The Enduring Power of Community

Community ‘art power’ is influencing society across Aotearoa. [Sponsored by Mangawhai Artists]

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I’ve spoken to a lot of artists in my time working with The Big Idea. And one theme that has come through almost every - if not every - conversation is the power of community. Successful artists have a strong network of friends, family, other artists and arts-adjacent people who they can tap into for ideas, support or even just a sounding board.

Mangawhai Artists Inc is a great example of this. This organisation provides both exhibition space and studio facilities where artists can display their work, hone their craft in workshops, and learn from one another. It’s a community that everyone can benefit from - not just the artists, but the wider Mangawhai community.

How it works

Mangawhai Artists Inc is a small gallery an hour and a half drive north of  Auckland. Unlike commercial galleries, it’s run “by artists for artists.” If a member of Mangawhai Artists sells a piece of work during one of their exhibitions, he or she gets the entire value of that piece. If you sell for $100, you get $100.

This is a significant difference from the commercial galleries, which charge commissions of 40% or more. Sold a piece for $100? Well, you’re only taking home $60 of that.

This model works for Mangawhai Artists because it’s less of a business and more of a cooperative social enterprise. Artists who join Mangawhai Artists can display their work and hopefully sell it at exhibitions - but they also need to pitch in and help with other artists’ exhibitions. It’s a very reciprocal way of working.   

On top of this, there are lots of benefits to the artists from pooling resources. For example, let’s say you were working alone, and you had an exhibition coming up. To promote your exhibition, you could call around various journalists, hoping to get picked up by one of them. Take it from me - I used to do this for a living, and it’s gruelling work. What’s more, it’s even harder if you’re doing it on your own, because nobody knows who you are.

But if you band together with some other like-minded artists, you can do this more effectively. You can see how this works by looking at the ”in the news” bit of Mangawhai Artists’ website.  These artists aren’t just promoting their work individually - it is being promoted by and through the wider Mangawhai Arts community, which gives it that extra bit of credibility and media value. What’s more, it’s a lot less time consuming when you pull together to spread the grunt work of ringing around to a bunch of other artists.

Going a little further

Then you can go beyond the collective, and into a community as well. This is a subtle, but important difference. A collective is a group of people pooling resources, while a community is a group of people who work together to build each other up. There’s a particular magic in community.

Mangawhai Artists Inc is full of artists from all different skill levels, backgrounds and points in their careers. This means there’s tons of opportunity for members to learn from one another, and for more experienced members to give the less-experienced members the confidence boost and push they need to start exhibiting.

At its core, this is what Mangawhai Artists Inc is all about. They develop each other, they push each other, and they teach each other things that they never would have otherwise learned.

But they can’t do it alone

One of the main ways the members of Mangawhai Artists Inc help each other out is through regular workshops. But they can only do this during the winter, because space is limited. During the other nine months of the year, they’re using the space for exhibitions.

Also, the space doesn’t have a toilet and facilities! This is not ideal as workshops can last at least half day or more. The good news is they have designed a new workspace with proper facilities to meet the demand of the expanding creativity and art in the community.

Here’s how you can help - Mangawhai Artists is raising money through PledgeMe with the aim to start building in May. They’ve got an ambitious and admirable goal to extend facilities - $100,000!  (See their plan below). So if you’ve got a couple dollars to spare and you’re an art lover, go ahead and back their great plans, delight them by chucking it into their piggy bank. It’s a great way to support a growing artists’ community up north.

Photo credits from top:
Nicola Everett at her exhibition 'Gold and Oil, the Legacy and Menace of the Niagara'
"Magical Mangawhai Goes Bush! One Moonlit Night...."
- a Community Art Event.
A model for the planned extension. All images supplied.

Written by

Sam Grover

4 Mar 2019

Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art. 

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