Pictured: Abby O’Neil and Carroll Joynes at the Royal New Zealand Ballet Foundation dinner in Wānaka
As I step down as chair of the Three Lakes Cultural Trust governing board, and make arrangements to pass leadership to an extremely able fellow board member, this is a good time to reflect on what the Trust has been able to accomplish over its 2+ years of existence, and on why my wife Abby O’Neil and I were motivated to launch this initiative in the first place.
We have been coming to Queenstown from Chicago for 22 years, and we have greatly valued our time here. We loved all the things on offer here in the Whakatipu, but often wondered why there were not more ways for members of the community to engage with the arts as a complement to all the extraordinary outdoor sports options on offer. It seemed to us an obvious place to have a wide variety of festivals and performances for music, theatre, and dance; of outdoor art displays, and street theatre, and major exhibitions in a yet-to-be-built public art gallery; and facilities where the whole community could engage in the participatory arts. Other similar towns around the world have both, so why shouldn’t we? These expanded arts and culture offerings would provide both new amenities and opportunities for residents, and over time could become another strong economic driver in a district that needs to expand its offerings to a growing body of tourists and residents.
Queenstown (and the Queenstown Lakes District as a whole) has seen exponential growth that might well continue for many years. As a result, we now have a much more diverse population and an expanding potential audience, many of whom arrived expecting or assuming that there would be more art and culture on offer here than turns out to be the case. In response to these developments, we came up with the idea of creating a strategic plan for building out and enhancing the entire arts ecosystem of the district. The plan would require asking the community exactly how it wanted to shape arts and culture initiatives, and what its priority list would look like. And this is what we did.
We wondered who might be the best fit to help us develop this idea. Adrian Ellis, an arts consultant based in Beacon, New York whom we have known for more than a decade, came to mind. Adrian and his team have led efforts to create successful cultural districts and precincts throughout the world over the last 25 years, and his firm is generally known to be the best in the business. Adrian, who warned me that he doesn’t take on projects unless he feels assured they will be successful. So, he agreed to come down and take a look. During his initial visit, he was impressed with the potential, and with what he saw as a clear and substantial need, particularly in our rapidly growing region. He green-lighted his involvement.
Out of this came the Queenstown Lakes District Strategic Cultural Plan, commissioned by the Trust, which provides a road map for development of cultural facilities, as well as ways of strengthening existing arts organisations and helping incubate new ones. The general goal is to greatly expand options for those interested in the arts and culture in the district, and to do so in a sustainable way.
Below are some highlights of what the Three Lakes Cultural Trust has achieved over the past two years.
- Renew Art took place during the early stage of the pandemic in 2020, engaging 106 visual artists and performers from across the district during a time of deep uncertainty and distress in the arts community.
- We are about to launch Te Wāhi Toi, a custom-designed interactive website dedicated to our district’s arts and culture community. It will contain a master calendar of arts and culture events, directory of local artists and performers, and a directory of available spaces for teaching, exhibiting, practicing, and rehearsing.
- The Trust’s Arts in Schools Pilot Programme ran very successfully in the fourth quarter of 2021, and plans for future schools in our district to participate in 2022 and beyond are underway.
A major achievement, as a direct result of the Three Lakes Cultural Trust advocating on behalf of the creative community, was the forming of a successful partnership between Te Atamira Whakatipu Community Trust and QLDC to create Te Atamira — an 1100 square meter community arts centre in Remarkables Park that will have an art exhibition space, a performance space, two dance studios, teaching spaces for both visual arts and music, practice spaces for musicians, a recording studio, a small number of individual studios for artists, and a dedicated studio for potters. This facility is anticipated to open in May 2022, and we expect at least 2500 visits a week as soon as Te Atamira opens its doors.
This was a long and demanding process behind the scenes, with many different opinions of what such a facility should contain and what its purposes should be. Those issues took time to iron out, and the outcome is the result of many voices from community groups. The model we have used for governance of this facility will likely be replicated at the point when a performing arts facility is built in the Queenstown/Frankton/Arrowtown area. And Wānaka is already planning its own performing arts centre, having just completed a feasibility study.
All this took place in just a little over two years. And it couldn’t have happened without the help of our very able board members (past and present), as well as the involvement and generosity of community members who have stepped up to support this long-term vision. We can’t begin to thank our many donors enough for their commitment and generosity. In the end, though, it was our amazing staff — GM Jo Brown, Samantha Kirk, Rama Geeves, and Carrie Wallis — who have been responsible for making all of the things outlined above actually happen. They have taken on this formidable task and successfully made the Trust and its work a success. While doing that, they have always been a huge pleasure to work with. We all owe them a huge vote of thanks.
The board and staff now welcome Gizelle Regan, a Hāwea Flat resident, our new Chair of the Three Lakes Cultural Trust, beginning immediately.
Gizelle joined us as a Trustee last April and has played major roles in marketing and communications across the district at Destination Queenstown and now as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Lake Wānaka Tourism.
Her career prior to moving to New Zealand was centred around the arts and cultural sector in Australia, with over ten years leading the direction of large-scale projects for Regional Arts Victoria (RAV), where she also held a position as Board Director.
A passionate advocate for the arts whose depth of experience offers an incredible skill set to the Board and operational team.
Gizelle is also the Editor and Chief of Playpen, a limited-edition independent print magazine in Aotearoa that has been established as a place for creative minds to explore the possibilities of diversity; through people, culture, art, and fashion.
Abby and I will both remain as board members until such time as we recruit some additional trustees, at which point we will become Patrons of the trust along with Lady Jan Edgar, and continue our involvement over the coming years.
Trustee, Three Lakes Cultural Trust
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