Art in the Community

Specially designed for young people, this recently completed, award-winning, multi-purpose space has filled a gap in the creative life of the community. It provides a place where New Zealand artists and teachers can encourage children, teens and young adults to express their creativity and celebrate different cultures, using a variety of learning, practice and performance facilities.

After about 20 years of planning, Te Oro – the Glen Innes Music and Arts Centre – opened its doors in 2015, and now offers a comprehensive programme of activities aimed at young people between around 15 to 24, as well as a range of activities for younger children. Classes in music, dance, performance and visual arts are all on offer, as well as options to learn about the more technical aspects of performance and music.

Te Oro also hosts regular and one-off events such as the annual Bradley Lane exhibition and artists’ talks, held in November or December each year, as well as art competitions, dance performances and, at the end of the year, Christmas gift-making courses where local children can join in and make gifts for their families.

The regular programme includes options for everyone from young children to adults, some classes free and others with a small koha or fee, some with only one or two classes and others running through the whole year.  You can choose between art classes, group music lessons, drama, dance classes, sculpture and printmaking classes. There are yoga sessions, one-on-one lessons on various musical instruments, Cook Islands dance classes, junior and intermediate hip hop.

Each year new programmes are introduced, and recently Te Oro hosted a digital workshop for young people interested in film making for virtual reality and gaming, run by the Maoriland Film Festival. Plus, visual artist Gary Silipa, who teaches several art classes at Te Oro, was involved in co-ordinating the suburb’s second Graf Art Competition, where contestants were invited to submit sketches for a chance to enter and go head-to-head in a live graffiti battle.

Planning is already underway for a variety of classes for 2018, building on courses like a two-day workshop for younger filmmakers at beginner or intermediate level.

Stephen Johnson, Auckland Council manager arts & culture facilities and assets, says there has been a bit of trial and error to establish the programmes and types of courses, payment structures and opening times that best suit people, and in the three years since Te Oro has opened they have tweaked these areas to keep the community engaged.

“As well as running classes, we also have the opportunity to train young people in the technical side of performance arts. We see this as a way to help them pick up skills for the future and gain experience to reach the next level of involvement in a professional theatre company.”

Another important aspect, says Stephen, is the engagement with the community through hiring out space at Te Oro for local events, rehearsals and other purposes. “We will work with community groups to help them get things going, and find the best solutions for their needs.”

Stephen says the venue hire policy is aimed to be flexible, with discounts for community groups, not-for-profit groups and support offered to help get events up and running.

The concept of Te Oro was created through research and collaboration between the local Maungakiekie-Tamaki board of Auckland Council, the project’s architects, Maori artists and designers and Mana Whenua groups, as well as people from the community. These groups recognised that the community wanted a representative and responsive local facility that would meet their needs and encourage the aspirations and talents of local young people.

This collaboration has continued in the running of Te Oro, with the governing committee made up of local board and community representatives. “They look at the overall programme that we put forward and have input in steering our direction – this means the community is a final check that we are doing what the people are asking for,” says Stephen.

“The community has been very positive about Te Oro,” he says. “We have moved to having as many programmes free or with only a small donation, and individual lessons subsidised so young people can have that experience.”

“Now we are up and running, we are looking at other tweaks – whether the opening hours are right, if we should be open in the evenings, how to better utilise the 9-3 slot. We could maybe run more adult or mother and baby sessions, or hire out meeting rooms.”

Designed by the architect and design team of architect Lindsay Mackie of Archimedia, working with Maori design consultants Bernard Makoare, Petelo Esekielu and Martin Leung-Wai, Te Oro unifies over 60 local ethnicities. Its blend of art, design and cultural detailing seamlessly combines traditional elements with contemporary ideas and technology.

The building features three two-storey pavilions linked by a naturally lit circulation hub. Within this framework are two large dance studios and working areas, a double-height 394-seat performance space, a digital editing suite and recording rooms, and several fine arts workshops.

The form of the building, say the architects, is visualised as a natural arboreal canopy under which learning and creativity can occur, with interiors strongly linked to the natural world. This form is taken from the stories linking the Aotea waka voyaging across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa, and the planting of a small group of karaka trees, which stand today on Taurere (Mt Taylor). The design of three floating canopies, supported by timber tree trunks to create a grove, is drawn from these landscape and whakapapa references, with the intention of creating a place where people can go to shelter, talk, learn and make, say the project team. The ceiling and skylights, with light filtering through, suggest a leaf canopy in a forest

Even the name has a local reference:  Te Oro means the sound of the wind blowing through and across Maungarei (Mt Wellington).

Located in Glen Innes between the local library and the Ruapotaka marae, Te Oro is part of the cultural heart of the area.

Many of the artworks decorating the building and its surrounds are by artists from the Mana Whenua groups involved in the project. To help integrate the three buildings, a traditional manaia form designed by a senior Maori artist drapes over the three buildings – with the library as the head of the manaia, the marae at the heart, Te Oro as the arms, and the community park and centre as the feet.

Sustainability and self-sufficiency were also part of the design brief for Te Oro; more than 250 photovoltaic panels covering the roof structure supply much of the energy needs of the building, while rain water is collected for use in the toilets and gardens. As well, the façade design, high levels of insulation and double glazing all help reduce the building’s energy consumption.