For 20 years, from 1972 to 1992, the New Zealand Students Arts Council promoted concerts and other artistic events, held throughout the country at university campuses, teachers’ colleges, polytechnics, and other venues. The frenetic activity generated a vast selection of posters, which capture an era in which support of the performing arts were a core part of student union activity. The posters on this page are just part of the collection, which is held at the Tapuaka Heritage & Archive Collections, J C Beaglehole Reading Room, at the library of Victoria University of Wellington Library. They are copyright, and are published here with the permission of the J C Beaglehole Reading Room. For more information and posters, read NZ Students Arts Council: a history in posters

In 1981, Margaret Patterson wrote in Salient, “Few students on campus know what the New Zealand Students’ Arts Council is. Even fewer students realise that most are paying a $1.20 levy from the Students’ Association fee each year to be members. The Arts Council is a student body funded from student levies and public grants which organises tours by New Zealand and international artists. The tours are designed to promote interest in the arts in New Zealand and to present shows which students and the public would not usually have the opportunity to see.”

In 1975, almost a year after the success of ‘Out on the Street’, Space Waltz released its only album and toured the country for the NZSAC. “Somewhat confusingly,” wrote Ian Chapman, “the album was titled Space Waltz by Alastair Riddell, something that led to ‘are-they-a-band-or-a-solo-act?’ kind of speculation, but also clearly reflective of EMI’s decision to sign Riddell and not the full band.” Alastair Riddell was certainly the focus of this elegant poster. 

An appropriate Diane Arbus photo for the 1982 Orientation “Masquerade Ball” at the University of Canterbury (local act Ballon D'essai was “flush with artists,” wrote Andrew Schmidt). According to the Christchurch Press, it was the first South Island appearance by the Tall Dwarfs

Also from Canterbury’s 1982 Orientation week, an all-night gig headlined by Auckland’s Blam Blam Blam and the Newmatics, plus several local groups and a “sex-sational movie marathon” at 1.00am. 

It’s doubtful there were many foxtrots at the 1982 Orientation gig at the University of Canterbury’s ballroom, featuring the Insigators, Desperate Measures, and Riot 111. Again, an apt photo by Diane Arbus.

Sputnik Productions produced an in-yer-face poster for the 1986 Orientation tour by Sneaky Feelings and Look Blue Go Purple.

Coney Island babies: Red Mole returned to New Zealand for a NZSAC tour in 1980.

The Braille Collective visited Auckland to present nine musicians, in six groups, over eight nights, in June 1985. Pictured in this poster’s photo by Marcel are (L-R): Anthony Donaldson, Gerard Crendson, David Watson, Janet Roddick, David Long, David Donaldson, Stuart Porter, Richard Sedger, and Neill Duncan. 

Another distinctive poster from Braille: the Primitive Art Group.

By the time of this 1989 tour, Braille’s Four Volts had become Six. 

By road, rail, or air? Sponsored by NZR, Bill Lake’s band the Pelicans toured in 1985 to support their 8 Duck Treasure album. The poster is by Tim Bollinger. 

In 1986, a year after the Radio With Pictures reggae special, Aotearoa toured for the NZSAC. 

Formed in Wellington in 1983, the Māori theatre collective Te Ohu Whakaari changed its line-up over the years. For its 1984 tour the members were Briar Smith, Donna McLeod, Maringikura Campbell, Apirana Taylor, Michael Grace, and Himiona Grace. 

Sing no evil: at Canterbury University during the Orientation tour of 1989, the Verlaines were supported by Putty In Her Hands, and Pihed. On the same night, Sacred Sisters and UK synth-pop band Spies of Saturn performed in the Upper Common Room.

Was Rheineck happy with Billy Bragg’s politics – and he with its beer – during Orientation 1987? 

Late 80s pastels for this Orientation gig at the University of Canterbury. 

Impressed by Daggy and the Dickheads’ appearance at the 1982 Brown Trout festival, a NZSAC committee member quickly booked the band to perform at Victoria University during Orientation week. This led to a national tour for the NZSAC later that year.

Split Enz toured from the Enz of the Earth – well, Australasia – in March 1976. Salient reviewers Brian Anderson and Leigh Thomson wrote: “From the moment that the group ripped itself from a bag and was strobed so dramatically on stage, the heart and imagination of a packed [Wellington] Town Hall was captured and enveloped for 90 minutes. It was the totality of an act which could only be Split Enz. Tim Finn cramped his way around the stage like a jazzed up version of Wilfrid Brambell (of Steptoe & Son fame) with his fellow jesters in support. It was hard not to believe you were at the Enz of the Earth. This pot-pourri of Harlequin-type characters controlled the mood. The music, the visual effects created a sensual experience which would have done justice to Ken Russell.”

“Culture seldom comes in such a presentable commodity,” said Salient in February 1978, urging students to witness these poets on the run. (From what?)

An all-purpose poster for 1990s Kiwiana trio When the Cat’s Been Spayed (Jackie Clarke, Robin Nathan, and Charlotte Yates).

Funny Business – and a top-shelf lineup of Flying Nun bands – for Orientation 1989 at the University of Christchurch. 

An alternative poster for Mike Nock’s 1982 tour for the NZSAC. 

The Mutant Hillbilly Orientation of 1990 wants you. Tickets just $40, and a lucky ticket wins $12.50 in one-dollar notes to pay the new tuition charges. (Protest Fees Today!). Poster illustration and design by Robert Scott

“Tax not so bad a voice to slander music any more than once”: an eclectic lineup for Orientation 1989 at Victoria University.

A 1985 screenprinted poster for the Builders, designed by Lesley Maclean.

Debra Bustin designed many posters for bands and the NZSAC in the early 1980s, as well as this one for her own exhibition. She also directed the Hulamen video ‘Beer and Skittles’. 

In 1982 the Students Arts Council published Touring Papers, announcing its activities for the year. Among the features was a teaser from John Dix’s rock’n’roll history Stranded in Paradise, which appeared in 1988.

Just prior to going to the United States, in March 1978 Red Mole presented Ghost Rite in Wellington and Auckland. The production stimulated earnest discussion by three Salient theatre critics. This poster was designed by Joe Wylie, who directed Toy Love’s ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ video.

“Forming a prog-rock group in the year punk rock broke was probably not the greatest of timing,” writes Chris Caddick in Schtüng’s fascinating AudioCulture profile, but the band “left a legacy of memorable shows, and an under-appreciated album.” This early 1977 gig at Downstage Theatre, Wellington, was attended by PolyGram’s head of A&R, Gerry Beyering. “He was impressed but uncertain and at the band’s prompting settled on the band playing a live set in the PolyGram staff canteen to gauge the reaction. The staff gave the band the thumbs-up and a two-album deal was duly signed.”

What happened to all this artistic activity on New Zealand campuses? Margaret Patterson’s thorough Salient article on the NZ Students Arts Council in 1981 hinted at the issues that led to the council’s demise. Some tertiary student unions – those from technical institutions in particular– questioned the value their members were getting for the levy ($1.20 for university students, 90 cents for techs and smaller institutions). About 175,000 students contributed the levy to the NZSAC, so the annual funds gathered were not insubstantial. 

But the two decades of the NZSAC’s existence can now be seen as a halcyon era, when strong student unions (and a lack of tuition fees) enabled many New Zealanders – students and the general public – to experience many “purveyors of divers arts”. Salient’s use of the medieval term divers arts in its headline shows the students did their homework, as well as dance at the Orientation “hops”.   


These posters are copyright, and are held as part of the Tapuaka Heritage & Archive Collections, J C Beaglehole Reading Room, Victoria University of Wellington Library; they are published here with their permission. Thanks to Grant Robertson.