When the Waikato Story publicity material was launched I felt a bit deflated truth be told. We were presented with a beautiful video portraying our amazing region. It was chokka full of panoramas of lush green landscapes, dramatic waterways, healthy people doing healthy outdoor things and we saw proud, happy people working and living in thriving communities. It made you feel pretty darn smug that you had the insight to live in such a blessed part of the world. Yet I went away from the presentation feeling that it wasn’t quite the full fabulous story and an opportunity had been sorely missed.
We had not seen our arts and culture. Our creativity. Our colour. Our diversity. Our identity.
I just spent a few minutes Googling “how to chose where to live”. The advice was pretty consistent: rate your place to live based on the following factors:
- Real estate
- Proximity to friends and family
Every list I found, without exception, talked about the importance of having access to cultural opportunities. Culture can mean many things depending on what your personal interests are. It can be seeing your favourite sports team play, or being able to be around a specific religious or ethic community who share your beliefs and interests. But without doubt, culture means seeing your local identity being expressed through the arts. People are looking to connect with creativity in theatres, concerts, galleries, libraries, museums, music halls, festivals and public places.
The good news for the Waikato Story (and all of us who live here) is we do indeed have these things in glorious abundance. We just need to get better at recognising them and talking about them. So when someone is weighing up whether the Waikato might be a nice place to invest in, put down roots or raise a family, they can consider that not only is this an affordable, safe place with great education and sporting facilities, but there is a full to overflowing cultural offering just waiting to be gobbled up.
If you are reading this as a potential future Waikatonian (I just made that up, it’s not a thing), I expect you’d like to know what some of those things are. So without further ado, here are six of my favourite arty things about the Waikato this week (I could have done 50, but I’ve already exceed my word count). Enjoy.
Wall by wall, the BOON is working with artists to transform the streets of Hamilton into places of creative expression and storytelling. BOON is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organisation, run by amazing locals who love their city and are excited by street art. The Boon Street Art festival exists because great cities are creative cities. Boon has just completed its third year and has created over 20 works of art in the city and Hamilton is definitely well cooler for it.
Every two years the public gets a chance to be part of this awe-inspiring experience. The one-day event features some of the finest traditional Māori Performing Art groups throughout Aotearoa. The event attracts around 5,000 people throughout the day, and many, many more the stream it online. This mana charged event gives you the opportunity to experience excellence in Māori Performing Arts, Māori Language and Māori Customs. Competition is truly fierce with each group competing to secure themselves a spot at the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival – the pinnacle event for traditional Māori Performing Arts.
I’m sure it’s not my imagination. The Waikato has the most insanely active Community Theatre of anywhere I have ever seen. They deliver Shakespeare to Sartre and Hall to Hammerstein. The following list of theatre groups is probably not complete, however every group on the list is producing excellent community based entertainment across the wide region. Community theatres are a centrifuge of good energy and relationships that help our smaller communities thrive.
- Morrisville Theatre
- Putaruru Players
- Riverlea Theatre (Hamilton Playbox and Musikmakers)
- OSPA – Onewhero
- Te Awamutu Little Theatre
- Cambridge Repertory Society at the Gaslight Theatre
- Paeroa Little Theatre
- Whangamata Theatre Society
- Matamata Musical Theatre
- Tokoroa Little Theatre
- Thames Music and Drama
- On-Stage Te Kuiti
- Little Theatre Taumarunui
Hillcrest High is a Hamilton school that knows how to get the best of kids with creative urges. It has had more students awarded at a national level in the Sheilah Winn Festival of Shakespeare in Schools Competition than any other school in the country and regularly have students accepted to work at The Globe Theatre in Stratford England. Their Theatresports teams are top of the game and regularly take out the regional comps. Their musical theatre productions could be easily mistaken as being semi-professional. They don’t have the flashiest of facilities but that’s doesn’t seem to get in the way of excellence. Many of their students go onto study the arts at tertiary level (Toi Whakaari is full of them) and have long and successful creative careers. Kimbra is a Hillcrest alumni alongside a huge number of others who are enjoying the career of their dreams both locally and across the globe. So, if you’ve got an arty kid and you want a school that gets it, go have a chat to Hillcrest.
Ahhhh – the Coromandel. Whether you are lucky enough to live there or just stopping in for a visit, this is my number one way to get the most out of the peninsular. Mercury Bay Art Escape artists are located around the stunning coastal area of Mercury Bay encompassing the areas of Hikuai, Tairua, Hahei, Hot Water Beach, Cooks Beach, Whenuakite, Coroglen, Whitianga, Kuaotunu. This free self-guided tour of art studios continues throughout the year. Artists offer visitors an exclusive encounter with their individual style and techniques, which includes, pottery, painting, photography, printmaking, glasswork, jewellery and much more. Pick up a free Mercury Bay Art Escape Art Guide at local galleries and libraries (or from us at Creative Waikato).
If you were to succumb to stereotypes about rural Waikato towns you might be surprised to learn that the regions most important art gallery is in Morrinsville. Sure, it is to Hamilton’s shame that it doesn’t have a public art gallery of significance, but all the more power to Morrinsville for capatalising on the opportunity. The Wallace Gallery Morrinsville is a project borne out of passion and community vision: intended as a centre of excellence, showcasing New Zealand art and artists, providing a community focus and an ideal venue for inspiring and educating young people. With Sir James Wallace as its patron, the gallery has rights to exhibit the entire James Wallace Arts Trust collection – with more than 5,000 pieces valued at over $50million and spanning over 50 years – it is an incredible accolade for Morrinsville Gallery, and a real coup for the area. The Gallery has a regular programme of exciting exhibitions beyond the Wallace collection and is a somewhat of a best kept secret – which is ludicrous given how great it is.