The 2019 Dominion Post
Tribute to a Wellington Icon
Pioneer of New Zealand film & arts
Wellington, it’s said, is the Arts Capital of New Zealand.
A lot of capital has been made from the arts over the years, thanks in a large part to the passion and hard work of a dedicated few, back in the day - when Wellington, like the rest of the country, was said to be closed on the weekends.
Back then there was little funding available, but a lot of enthusiasm. And among the most enthusiastic of the enthusiasts was Bill Sheat.
At Victoria University, where he was studying law, Bill was active in the drama club - writing, producing, directing and acting in capping revues for a period of nearly twenty years, most of those after qualifying in 1953.
As he juggled scriptwriting with lawyering – at the firm which would later bear his name – Bill realised that if the arts were to grow, people needed to be to be able to work full-time at it; professionalism in the arts would have benefits for everyone. It became something of a driver.
The QEII Arts Council was formed in 1964, Bill - who was also involved with Downstage – was appointed as a member in 1967. He was Chair from ’69 to ’73, and remained a member till 1977.
The film industry was getting underway around the same time, largely consisting of a single producer - John O’Shea. He was introduced to Bill, they hit it off, and Bill became involved in financing two of Pacific Film’s productions, Runaway and the iconic Don’t Let It Get You.
Looking for a way to kickstart the local film Industry, Bill lobbied for a film commission. He got it, and was appointed to chair it from 1978 through to ’85, during which time 40 features were produced. He was responsible for getting Goodbye Pork Pie off the ground, and his role as a cop in the film no doubt contributed to its success.
Back in the theatre, while others trod the boards, Bill sat on them. He was an Executive Member of Playmarket, Chair of the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand Trust – he still is – and chaired the Royal New Zealand Ballet for 17 years.
He’s also been at the forefront of saving theatres – both the State Opera House and the Embassy.
In 1973, Bill was awarded an OBE and, in 2011, made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, both for services to the arts.
And for good reason. Bill thinks – knows – that arts and film reflect the community. If you want a vibrant community then the arts and film have to be encouraged and allowed to flourish. And the best way to ensure that happens is to fund it – and the artists – properly. And that’s what Bill Sheat has been doing in Wellington, for Wellington, over the past 60 years.
Bill Sheat, a true Wellington icon.