04 Aug 2017

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Gores thriving arts and culture scene defies its small size

Enthusiastic local arts and culture supporters have made the small Southland town of Gore a hub of festivals, awards, galleries and museums keen to attract visitors – as well as funding.

Gore District Council’s challenge is how to sustain the town’s flourishing arts and heritage infrastructure while being mindful of its small rates base, which contributes to an annual income of just $20 million.

The council made its relative smallness an asset with its closeness to the community and nimble decision-making paying dividends. Gore is sustaining a host of successful arts and heritage initiatives while also planning for an ambitious new project.

Local residents are also happy. The council’s latest annual survey registered 99% satisfaction with core arts and heritage facilities.

Work that helped the council meet the challenge started in 1996 when it set up its Department of Arts & Heritage.

“It was a way of encouraging key cultural facilities to reach their potential. The department provided management services and support which, in turn, gave the council a view of the events happening in the community and links to the people making them happen,” says Gore District Council chief executive Stephen Parry.

The department also helped art gallery and museum trusts to realise the goodwill of other funders in the community.  In 15 years more than $4 million has been raised for the redevelopment of key facilities including the Eastern Southland Gallery, the Hokonui Heritage Centre, Mataura Museum and the East Gore Art Centre.

Investing in success

The council has also invested in the many awards and festivals taking place in the town, ranging from the New Zealand Country Music Awards to the Hokonui Moonshiners Festival and Hokonui Fashion Design Awards.

“For a small community we are able to sustain a number of ambitious cultural projects,” said Mr Parry. “Because the council is just one of many supporters our funding can be used to keep developing and growing successful events."

With its popular festivals and the awards Gore can also look forward to locals and visitors filling their venues, shops, cafes and accommodation.

Hokonui Moonshine Festival
A good crowd at the Hokonui Moonshiners Festival.

New arts and cultural precinct

Gore’s thriving cultural sector has now encouraged the council to take steps towards another ambitious cultural development. It has provided seed funding to develop designs for a designated arts and cultural precinct in the town centre.

The intention is to refine and enhance adjacent facilities such as the art gallery, library, museum and visitor centre with a street scape that features public art and user-friendly infrastructure that can be adapted for arts and heritage events, eg areas for mobile staging or bracing for temporary sail-cloth covers.

“While we are small it’s amazing, with the right support, what a few inspired and committed people can achieve,” said Mr Parry.

This is one of four case studies on how local authorities are using the arts to improve lives in their communities. For more case studies see The Arts: Working hard for your community 2016 (pdf 900KB)  - prepared for Local Government New Zealand Conference 2017.