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New gallery begins after ‘mad scramble’

An innovative approach to overcoming a financial challenge has seen a group of Greytown artists form a growing creative collective and establish a retail gallery in the heart of Greytown.

Faced with packing down after a second “amazing exhibition” in the Old Library building on Main Street in November, three founding members of the Greytown Artisans collective – photographers Rebecca Kempton and Esther Bunning and painter Linda Kirkland – asked the question, “Imagine if we could just leave it like this? Why do we have to dismantle it?”

Kirkland describes what happened next as “a mad scramble” into action.

Kempton emailed South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] with 12 pages of “the amazing, supportive feedback” the exhibition received “asking if we could have this as a permanent space.”

While council officers supported the idea in principle, the group was told they’d need to find the weekly casual hire rate of $625 a week for the space, “which was just too much”, Kempton said.

Initially disheartened, Kempton, Bunning and Kirkland quickly rebounded.

“We thought, if we can get 20 artists paying three months’ rent upfront, we can make this happen and reopen on Friday.”

In three days, the trio had recruited the artists as well as developed the terms of partnership in the collective, which included committing to taking shifts in the gallery – which is open seven days a week – in exchange for no commission on works sold.

“We were all just running on I don’t know what that week trying to get people to commit to something”, Kempton said. “And we did it! Literally, at the eleventh hour, I emailed council on the Thursday night to say, ‘we’ve got it, we can do this’.”

The collective includes a diverse range of artists specialising in a range of media, including painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and jewellery making. Several of the artists are also experienced art educators.

The trio describes the collective – which today stands at nearly 30 artists – as diverse, inclusive, fun and supportive.

“One of the nice things is that when someone sells a work, everyone is excited. We all want everyone to do well,” Kirkland said. “And I think as artists, we feed on the creativity of others. So it’s stimulating to be in an environment with like-minded people.”

The collective is guaranteed the space until February 2024 and recently presented to SWDC’s Infrastructure and Community Services committee [ICSC] to propose the Old Library be a permanent retail gallery, with the collective providing assistance with the day-to-day management.

Their proposal also includes the opportunity to run creative workshops and art therapy classes.

However, the collective’s future in the Old Library is uncertain, and they are not the only interested party.

The public process to find a new permanent commercial tenant for the building was temporarily paused by council officers at the request of elected members to give “time to consider community uses of the building”, according to the interim chief executive’s report to council dated November 22.

At the recent ICSC meeting, artist Tatyana Kulida presented her vision for a workshop, studio and gallery space in the Old Library, and councillor Martin Bosley spoke to his report which pitched a range of ideas to convert it into “a versatile community hub” and create “a thriving community space.”

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