February 20, 2024

Haere Rā Cat

With great love, compassion and an awfully heavy heart we share that this year, Cat Ruka will be leaving Basement Theatre as our Executive Director. 

After starting her journey at Basement as a board trustee in 2017, Cat stepped up to lead the next phase of Basement's journey at the end of 2020. Throughout her time, Cat has been an empowering visionary who has shown to our artists, backers, and arts industry associates near and far how arts leadership can be done with mana, respect and heart.

 Cat showed Tāmaki’s independent artists that a utopian arts world doesn't have to be so out of reach. As we entered a world of presenting live performance in a pandemic, characterized by a precarious funding landscape and narrow-minded people out there who just didn't quit making the artist life hard, Cat always responded with action that was brave and true to her and Basement’s values - putting the well-being of artists and Basement’s people first.

When Cat began her ED journey, the board laid down a wero for her to not only rebuild a community that had been disconnected by the pandemic, but also to cultivate a culture that welcomed communities who may have felt that Basement wasn’t yet their home. She achieved this through and through, relentlessly standing for all of Tāmaki’s artists and actively smashing down the barriers of old. Seeing how her mana-enhancing leadership has influenced the industry has been incredibly rewarding for the board and team, and has been especially felt by our Tangata Whenua and BIPOC artists. By proudly placing Te Tiriti o Waitangi and indigenous values at the heart of Basement's decision-making, Cat was an unflinching example of what equity can look like for the arts.

It was Cat who recognised a need for a dramatic shift in how artists were supported financially to present their work at Basement. Putting the Hire-For-Nothing model on the table has allowed our artists to have a safety net behind them, and leave the performance-making process with dignity. We have seen the fruits of this action manifest in glorious and self-determining ways, and all of our artists are better for it.

The bold changes made by Cat during her time didn't stop there - she dissolved the traditional programming model in favour of a collaborative whānau-centered approach, she established a mandatory week of staff leave during Matariki, she enabled our Choose What You Pay ticketing scheme to happen, she embedded fair pay benchmarks across our development programmes and our Christmas Show, she put Basement on the international stage by fostering relationships with venues abroad, she advocated for artists fiercely in the public arena and initiated the popular Artists Make Auckland campaign inspired by MoMA's Artists Make New York. All while keeping everyone's beloved Basement afloat throughout its hardest years yet.

Outgoing board chair Wendy Youens says, “It has been a true privilege to work with Cat and witness the incredible impact she has had on Basement in her time as Executive Director. Cat’s leadership has been inspiring, nourishing and deeply intentional. The care she has shown for her team, for artists and the wider Basement whānau has built a platform from which great things will grow. As a board, we are so grateful to Cat for her courageous and radical leadership, and we know Basement is richer for it.”

This true fucking icon has been a pillar for many at Basement, but now it is her time to be the pillar for the most special person in her life. Her daughter is growing up to be a tenacious performer herself! Cat will be dedicating her time to being right there next to her to support her dreams. It’s a momentous moment for them both, and we wish them all the love and happiness for what their future will hold.