04 Jun 2024

This content is tagged as Community arts .


Children dressed for Halloween
Spooky Spaces, Photography by Tatiana Harper. (Image supplied)

When Marama Lloydd, the executive director of Māori contemporary dance studio Atamira hears a leaf blower or chainsaw start up at the Corban Estate Arts Centre (CEAC) in Henderson, she knows that art is being made. 

“You hear the metal guys and it’s like ‘what are they making today?’ You wonder what the marble guy is doing. And it’s awesome to be part of that collective. It’s a great place to go to work every day.” 

Atamira has had an office at Corban Estate Arts Centre since 2010 and regularly rents spaces for its performances. Lloydd’s brother worked there when it was still Corbans winery and says a lot of the older artists understand that it’s both a critical part of the fabric of West Auckland and a critical place for New Zealand’s arts scene. 

Lebanese immigrant Assid Abraham Corban purchased 10 acres of land in Henderson in 1902 and planted a vineyard. The estate was sold to Waitākere City Council in 1992 and CEAC is ow home to around 25 resident artists and arts organisations that practise a range of different disciplines including stone carving, traditional tattoo, steel bending, painting, weaving, theatre, and dance. There are also venues for hire, an expanse of green space, galleries, a theatre, a shop, and a cafe.

“Whereas other arts organisations might have one or two of these things, CEAC is a mixture of everything so it’s unique,” says director Luana Walker. “Culturally as well, it’s a really incredible mix with people from all over the world based there.”

“The informal gatherings and serendipitous slices of creative inspiration that come from being surrounded by other artists are a big part of the appeal. 

“It’s about feeling like your part of that community… people approach us and say it’s lonely being an artist if you work in a studio at home. You sometimes want interaction with others, or you might be trying to solve a problem and want some advice,” Walker says.

It’s incredibly hard to sustain yourself as an artist these days, she says, so the estate aims to keep rents low and, in exchange, there is an expectation artists will contribute to CEAC’s mission in ther ways. 

“At the kids’ art festivals, the majority of tutors were people based on the estate and all the artists made a dragon for a treasure hunt. There was a Welsh one, and one from Colombia, and tat started a conversation, so you’re opening the door to that exchange of ideas.” 

CEAC’s revenue can basically be split into thirds: Auckland Council, rent, and venue hire. Large events often require other sources of funding, like The Trusts licensing trust. 

Walker says she has worked in arts and culture departments in the past and it’s often the first budget to be cut when things get tight. Fortunately, she says the local board is aware of the important and varied role CEAC plays in the community and is visible at events.

“They do think it’s a jewel in the crown for the west. It’s challenging when cuts get made, but CEAC is a source of positivity and creates good outcomes.”

The challenge, she says, is making everyone conscious of those outcomes and that requires more awareness and promotion. 

“What we try to encourage is that art is important, and you’ll have children who you’ll connect with in a certain way, and it can change their life.” 

Atamira’s Marama Lloydd has seen this happen first hand after taking dance classes in schools. 

“Teachers have commented on the kids joining the drama group afterwards, or kids who were shy but became more confident, or kids whose literacy improved. We know it has an impact.” 

Having a space to work is everything for artists, she says. And, like those parts of New York or Berlin that attracted huge numbers of artists because of the cheap rents, having a collection of artists in one place is often a recipe for good vibes. 

“Back in my day there were a lot of communities and collectives and art burgeoned. If you don’t have a home as an artist, you don’t have security and you can’t be entrepreneurial.” 

Not everything that counts can be counted and Lloydd says investing in artists is crucial not just for their own livelihoods, but for the broader health of the community. Lots of money has been put into CEAC’s buildings recently after a major earthquake strengthening and renovation project, and there are beautiful spaces available like Te Pou Theatre or Opānuku Studio. But now she thinks the money needs to be poured into people and education programmes. 

“We want to give kids something they may not know they have within themselves. We have the physical structures now and it’s important to keep manifesting great things within those structures.” 

CEAC’s kaupapa is very much about art being open for everyone and resident Susan Haldane aims to open up an often-misunderstood world to others. She founded and runs the charity Mind Over Manner, which uses a team of actors and herself as a facilitator to help those with neurodiversity understand their reactions in certain situations while also educating those around them about why they might be reacting that way. 

Susan says once she has explained the approach, people get it. “People say, ‘Sue, when you explained it, I saw it and I got it.’ And that’s the power of theatre …it reframes [neurodivergence] from disability and frames it as what a different brain might be doing for us. Engaging in a theatre practice shifts people out of their head and into their heart because they have an emotional, energetic experience in a room.” 

She says CEAC is a strong anchor for her, as well as a whare for the actors she works with to come home to after travelling or filming. 

“They can come to CEAC and they're walking along and someone's coming out of Te Pou and they're having a big embrace, or people come up from Wellington and will come and work there. There's this nice sense that the actors feel like they're going somewhere that's nourishing them.” 

Director Luana Walker says the success of CEAC has been used as a model for similar places elsewhere, like Te Atamira community arts and cultural space in Queenstown, while the Howick Historical Village sought advice on how to deal with its old building issues. 

Homestead 20th Anniversary, Photography by Holly Vaihu. (Image supplied)

From Covid restrictions to the Auckland floods to the earthquake strengthening project, she says there has been a lot of upheaval recently, but “it is now at a really beautiful junction.” 

“The buildings are nicely refreshed. There are exciting initiatives on the boil. And we’re at the point where we can go from strength to strength. 

Times are tough for many families at the moment so places that offer free activities are even more important for the community, she says. 

“We try to capture children young with free arts education classes. They might go through and do some of our paid workshops on weekends, at night or in the holidays, then maybe they go to art school, and maybe they come back to the estate as artists.”

Walker says this is all part of “the cradle to grave strategy.” 

“We love when kids go home and they’re still buzzing. We make a conscious effort to engage more with communities based in the west and more community groups are asking to use the grounds.”

She and the team have recently been looking at their strategic vision and figuring out what they want to achieve in the next five years. 

“In a world that’s so abuzz with technology and all this talk about robotics and AI, it’s nice to come back to basics. We do hands-on traditional stuff. Technology will be part of that, but we want to protect and nurture those arts and create centres of excellence, so those things live on, and that knowledge is retained. If it’s glass casting, you go to Corbans. If it’s stained glass or steel bending, you go to Corbans.” 

“And if you want to walk your dog in a beautiful green space and stop for a coffee, learn about the history of the area, give your kids a taste of the arts, witness some of the world’s best contemporary dancers using their bodies to tell New Zealand stories or gain an understanding of what neurodiversity feels like through the power of theatre, you go to Corbans”

This series brings to life the benefits of local arts and culture investment. Read more about localism here.