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Now that we’ve all got a few early nights under our belts, it feels like a good time to reflect on the second year of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Each edition has been deeply influenced by the circumstances of the year in which they were held. Last year the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival coincided with Tuia 250 and as Tama Waipara noted, “everybody was exhausted.  Iwi were getting up every morning to stand up kaupapa across the district” and emotion was high. The Festival was brand new, the tickets were cheap, and between Tuia 250 and the Festival there was a lot going on.

This year Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival coincided delightfully with a return to Level 1 – a turn of phrase that wouldn’t have meant a thing to anyone a year ago. In this year so utterly defined by the Covid-19 Pandemic, TTAF 2020 in Level 1 offered the perfect excuse for us all to re-emerge and reconnect. Tama reflected on the “presence of uplift” as people came out and “reclaimed space after a period of anxiety, fear and worry with lockdown”. 

* * *

You will not find an arts festival like Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival anywhere else in the country, as it is by its very definition ‘of this place’. Firmly rooted in Tangatawhenuatanga, it is place-based and comes from the knowledge that we are all culturally located. It is a space that has been claimed for our stories, in our voices, for our people.

I have enjoyed the aspects of continuity from 2019 to 2020.  Just as the Festival itself has settled into its own bones, so too has Te Ara I Whiti grown into itself, this year bringing the riverbank alive with barefoot kids in pyjamas and parents jogging to keep up. It was cool to be able to wander amongst the light installations and sculptures and be able to guess at the artists behind the works, knowing that through this platform and over time, the expressions of our artists become a recognisable and familiar part of our story.

It has been awesome to see in ourselves a community which can and does engage with the arts, which shows up to theatres and other venues in droves, steps up and interacts as active participant when asked to do so; a community that floods our eateries and bars before and after events, who can and do bring our CBD to life when the goods are there on offer.

It has been heartening to both observe and experience the flow-on effect of inspiration – the inspiration derived from bearing witness to, or experiencing the creative expression of another, especially when that creative expression comes from someone who looks or sounds like you, who lives in the same part of town as you, or who you might recognise from the farmer’s market.  I look forward to seeing who is compelled to add their voice to Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival stable in the future after experiencing what they have in this year’s offerings.

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival will be a potent force for many many years to come, in helping our community find its voice; its many voices, offering us the opportunity to understand ourselves and each other better.  Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival also offers an important platform for our creatives, laying down the challenge, ‘What is your expression of this place, your place and your people, in these times? What will you add to this story?’

Words Sarah Cleave

Photographs X Tom Teutenberg

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