Collective Mindset

A pioneering arts programme gathers force in an unexpected corner of Tāmaki Makaurau.

Collective Mindset

A pioneering arts programme gathers force in an unexpected corner of Tāmaki Makaurau.

“I’ve always been interested in alternative arts education models,” says Te Tuhi director Hiraani Himona (Ngāi Te Whatuiāpiti, Ngāti Rangiwhakāewa and Ngāti Hikarara), standing in the garden of O Wairoa Marae in Howick, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

At first glance, it’s an unusual spot for an alternative arts programme. In front of us, there’s a little wharenui known as Matariki, where a local school group is being welcomed with a pōwhiri. Not far away, there’s a little black and white building housing a collection of taonga, and another few steps from there, in a basement under a neighbouring building, is the home of Papatūnga, an arts programme dedicated to alternative professional development for artists.

It’s a complicated little scheme, so bear with me. Te Tuhi is a leading gallery and platform for contemporary art, based in Pakuranga, Tāmaki Makaurau. The marae and Papatūnga are run by Te Tuhi, which took over administration of the marae in 2020, but the site dates back to 1931.

It was then that Emilia Maud Nixon built a small folk museum to house all her treasures, and a miniature wharenui in the bush on her land, which she called the Garden of Memories. Her intention was to bring together the perspectives of Māori and Pākehā to learn from each other: that remains the kaupapa of the place.

When she died in 1962, Nixon left the whole site – her house, the garden, the whare and a collection of taonga – to the then Howick Borough Council, to be enjoyed by the local community. Over the years, the place fell into disrepair – almost forgotten – until in the early 1980s Taini Drummond (Tainui, Ngāti Mahuta) was invited to take care of the museum and the wharenui.

Since then, what is now known as O Wairoa Marae has had a mixed sort of history. In 1994, the whare was moved up the hill out of the bush: not long after, it fell victim to an arson attack. For various reasons I won’t go into here, there was much consternation among the community about rebuilding the whare, which took another 10 years.

By 2020, Te Tuhi and the marae were thinking about collaborating on community education programmes.  Drummond was in her late seventies at the time and suggested that Te Tuhi might run the schools programme, and also look after the whole marae. “It’s got enormous potential,” says Himona. “This place has been loved, but under-resourced for years. It just needed more support and ongoing love for it to flourish.”

Not long after, Te Tuhi started to think about the possibility of an arts programme of the likes not previously seen in Aotearoa. In 2022, Himona, James Tapsell-Kururangi (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Mākino, Tainui, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-a-Rākairoa), James McCarthy and Toni McKinnon applied to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s Innovation Fund for a grant to establish an artist development programme. To their delight, they were awarded and Papatūnga was born. “It’s all part of generating more activity in the marae,” says Himona.


She brought on Edith Amituanai to run Papatūnga with Tapsell-Kururangi, with a brief not to replicate the existing models: there are no formal application processes, no explicit programme, no criteria or scoresheets or lenses. Instead the focus is simply on what artists need and what they might be helped by. “They’re out of school and they’ve got a lot of debt, and they’re working a few jobs,” Amituanai says of their artists. “This is a way to bring people together to encourage practice, to give opportunities to artists who need them. And to give them time – we’re trying to buy time.”

Instead of a formalised programme, Papatūnga features three key strands woven together, all of which overlap and support each other. There are artist’s projects, and a series of wānanga inspired by the specific needs of the artists and which build the community around the programme. And finally, there’s a series of road trips, engaging artists with festivals, workshops and exhibitions around the country that they would otherwise not be able to afford to attend. Amituanai: “When I started at art school, they used to do this. I remember going to a noho down in Taumarunui – as an islander, it was my first time going to these places. Because why would I go to Taumarunui?”

The first artist to work with Papatūnga was Geoffery Matautia, who took the photographs for this story, and who first gained attention with the Instagram account @southsides, which documented people in Manukau in a beautifully composed series of portraits. Matautia wanted to develop knowledge around filmmaking while at Papatūnga, undertaking courses on lighting and sound, which were fully subscribed. (Since then, artists have included Hannah Ireland, Ngaroma Riley, Chevron Hassett, Fa’amele Etuale, Chris Bailey and Ashleigh Taupaki. It’s quite a list.)

In the past year, Te Whare Taonga has undergone a significant refurbishment, and the taonga have been rehoused and catalogued, through grants raised by Te Tuhi from the Museum Hardship Fund and Auckland Council: it’s now open to the public again. At the same time, the marae, quietly, continues to connect a lot of people, with an annual Matariki festival and waiata classes, among other things. “It’s a learning space, it’s a wānanga,” says Himona. “A lot of people who connect to this place have no connection to their own marae and have been discovering their connections by coming here. It’s a funny little building, far too small in some ways to be useful – and yet it’s delightful.”

O Wairoa Marae



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