Posts tagged ‘Auckland Council’

The drawings in this series are six meditations on the creeping gentrification that is increasingly changing the cultural landscape of South Auckland.

I made these works for a pop-up / pocket exhibition project taking place currently in Old Papatoetoe,South Auckland. Organised by The Pantograph Punch and commissioned by Auckland Council, the exhibition takes the form of large format posters in vacant shop windows in the soon to be ‘renewed’ Old Papatoetoe mall.


Sm VALUES (1)In her 2014 TEDxNewYork talk, Dr Stacey Sutton discusses gentrification as a manifestation of inequality. She challenges common misconceptions about gentrification and unpacks the politics of displacement. Although speaking to American contexts, so many of these issues are applicable to the South Auckland situation.


The site of the exhibition is the shop windows of empty shops in the Old Papatoetoe mall. So many of the vacant shops had hand-written signs in the window, some directing customers to a new address, others just simply declaring the end of their company’s presence in Papatoetoe. I was interested in the time, effort and emotion it took  to write such an important message, and the tensions of change and takeovers.




After various recent experiences of the Auckland Council Arts and Culture team, I’ve reflected on the values that could or should underpin arts service delivery and effectiveness from my position as a local artist. The bureaucracy protects and connects, flexing a vision of strength.


Old Papatoetoe mall is getting ‘renewed’, Ōtāhuhu is getting a brand new transport depot, Manukau Train Station now brings people to the heart of Southside. Train stations bring all the bucks to the yard, too bad if you don’t live near one.

Check out Postcards from Papatoetoe, a ‘pop-up & pocket exhibition’ organised by The Pantograph Punch in the Old Papatoetoe Mall, St George Street, South Auckland. The exhibition features work by Elisabeth Alani, Quishile Charan and Pooja Subramanian, Liyen Chong, Vinesh Kumaran, Kerry Ann Lee, Lana Lopesi, and Ema Tavola.

Photo credit: Francis McWhannell, The Pantograph Punch

I was invited by Ioana Gordon-Smith and Lana Lopesi to write one of five feature articles on the subject of community art for Localise, a temporary newspaper publication that accompanied this year’s Whau Arts Festival. Check it out…

When stars align

The idea of community arts is a loaded, emotional topic for me; my position is muddied by several competing tensions.

Being a Pacific Islander, in diaspora, being a marginalised ethnic(mixed race)-other in the context of dominant culture.

Being a former public servant and messy restructure refugee in post-Global Financial Crisis, National Party-led New Zealand.

Being over-qualified and under-employed.

Being poor.

Being privileged.

Having the agency to be outspoken about all of the above.

But mostly, being an artist based in the Ōtara-Papatoetoe area of Manukau/South Auckland, where I’ve lived for most of my adult life.

I’ve been a vocal critic of the ways ‘arts and culture’ are delivered as public service in my city in recent years. From public art decisions to cronyism and questionable curating, I’ve come to think that in between my ideas of best practice and what “aspirational”[i] programming looks like to the powers that be, there is a galaxy of disengaged stars and black holes of cosmic confusion.

On my planet, aspirational community arts programming is about people first, art second. It’s part grassroots, part global, part digital, part old school. It’s all ages, all the time. It’s holistic and healing. From my lived experience on this far-flung planet, worlds away from Auckland’s Queen Street, the arts are people-centric, voice-enabling, capacity building.

If a community arts centre was to reflect my aspirations, the power and potential of local artists would be harnessed and honed, supported and celebrated. You could spend hours at my aspirational art centre; meeting people, laughing, being moved, playing, thinking. As an artist, you would feel empowered knowing your contribution to the world is valid, and you’re part of a global community who reflect and respond to their lives and environments through creative languages.

This aspirational community arts centre would prioritise those who are local to the area in which it sits. It would have a firm grasp of the histories of its space and residents, and the experiences of those who live, work, shop… struggle and thrive within its shared environment. It would be sensitive towards vulnerable groups, and understand and promote the potential of art to heal, engage, open minds and affect change. Through this knowing, it would be able to offer profound and grounded experiences to visitors from beyond the area, who are afforded an insight into a unique community, as represented through its arts and people.

Exhibitions at this aspirational arts centre would be diverse and exciting; every single one designed with the audience in mind – children, tourists, old people, young people, critics… mums, dads, cynics, bureaucrats. Exhibitions wouldn’t please everyone all the time, but clever interpretive texts, bold and innovative public programming and user-friendly curating would help break down perceptions of artistic elitism. Exhibitions would be programmed by a committee of strategic, brainy, community-minded individuals, 75% of whom would be local residents to capture the vested interest that only locals can impart on decision making that affects their own community.

Exhibition proposals would be welcomed all year long, and this community arts centre would host free exhibition planning workshops and curatorial skills seminars, because the community would be seen as an immense creative resource, not a threat to curatorial egos. Artists, curators, marketers, film makers, project managers, musicians, brokers and advisors would be invited to monthly networking hui with inspiring speakers, arty speed dating and locally sourced catering.

Exhibiting artists would spend time in this community of mine, understanding, talking, responding to the site their work would sit within. Their exchanges would be respectful and reciprocal. Meaningful engagement with local people and groups would be the primary measure of success in this aspirational arts centre, not incentivised surveys taken at exhibition openings, or reviews in mainstream media.

This aspirational arts centre would constantly question its own practice, and listen, all the time. It would draw on the knowledge and insights of audiences to understand what works and what doesn’t, call on artists to inform its creative services, consult with businesses and NGOs to develop collaborative projects and partnerships. As an evolving space, change would be exciting and considered, not threatening and personal.

As a space activated by people, it would be proud to provide areas for gathering, for sitting and talking, for breastfeeding, singing softly to babies, for calming toddlers. Spaces for raucousness, for reading, spaces for privacy.

And there would be coffee… the best coffee in town! The kind that people would drive for, that makes the heart beat faster, and it would be good, really good, every time. The café owners would be happy because this aspirational arts centre would attract diverse audiences every day. Excellent WiFi, comfortable seating and lots of plants and natural light would make this the freshest spot in town and people would come back again, and again.

My aspirational community arts centre would be integrated fully and purposefully into its natural, social, cultural and economic landscape. It would host meetings, training sessions, pop-up art sales, poetry, performances, workshops, product and book launches. It would respond to the needs and interests of its community and be transparent about its agendas. Good governance and effective leadership would be practiced, encouraged and promoted. The centre’s internships would be so well designed that it would become a turbine for community arts leaders, enablers, movers and shakers.

Artists would be on waiting lists to be part of the rich and vital professional development programme this arts centre would offer! In workshops and seminars, projects and publications, artists would have the opportunity to learn about pricing and selling their work, diversifying and monetising a creative practice, writing artist statements, proposals, bio notes, starting blogs, taking good photos, project management and communication skills, marketing, branding, budgeting, funding…

In my community, the economic potential of creativity is rarely demonstrated; the creative industries are hard to quantify when most artists people know are teachers / WINZ case managers / administrators / call centre operators / video shop clerks / road workers… or on the dole. My aspirational arts centre would understand this reality.

Exhibitions and events are great, but education pathways and tangible opportunities, role models and success stories are necessary to make the creative industries visible, tangible and accessible.

Here, the WORD art is unpacked, redefined, owned / disowned. Art is inextricable from people; it is embedded in culture, intuitive and empowering, a gift and a privilege. My aspirational art centre would discredit the common perception that Pacific youth somehow have disproportionate talent in the creative arts, because the potential of Pacific youth is limitless, in any field.

And everything this aspirational arts centre would deliver would be underpinned by an acute understanding of service, audience and accountability.

Back in reality, my local community arts centres are still galactically dislocated from my expectations and aspirations, which are grounded in 15 years of living, breathing, loving, teaching, hyping up, blogging, picking up, framing, hanging, installing, advocating, hosting, buying, selling… and listening to artists from my community.

I think longingly of the kind of programming, partnerships and innovation that happens in places like Studio Museum Harlem, the incredible and inspiring entrepreneurialism of local artists in Bandung, Indonesia, and the way the four-yearly Festival of Pacific Arts embraces the breadth of socially and culturally entrenched creative practices, from healing arts to tattoo, poetry to pan-pipes and literally everything in between. I think about the site specificity and casual sophistication of Footscray Arts Centre in Melbourne, and the effortless cool of the The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.

In New Zealand’s largest and most ethnically diverse urban centre, the country’s super city guinea pig, the local has become the pan-local. Territory gained in wholesale branding and global rankings of ‘liveability’, is lost ground in terms of social inclusion, meaning and mana.

How do we measure quality in the delivery and presentation of community arts / art in community spaces?

Ask, listen and take time to understand the community’s aspirations. Respond, enable, facilitate, and channel resource. Watch the stars align.

Ema Tavola
October 2015

[i] Scott, H. (23 March, 2014). Local galleries and the community. Retrieved 29 August, 2015, from

I made an experimental art publication called Art Takeaway 10 years ago

It was the first project I produced in Otara, for Otara, in a way my first ‘exhibition’, definitely the first time I secured funding, and the first time I publicly declared my slightly bumbling position and thinking about art, audiences and site specificity. It was black and white and featured photography and page works by 10 artists. I launched it at the Otara Market on July 9, 2005, which attracted the attention of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, who did a slightly bizarre story on the project, thankfully before the days of YouTube.

After participating in Papakura Art Gallery’s Ako Art Bus Tour this week, an initiative supported with funds from Papakura Local Board for the Auckland region-wide Matariki Festival, I got to thinking about the values of community arts and participation, empowering audiences and the different ways engagement is measured. I’m writing about these themes for an upcoming essay that’ll be published during the Whau Arts Festival, an excellent site-specific community-driven programme supported by the Whau Local Board.

I found my only copy of Art Takeaway the other day. The first page features this imagined conversation between time and space…


Art Takeaway Ta-Va, Ema Tavola 2005

Photo by Ema Tavola

The OTARAcube is a permanent exhibition space in the Otara Town Centre; it is a 10×10 foot customised container gallery managed by Manukau Institute of Technology Faculty of Creative Arts developed with support from the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

A week-long event called Proudly Otara is taking place in the Otara Town Centre this week and to mark the occasion, I’ve installed a quick pop-up exhibition showcasing photos, posters, fliers and artwork from community art events that have taken place in and around the Otara Town Centre over the past decade. The material is from both my own and Fresh Gallery Otara’s archives; the Gallery’s programming since 2006 is well represented, but there is also material from Fresh Gallery Otara’s predecessor, Artnet Gallery, which ran up until 2004 and was managed by Wahine Malosi Charitable Trust. Artnet Gallery was where I cut my teeth as a curator; it was a foundation that embedded a sense of community arts service delivery and relational accountability deep into my psyche.

This past week, I was interviewed by Justin Gregory for Radio New Zealand’s weekly arts programme, Standing Room Only. In January, I presented some concerns to the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board of Auckland Council regarding the exhibition programming at Mangere Arts Centre, a community arts facility in the Mangere Town Centre. I’m concerned with the disconnect regional arts programming has with local communities under the unitary Auckland Council and that there are no public opportunities for feedback or dialogue between those who produce local arts programming and the audiences they supposedly serve. The Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board were responsive to the concerns I raised saying that similar sentiments were felt both within the Board and from community members; they planned to follow up with Auckland Council’s Arts and Culture unit to respond but as yet, I’ve heard nothing. The Manukau Courier published a story and since then, I’ve received a huge amount of support from South Auckland residents who believe strongly in what was said.

Radio New Zealand’s story was aired on Sunday 23 March and features comments from Hanna Scott, Arts and Culture Programmes manager for Auckland Council:

[audio|titles=Local Galleries and the Community, Standing Room Only, Radio New Zealand, 23 March 2014]

Interestingly, I listened to this whilst installing the Proudly Otara exhibition at the OTARAcube. Whilst the exhibition only represents a sliver of the arts and cultural events and activities that have happened in and around the Otara Town Centre since 2003, there is an overarching theme of community accountability and ownership. The voice and visibility of community aspiration and pride is at the forefront of what I’ve been fortunate enough to produce and be involved with during my time here in Manukau, South Auckland. For people who live and work here, a connection to this community is not as simple as catching a “South Auckland bus” (Hanna Scott) and relational accountability is demonstrated in action, not just words.

I’m happy that from a blog, which led to a presentation to the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board, that inspired a story in the Manukau Courier, a national radio discussion about Auckland Council’s accountability to the Mangere and wider Manukau community has happened. I’m also developing an article for an upcoming issue of The Vernacularist on the theme of community and relational accountability – watch this space!

Proudly Otara starts today in the Otara Town Centre and this morning, Toakase Women’s Group have presented an impressive display of Tongan hand-crafted adornment. There are performances, displays and activities scheduled for the Otara Town Centre stage areas throughout the week; check out the Otara Business Association Facebook page for more details.

Last night was the launch of the Southside Arts Festival programme at the Fale Pasifika, the University of Auckland’s Samoan fale – a symbolic commercial events space attached to the Centre for Pacific Studies. I gatecrashed with a friend; we left Papatoetoe in South Auckland around 5pm and sat in peak hour traffic and rain for an hour discussing the confusion of travelling almost 20 kilometers from South Auckland to central Auckland to celebrate the arts and culture from our neighbourhoods.

The theme of this year’s Festival is seemingly Pasifika – the mythological amalgamated brown state of watered-down Polynesia. The aura of cultural awkwardness is palpable upon arrival.

Whilst artificial flower lei or garlands are commonplace greeting protocol at ‘Pasifika’ events in New Zealand, guests were gifted beautiful hand-made ribbon garlands; a different but problematic shift in materiality and meaning. For me, the gifting and receiving of garlands, particularly those hand-made by a Pacific artists, carries significance and mana that far outweighed the cultural currency and credibility of this event and its efforts to represent Pacific arts or culture or even, ‘Pasifika’.

The speeches, performances and rabid back patting of Council’s arts team were background noise as I glanced upwards towards Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi‘s intricate woven lalava that adorns the internal structure of the fale. This is also the place were Cook Islands curator Jim Vivieaere was farewelled in a beautiful and poignant funeral service in 2011.

Experiencing this launch with a critical eye is informed by my history of delivering and advising on Pacific art events in South Auckland. My involvement with the Southside Arts Festival is also deeply engrained, personal and political. I sat around the concept table to develop the first Manukau Festival of Arts in 2008 and delivered events that contributed to the annual Festival’s identity until I left the role in 2012. When Auckland Council was formed, the Festival was rebranded as Southside Arts Festival and is now delivered by a group of regional programmers who are presumably aiming to build and evolve the Festival’s brand and identity.

Thinking about the history of the Festival, the situational dislocation of this launch and this year’s superficial cultural referencing lead me to reflect on the value of understanding relevance, audience and artists. I’m somewhat amused that the artist employed to contribute original artwork to this year’s Festival look and feel is also well-known amongst certain audiences for his explicit pornographic references and borderline misogynistic messages. When Jacob Sua made his ‘South Auckland’ work for the 2005 Vodafone Digital Art Awards with his vectorised hibiscus and electrical cabling, it was really fresh and new.

The 2013 Southside Arts Festival programme itself is forgettable. When so much has been seen before or can exist in any space, the relevance to South Auckland audiences is weaker than ever. I’m involved in the OTARAfest event – a stand-alone programme of events happening in and around the Otara Town Centre, and have lots of love and respect for Painting for the People (PFTP) who are delivering the Mangere Library Mural Project; interestingly, OTARAfest and the PFTP event are listed under ‘Community’ and as someone noted, featured on the brown pages of the printed programme. Lol.

The Pacific Arts programmer role at Auckland Council has been advertised and re-advertised for months and the lack of cultural advice and/or leadership in the delivery of an event that is based on the promotion of Pacific art and culture, is quite evident.

This kind of thing should be done better, or not at all. Perhaps public money is better spent on empowering local communities to create and deliver their own events, developing capacity and leadership and promoting sustainable business models informed by and symbolically rooted in South Auckland spaces. #JustSaying

I couldn’t hold back the tears today at the farewell of Leisa Siteine from a massive 20 plus years of service to local government in South Auckland. Leisa was my manager for over six years; she hired me when I was 23, fresh out of art school, and wished me well when I left the role with Auckland Council not long after my 30th birthday.

I wanted to honour Leisa today, as everyone did. I wanted to say that for me, she was a model manager and an inspirational leader. I always felt everything I achieved in my role at Council was a direct result of strong, empowering leadership. She enabled me to see possibilities, opportunities and limitations – and exceed my own perception of my abilities. In different ways, friends and colleagues credited Leisa today for her kindness and her firmness, her nurturing nature and genuine passion and love for her job and the community she served.

Working in Leisa’s team was a safe space – I remember sobbing and being hugged on my darkest days and sharing highs and the satisfaction of seeing projects and events come together. I always respected her firm control over sometimes heated discussions and as local government in Auckland shifted to a unitary model, her bold leadership during what felt like an ethically challenging time.

An ex-colleague noted today that the tone of these acknowledgements felt like a eulogy, a sentiment that in part held me back from speaking openly about Leisa’s departure. It is simply an enormous loss for local government, for South Auckland’s arts infrastructure and service delivery and for the community at large. But fortunately, Auckland Council’s loss is someone else’s massive gain!

Thank you Leisa for teaching me to love my work, serve my community with integrity and fuel the creative fire!

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