Open studio brings museum to life

A group of artists has taken up residence in the foyer of Te Manawa museum in Palmerston North to share their creativity with each other and with visitors and tourists alike.

They are part of NOA Open Studio, which opened towards the end of 2016 with funding from the IHC Foundation. It is one way in which the museum, art gallery and science centre is bringing the life of the community inside the building.

Chief Executive Andy Lowe says Te Manawa has a concept called ‘museum without boundaries’. “It’s about mixing it up and breaking down the barriers. We want to bring people who are often invisible and make them visible in our environment,” he says.

He says the IHC Foundation funding had “put wings on an idea” by enabling Te Manawa to really explore what it means to be inclusive.

NOA Arts Facilitator Aroha Lowe, his wife, has had a long involvement with outsider artists, with artists who have disabilities, with the elderly and with children. She says NOA is about sharing and inhabiting public space to create art together.

“The right of citizenship means that we can move through public spaces. We are part of things that go on. Te Manawa is funded by the ratepayer and anyone can come here, but some people have been under-represented,” she says.

“I was raised by my father who was disabled. He was seriously injured in a traffic accident when I was three – hit by a vehicle when he was walking across a crossing in Auckland. My mother had died of cancer just months before this. So, my father, post-coma, had to learn to talk and walk again.

“He was my hero, in that everyday, just-my-Dad kind of way, and I learned a great deal from him about bravery as he struggled through what was largely difficult terrain for a disabled father. We used to visit galleries, museums, shops etc before there were wheelchairs and other supports available,” she says.

“He would love Te Manawa. There are chairs just inside the door – wheelchairs available. The floor is level, the spaces accessible; the toilets too, of course. Staff are friendly and welcoming of those of us with disabilities.”

Artist and DJ Anaru Davis is a regular at NOA Open Studio, which operates from the foyer of Te Manawa museum in Palmerston North

Artist and DJ Anaru Davis is a regular at NOA Open Studio, which operates from the foyer of Te Manawa museum in Palmerston North

Aroha says NOA stands for Notes Of Art. Noa is also a Māori word that can mean open, safe or free from restriction. “In Te Ao Māori, through powhiri, karanga, karakia and whaikorero, we use ritual to establish safety, to allow for each other’s difference and to find common ground,” she says.

The sessions are mixed ability and for all ages. “It’s about whoever is here on the day. People come in with clear ideas and it might be a very solitary experience. Other people come in and see who’s here and it might be a very organic thing,” she says. Also welcome are tourists, kids with their grandmas or caregivers, known and emerging artists, and visitors waiting for exhibition queues to clear.