Whakatāne Museum is currently testing out a theory that creative people and volcanoes go together. The Eastern Bay of Plenty cultural and heritage institution, operated by the Whakatāne District Council, thinks that profound and unexpected artistic inspiration can come from deep connections to geothermal activity, otherworldly landscapes, and subterranean mysteries.
"That's our thesis, as the earth continues to boil below," says Director Eric Holowacz. "We are building a platform for creative people to explore the wonders of the earth and the raw power of the natural world, because that experience might also have the power to transform the creative process in mysterious new ways."
To prove it, Holowacz and his team have established partnerships with White Island Tours, Arts Whakatāne, Bay of Plenty businesses, Antipodes Water Company, and a few other collaborators. Their new programme, based on residencies of 1 to 8 weeks, will be formally announced later in 2018.
"Together we're laying the groundwork for New Zealand's first Volcanic Artist Residency," says Holowacz. "The programme will provide housing, work space, field visits, and connections to unique Eastern Bay of Plenty environments."
If they get it right, Whakatāne will have a unique new creative development platform for artists and cultural managers from all over New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific. At the centre of each residency is accommodation in the historic Harbour Master House and a day-long journey to explore New Zealand's only active offshore volcano.
"We want to host choreographers, sculptors, film-makers, writers, and people working in a creative field," says Holowacz. "But the programme will also invite arts administrators, curators, comedians, educators, television producers, and those who contribute to cultural identity and understanding."
To put this geothermal theory to the test, Whakatāne Museum began by hosting fearless Christchurch-based artists Edwards + Johann in April. Before opening new exhibitions at Whakatāne Museum, the duo embarked on an odyssey to Whakaari/White Island — guided by geologist Sarah Bluett of White Island Tours. Offshore they gathered new images, ideas, and inspiration, and generated material for a new Whakatāne gallery installation. Local photographer Troy Baker went along and documented the journey from land to sea, across boiling landscapes and into an entirely new world.
“Whakaari left a huge impression on us — quite overwhelming at the time, but truly magical. It’s a place you have to feel with all your senses; a place you have to go to in order to experience its majestic, ever-changing and evolving landscape. There is so much grandeur — like a theatre stage you find yourself in the middle of the action all the time — yet with so much intimate detail and finesse.”
The Whakatāne Museum and Arts Team are now working to structure a more formal Volcanic Artist Residency programme — and will begin by hosting film-makers Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith in July 2018. The duo will use the Whakatāne Harbour Master House to develop a new film script based in Whakatāne. New Zealand creative producers, cultural managers, and artistic adventurers will follow to help prove this geothermal theory. In a way, Edwards + Johann already have:
”Our visit to Whakaari has inspired us in ways we couldn’t have comprehended when we were researching the Whakatāne region from Christchurch. Rich ombré of pinks and greens, crisp crusty mustards transition into pastel, almost iridescent lemon yellows. The painterly palette was rich and inspiring. The different tortured rock formations paired with the delicate growths of crusts and crystals — all drifting in and out of layers of mist. The residency left us with a total sense of wonder and awe. This was the perfect input and start of a totally new body of work for us.”
The initial Volcanic Artist Residencies are by invitation only. But once the programme has been tested, from early 2019 the opportunity will be open to applicants from everywhere. For details and information, see the links below or contact Whakatāne Museum at email@example.com