“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
This simple, but incredibly profound observation was made by the famous American Trappist monk & writer, Thomas Merton, in 1955.
It is a truth than can be appreciated from many perspectives… As an artist, a casual observer, a dedicated art appreciator and most definitely as a community.
In one form or another, the Great Barrier Island Community Heritage and Arts Village Trust have been providing the opportunity and the ‘space’ for Great Barrier Island’s artists, community and visitors to find and lose themselves since December 2004.
In the beginning…
The Trust was first registered in 2001 as Aotea Artz Community Trust. With no ‘home’ of their own, the seven original trustees exhibited their work at local cafes, restaurants and halls. After an enormous voluntary effort over the following three years, the Aotea Gallery was officially opened in December 2004.
By late 2009 the trust had changed it’s name (Great Barrier Island Community Heritage and Arts Village Trust) and moved to it’s current and ideal location on the main road in Claris.
The ‘village’ is a work of art in it’s own right. The three main buildings are signicant historical structures. Art is exhibited in the Mabey Gallery which was the old Mabey family homestead. It was built in 1908 in the north of the island at Whangapoua Beach.
The Wiltshire House was built by the Gray family. The wreck of the Wiltshire Steamer near Rosalie Bay in 1922 provided some invaluable timber & materials used to finish the construction of their home on the edge of the Kaitoke wetlands. Work is nearing completion on transforming this lovely old homestead into the Village Museum.
The oldest building is the Tryphena School Master’s House, built in 1897. It was the original Aotea Gallery but these days it’s used for holding workshops, meetings and performances.
There’s always something happening at the village. Group exhibitions, winter workshops, kids art classes and special events ensure that their calendar is full of dates to remember.
All of the art displayed at the village is created by island residents or artists with a strong island connection. With over 100 artists contributing their work to the gallery and regular themed exhibitions running throughout the year, the art offered for sale is always diverse and fresh. You’ll find a huge range of items, from paintings, sculptures and prints through to jewellery, pottery, carvings and clothing.
The engine room…
There are seven trustees that handle the long term planning and decisions.
The day to day running is taken care of by a Gallery Coordinator and a Finance Coordinator.
Shona Gray became the Gallery Coordinator in August 2013 and she’s connected in more ways than one.
Not only is she married to Darren Gray, whose grandfather built the Wiltshire House, but she’s also a Mabey through her mothers side of the family.
“As a child I had many holidays on Great Barrier Island. We always stayed at Whangapoua in my grandmothers house - which is now the Mabey Gallery. I never imagined that in the future I’d be going to work each day in the very house I used to play in with my cousins, the Mabey boys.”
We asked her what she enjoys most about her role at the gallery. “The Arts Village is a real social hub and I’ve met some amazing people... the trustees, volunteers, artists and of course the visitors. It’s a challenging position, but it’s also very rewarding.” She was quick to point out that although she’s been coming to Great Barrier Island for most of her life, her experiences were mainly limited to north of the Okiwi airfield. "Working for the trust has enabled me to get acquainted with a much wider section of the community."
Nell Williams has been the Finance Coordinator for about 3 years. She’s recently put together a great little website and according to Shona… she’s worth her weight in gold. “Look-out anybody that’s contemplating poaching Nell. It’s not going to happen!”
Nell is an artist herself and works with a real mix of materials. "I use recycled fabric to make egg cosies, tea cosies, bags and hot water bottle covers. I also create mosaic chickens, pottery carrier pigeons, fused glass jewellery, woven baskets and more."
She’s very enthusiastic about her involvement with the village. “Its a really amazing project to have on the island, I love being part of it, and seeing it grow. There’s so much potential and some great plans in the pipeline. I'd like to see more people on the island involved, not just artists, but other community members who are interested in the museum/ heritage side, or want to help develop the grounds, or do art with kids.”
On the horizon…
There are some exciting developments in store for the Heritage and Arts Village. The completion of the museum is an obvious example. “We hope to have at least a couple of rooms finished and operating as a museum by the end of 2015” says Shona. “And then there’s the Sculpture Trail. Eventually Claris will have an amazing sculpture trail weaving it’s way from the Claris Airport all the way to the Claris Commercial Centre”.
The Great Barrier Island Community Heritage and Arts Village has become a ‘must do’ for visitors to the island and like art centres around the country, it has become an integral part of the local community experience.
What: Great Barrier Island Community Heritage and Arts Village
Where: 80 Hector Sanderson Road, Claris
Phone: 09 4290 570