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Yesterday Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival was launched in perfect harmony with its kaupapa ‘We are of this Place and its People’.

The launch took place in the beautiful Toko Toru Tapu Church of Manutuke, Gisborne; the church in which Festival Director Tama Waipara had himself been christened.  The choral collective Te Tira Hapori o Manutuke opened with waiata that penetrated your bones and the church’s Minister Stan Matchitt welcomed everyone with warmth and gentle humour.

You couldn’t help but notice that each moment of the launch was an expression of connection to our place and its people. As Teina Moetara noted ‘Context is everything. Connection, relationship is essential’.

Mere Boynton spoke of reading Witi Ihimaera’s ‘Pounamu Pounamu’ at nine years of age – how it ‘blew her mind’ to find stories and people she recognised as her own.  When Mere read from ‘The Card Game’ at the launch, bringing Nani Miro and Mrs Heta gloriously to life, I found myself transported from church pew to my old classroom at Whangarei Girls High giggling away at the cries of ‘Mako tiko bum’ as the first glimpses of understanding had nudged at the edges of my Pakeha worldview.

The pure surprise and joy evoked by Annie Crummer joining Te Tira Hapori o Manutuke to sing her iconic waiata ‘Language’ elevated many of the evening’s ‘congregation’ to their feet, and in the wharekai the magnificent spread had been laid by whanau of choir members and the wine was of course from local vineyards. On the bus back to town local musicians Nigel Marshall and Abudayah belted out songs from their ukuleles that I hadn’t heard for years and I sung along with words I had no idea were still in my possession, (and which were likely a close approximation of the original lyrics).

This festival has been created in our name, Tairāwhiti.  Whatever your name, your whakapapa or your connection to this place, there will be something (probably many things) in Te Tairāwhiti Art Festival that will stir you or awaken some forgotten memory or impulse.  

Tama Waipara spoke about how the word ‘Art’ can often alienate, how it can be easy to think it’s beyond us, that we don’t get it.  This festival sets out to put that assumption to rest.  I suspect it will help us redefine how we feel about ourselves in this place and how we connect with it, each other and the wider world.

As Tama also said at the launch, this Festival is unashamedly accessible. Largely thanks to the support of the Eastland Community Trust, the festival has been able to fulfil its objective of making its events as accessible as possible to the widest possible audience. Most tickets are around $20-25, with the most expensive ticket being $45. Under an East Coast Moon, an outdoor concert starring Teeks, Anika Moa, Dave Dobbyn, Annie Crummer, Maisey Rika and local music legend Rob Ruha among others, is just $35 for adults and $15 for kids. There is a large number of free events, too.

I can’t urge you strongly enough to check it out and book your tickets!

www.tetairawhitiarts.nz

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