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Planning underway for Mercury Bay Arts Hub feasibility study

A group of arts passionate locals are looking for community feedback into the idea of establishing a dedicated publicly-owned arts facility to serve the Mercury Bay area.

The group, working as a sub-committee of Creative Coromandel/ He Mana Toi Moehau Trust, are applying for funds to undertake an independent feasibility study into the idea, providing community members a chance to have their say. A mapping project undertaken in 2014 by Creative Waikato showed Mercury Bay as an arts hot-spot within the TCDC area and Creative Coromandel spokesperson, Jan Wright, says the arts activity has significantly multiplied since then. Through her work with Creative Coromandel and previously Creative Mercury Bay Trust, Jan says the need for an arts hub in Whitianga has become increasingly obvious and the limited venues currently serving the area are either over-subscribed or privately owned venues which move in and out of public availability.

The working group which includes representatives from Mercury Bay Art Escape Trust are applying to fund the feasibility study through the Lottery Community Facilities Fund. If the study demonstrates community support, the group will pursue other avenues including philanthropy and sponsorship programmes to fund the build. Local mana whenua, Ngati Hei, has been actively engaged in discussions from the outset, and will be throughout the feasibility study.

Although detail around the facility design will be based on the results of the study, the vision is for an affordable and flexible space suitable for all art forms, including performance, exhibition, workshops and meetings. The group have letters of support from arts practitioners in the community including The Offbeat Theatre Company, The Mercury Bay Big Band, Mercury Bay Area School, En Pointe Dance Studio and from several Mercury Bay Art Escape exhibitors. Mercury Bay Community Board has endorsed the funding application after meeting with representatives from the group and acknowledging that the recent sale of a privately owned building which had provided for community events in the past, had added to the insecurity around venues.

Jan and the feasibility study project co-organiser, Sharyn Morcom, have first-hand knowledge of what is involved in ‘making-do’ with the public facilities currently available. “Over the ten years when Creative Mercury Bay Trust (CMBT) was operating, we brought in a large variety of performances to the town hall.’ Jan says the set-up and pack down of sound, lighting and seating was hugely time-consuming and exhausting for volunteers. In 2018 CMBT looked into raising funds to install retractable tiered seating. ‘’But even in their retracted, stored position, they would have encroached on the badminton court. This is the difficulty of a community attempting to share one facility for many different purposes.”

“The arts are central to our community. They bring people together and are extremely important to the well-being both of artists and their audiences. Every artist who sells their work is a small business, so the arts also contribute to financial well-being on the Peninsula. The korero around a purpose-built arts facility is long overdue and with a group of arts-passionate people ready to take this on, along with the Mercury Bay Community Board interest and support, its time to move forward on this. Now we need an independent study to give the community a voice on the idea, to find out what people need, what they want and what the options are both in establishing a facility and in the long-term operations and governance.” The funding application to Lottery Communities will be lodged early September and a decision is expected in December.

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