoking story.”

The book will highlight aspects of Indian culture and feature humour and female protagonists that will resonate with young people and diverse groups in Aotearoa, and internationally.

Haddow is looking forward to having the time and space to concentrate on writing a book she is “deeply passionate about.”

“I have been writing professionally for the best part of a decade and I recognise what a privilege it is to have the financial support of the Fellowship to continue to do that. I am so grateful that in the six months I am Children’s Writer in Residence, I will be able to push my creativity and stretch my writing skills.

“I’m also excited to be an ambassador for children’s books, within a UNESCO City of Literature no less, and I hope this means meeting lots of brilliant authors and illustrators in this wonderfully creative city. The previous Fellows are all writing heroes of mine and I hope I can live up to the extremely high bar they’ve set and do the Fellowship justice.”

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.