Portraits to be placed in Cuba Street

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Twenty-three Cuba People have moved into Wellington's new arts centre. The innovative public art project began as an idea to commission new works of art that reflect the unique character, people, and…

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Twenty-three Cuba People have moved into Wellington's new arts centre. The innovative public art project began as an idea to commission new works of art that reflect the unique character, people, and personalities of Wellington's Cuba Street €”and then place these portraits in the community.

Image: Amanda Johnson, Manuela, 2005, (detail),Twenty-three Cuba People have moved into Wellington's new arts centre. The innovative public art project began as an idea to commission new works of art that reflect the unique character, people, and personalities of Wellington's Cuba Street €”and then place these portraits in the community.

Image: Amanda Johnson, Manuela, 2005, (detail),The new Wellington Arts Centre gallery is hosting a preview exhibition of Cuba People portraits throughout September. This is the first look at what will appear along facades and storefronts of Cuba Street in the months to come.

The Cuba People project was developed by local artist Amanda Johnson and Wellington City Council Arts Programmes and Services Manager, Eric Holowacz in early 2005.
The first phase of Cuba People involved the artist studying and meeting the people who make the neighbourhood vibrant.
Johnson then executed a series of drawings (many of which are also on view) to serve as portraiture studies for the larger works. She and Holowacz compiled a diverse range of subjects over several weeks--meeting as many people as possible and growing the participation along Upper Cuba Street.

When this new Arts Centre opened its doors in May, one block away, Johnson was selected for a studio space and began painting the life-sized oil-based portraits of Cuba People onto sign-grade plywood. Completing one or two a week, the artist continued to meet people on the street and invite more participants. The result €”twenty unique portraits of unique Wellingtonians €”is a testament to the creativity, skill, and dedication of artist Amanda Johnson.

Following the current preview exhibition, the creative team will work with the portrait subjects and Cuba Street community to identify the best locations for temporary installation. These Cuba People paintings will then be bolted in place as public art, and will remain on view throughout the summer.

The Council's new Public Art Programme provided the necessary resources and funding for this project, and will soon be calling for future project proposals for temporary, site-specific, and new genre public art. Sponsor Patrick King prepared and finished all of the wood at his Cut to Size studio. Many of Wellington's Cuba Street businesses and personalities have helped forge this creative partnership.

Cuba Street is, after all, unlike any other boulevard in New Zealand. It contains a powerful sense of place and community. This project has been developed to celebrate and recognise that. Cuba People are lawn mower mechanics, cafe workers, pedestrians and students and businessmen, performers, chemists, mothers strolling with babies, solicitors and texting teenagers and op shop managers, activists, migrants and fish n' chips cooks. Cuba People is the heart of Wellington. Cuba People is who we are.

For information about Cuba People, Wellington Arts Centre, or the Wellington City Council's Public Art Programme, please contact Eric Holowacz, Arts Programmes and Services Manager on 04 385 1929 or arts@wcc.govt.nz

Written by

Eric Vaughn Holowacz

21 Sep 2005

Eric Vaughn Holowacz was born in Princeton, New Jersey and grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. He attended Irmo High School, and was a member of its National Championship academic Quiz Bowl Team in 1986.