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Mīharo Gallery had already started to take shape in the minds of Hera Clifton & Rosie Cruddas before the opportunity to win a shop for summer came along in December. 

A fledgling acquaintanceship between the pair had turned into full blown friendship when Rosie’s partner went overseas soon after their second child had been born. Rosie put out the S.O.S. to Hera, who had told her to ‘give her a yell’ if she needed a hand. Hera came for coffee and returned every day thereafter.  The pair would often walk baby into town for a sleep and a wander round the op shops and would often find themselves lamenting the number of empty retail spaces around town. It wasn’t long before the pair had starting filling those pockets of urban wasteland with seeds..the seeds of an idea. 

When local Impact House Tāiki e! put on a competition to win the lease on a central city retail space for 6 weeks over summer, those seeds found fertile ground. Renay Charteris and Cain Kerehoma of Tāiki e! were inspired by the ‘spunk’ of Hera and Rosie’s pitch to use the space as a gallery to showcase and sell the work of local artists, and they were sold on the generosity of their intention to share the opportunity with their whole community as well as the fact that they were ready drop everything else and just do it.

Both practicing artists and prolific at that, the pair had recognised a gap in the local market. They were frustrated by the lack of opportunities for local artists to exhibit and as Hera puts it “there are some fantastic artists in Gisborne pushing boundaries, but if you’re not creating for anyone or anything in particular, it can lead to stagnancy in your art”. Hera knew there were a lot of talented artists in Gisborne from her time studying alongside many of them at Toihoukura, but she had often wondered where they had all disappeared to… 

Within two months a growing number of artists have gathered around Mīharo to create a very real sense of the talented creative community that reside here in the Tairāwhiti; a community that many of us know exists but which is easy to lose sight of at times when there’s no public face to remind us.  From the twelve Artists who showed their works at the Opening of Mīharo, there are now twenty eight Artists on the Gallery’s books.  

Rosie and Hera were blown away the first time they got their hands on the key to the space. Not only was the busy central location key to their plans but it was almost as if the space had been designed as a gallery with its long white walls, down-lighting and lovely big windows out onto Gladstone Road.  The space does a beautiful job of elevating the works, which have emerged from all quarters of our diverse arts community; former students of Toihoukura and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Artists’ Society members and of the Tairawhiti Artists’ Collective.  The pair also provide space for Ta Moko Artists to practice, whose work they are committed to elevating to fine arts status. 

As we all know, an attractive physical space and a gap in the market are by no means guarantee of success. Rosie and Hera recognise that being Art School graduates and practicing Artists themselves adds strength to their enterprise on a number of fronts.  They understand the process required to make works ready for market and can offer sound advice on aspects like paper etiquette and framing for example. “We never give a flat ‘No’ to artists who bring their work into us”. The pair enjoy being able to impart their own knowledge to help artists lift their works to exhibition standard through simple tweaks in process or with the help of Dom around the corner at Personality Framers. Being Artists themselves also comes into play when speaking to other Artists’ work with potential buyers. 

The dual role of practicing Artist and Gallerist is proving useful when it comes to sales, but it also means that they have very real empathy for “just how daunting it is to take your work to someone, to be judged – it’s your heart and soul, and the critiquing process can be so uncomfortable”.

There is of course a downside to the dual role though, and while they’ve set up space at the back of the gallery to keep producing work themselves, it’s just not quite happening as they had hoped. Not only is it home to a certain little six-month old baby, they’re also much too busy being Gallerists!  Both Rosie and Hera are feeling it keenly, Rosie describing it in no uncertain terms “If you’re not creating anything it’s like dying a slow agonising death.”

Things are far from doom and gloom however. “The best thing that’s come out of the gallery for us is the number of artists who tell us they’ve started painting again after [so many] years.”  One thing they hadn’t anticipated was that Mīharo would become the inspiration itself for Artists and indeed for themselves. Some of their Artists come in once a week or so to have a look at what’s on the walls, go back home to paint and return with amazing works for the gallery walls. 

“The one thing we know is that we can’t rest on our laurels and wait for things to happen, we have to maintain energy in the gallery and amongst the artists”. One thing that is clear in following these two passionate women’s trajectory over the past couple of months is that they don’t do much resting on laurels. Looking ahead already into the immediate post-summer-holiday-crowd future the pair have come up with the Wet Paint Exhibition Series.

Inspired by abstract works they have been hanging on the gallery walls lately and wanting to challenge themselves as well as their fellow artists, they’ve designed the event to take artists out of their comfort zones and to keep making. The challenge to the participants is to create a work inspired by a particular song, in this first round, ‘Paint it Black’ by The Rolling Stones, within a one-hour time frame. The resulting finished exhibition-quality works will be exhibited and auctioned at Mīharo on Friday 21 February.

Mīharo is a verb meaning to wonder at, to admire. I find much to admire in these two motivated and committed wahine. Mīharo has been built on a foundation of generosity and self-belief, which these two extend to their community of Artists. Much can be achieved when you know someone has your back, and just as these two have the backs of our local arts community and are committed to sharing their skills, knowledge and space with its members, I hope that in turn our wider community continue to reciprocate in kind with our support, generosity and belief in Mīharo, much deserving as it is of our wonderment and our admiration.

Image X Tink Lockett

Story by Sarah Cleave

 The Wet Paint Exhibition Seriesis open to everyone, if you’re tempted you need to register your interest with the Gallery. Go to www.facebook.com/pg/Miharo for more details. 

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