Bringing Joy: Martinborough’s Ventana Creative Collective

“I pinch myself that I’ve started an art business in the middle of nowhere and it’s working.” Ahead of her 12 month anniversary, Auriga Martin talks about her thriving Martinborough business.

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Starting an art business in a small rural community is not usually the domain of IT professionals. But then a successful career in IT is not usually the domain of fine arts graduates either. There is nothing ‘usual’ about Auriga Martin, and this is reflected in the uniqueness of her Martinborough business, Ventana Creative Collective, an artisan retail store which also serves as a gallery space, music venue, and creative learning hub.

Originally from Ojai, California, Auriga studied fine arts at UCLA. She spent a year in Greece as part of her studies, which she particularly enjoyed as it allowed her to take in the more traditional art forms and take a break from conceptual art, which her course favoured. She also particularly enjoyed meeting her husband to be (a Martinborough local) during that year abroad too, which later led her to New Zealand.

Upon completing her degree, Auriga followed the photography path (which was just moving to digital at the time) and through a family connection, found herself working as an intern for an online learning platform, Lynda.com. A start-up business with 10 staff when she first started, and 500 when she left 10 years later, Auriga established and solidified her IT career here.

Auriga has lived in Martinborough for 10 years now, and says she loves it more and more as it evolves.  In many ways she said, it reflects her hometown, originally a country town that has become a haven for creative people escaping the city.

With a vision to spark creativity in the community, Auriga said she seized the moment when a retail space became available in Kitchener Street. When asked about the challenges in setting up the business in such a spontaneous way, she said, “There weren’t any! I’m not religious, but it really felt like there was a higher power looking out for me, everything just went so smoothly.” Taking six months out to launch the business, she had some pretty long days in the beginning, but had a wonderful network of friends to help her and it all came together. Her plan was simple: Bring together all of the things that make life enjoyable, see what works and evolve from there.

Twelve months on, Auriga said, “It’s been wonderful. I’m so proud of it. It completes my sense of purpose. I pinch myself that I’ve started an art business in the middle of nowhere and it’s working. Everyone that walks into our shop says ‘I love your shop,’ – it’s so cool to hear that,” she said.

Auriga spoke about the intimidating nature of art galleries, and her drive to create a welcoming space. “It’s not perfect. There’s uneven walls. It’s rugged. It’s meant to have creative heart, not scare people away.”

In curating the work for the gallery space, first and foremost Auriga said she looks for the right attitude, then whether they have a professional body of work that will resonate with the local audience. She said the artists are so thankful, because before Ventana, there was nowhere for local artists to showcase their work.

Proudly supporting emerging artists, “Visionary Nature” was a recent debut exhibition at Ventana by Bella Foster (15) and Oscar Clarke (13). Oscar creates hand inked drawings inspired by organic shapes of nature, and Bella creates photographs in a natural colour palette taken predominantly in South Wairarapa. While it may not be ‘usual’ to see work from teenagers in a professional art gallery, Auriga said they met all of her prerequisites, “so why not?” “It was an incredible show. They sold pieces, and there were even commissions,” she said.

Also providing an intimate acoustic music venue, Auriga says they have hosted some incredible talent – both local and international. Holding only about 45 people, it is a really special space, and she’s seen people moved to tears by the beauty of the music performed there.

Ventana also offers an impressive selection of creative workshops for adults and afterschool and holiday activities for children. Whether it’s making leather sandals, silver jewelry or giant paper flowers; or learning ukulele, life drawing or print making, Auriga’s intention is that every participant leaves with something of quality that they’re really proud of, and that they have plenty of fun along the way.

Her favourite workshop is the “Paint the Masterpieces” class, which she described as a night of decadence and indulgence. “It feeds the soul,” she said. The class is held once a month and participants enjoy wine from a local wine maker, while having a lesson on history and technique based on a famous painting, reproduce the painting themselves, and then eat cake. “It’s the most beautiful cake you’ve ever seen in you life,” she said.

Auriga also spoke about the Giant Paper Flower workshop. “I just love the tradition of sitting together with a group of women, listening to beautiful music, and creating these giant flowers. I’ve seen multiple generations of women sitting together and making flowers for their wedding.” Speaking of weddings, Auriga said Martinborough has become the top destination in the country for hen’s parties, and her business is busy as a result, putting together custom hen’s parties.

Now back in IT, Auriga treasures Ventana as an important creative balance to her IT life, as well as a stepping stone towards creating art again herself. Asked about what Ventana has done for the Martinborough community, she spoke enthusiastically about the number of wonderful activities, businesses, fairs, and creative outlets the town has to offer already, and said quite simply, “It’s brought even more joy to this community.”

Ventana’s current exhibition is “Three,” showcasing artwork from three local female artists Megan J Campbell, Janie Nott, Kathy Bartlett. Show runs until 20 August.

To find out more about Ventana’s creative workshops and upcoming events, visit https://ventanacreativecollective.co.nz/

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