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Awards for uplifting Wairarapa

A colourful artwork at the site of a devastating fire and a rōpū [group] dedicated to regenerating Wairarapa’s waterways have received national recognition for helping uplift and revitalise their communities.

Carterton’s firesite mural and Featherston-based community organisation Pae tū Mōkai o Tauira [PtMoT] were honoured at this year’s Kūmara Awards – organised by Placemaking Aotearoa.

The Kūmara Awards, presented throughout Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, recognise groups who have transformed public spaces within their hometowns, connecting communities in the process.

The Carterton mural team received the It Takes a Village Award – recognising the group’s banding together “to create something beautiful in the place of disaster”.

The mural, the handiwork of Lower Hutt-based artists Pip&Zoë Paint and supported by Carterton District Council, Ka Pai Carterton, and local businesses, was painted on the side of the building damaged in last year’s suspicious High St fire.

PtMoT was honoured in the Looking Back To Move Forward category for its initiatives to nurture the Wairarapa Moana – including native plantings and establishing a nursery for native seedlings.

Each of the groups received their awards in their home communities, surprised by a member of the Placemaking Aotearoa team.

Cimone Grayson, Ka Pai Carterton community facilitator, joked the group was assembled by Placemaking Aotearoa “under false pretences”, originally told it was going to be interviewed about its Kūmara Award nomination.

She said the team was “so chuffed” with their win – and having Carterton’s mahi and community spirit recognised nationally was “really satisfying”.

“Our community knows that Carterton people will always jump in, put their shoulder to the wheel, and lend a hand,” Grayson said.

“People are still coming up to us, saying how fabulous the mural looks and that it’s gone a long way towards brightening up our town.

“It was so sad for Carterton when the fire took hold. So people are grateful to see something so colourful and vibrant – it’s been really uplifting.”

The project was coordinated by former Carterton deputy mayor Rebecca Vergunst, after being approached by property owner Kevin Topham about having a mural painted on the side of his building.

Vergunst engaged artists Pip Keel and Zoë Gillett, who spent four weeks in Carterton working on their piece – where they were warmly embraced by locals.

“Almost every day, people would come and bring us snacks, home-baked bread, and cups of coffee,” Gillett said.

“It was lovely – we felt right at home.”

She said the community’s reaction to the mural, inspired by the Carterton district’s iconic daffodils, was “amazing”.

“The community notice boards online were going off – so many people sharing pictures and posting about how much they loved the mural. It was a real warm and fuzzy moment.”

PtMoT was founded by Featherston locals Riki Hiemer, Narida Hooper and Karen Mikaera, aiming to revitalise the Wairarapa Moana and empower future generations to step forward as kaitiaki [guardians] of the natural world.

Major projects have included establishing a native plant nursery in support of moana restoration, and planting a large area with toetoe, flax and other natives on a “hügelkultur” [no dig] garden bed at Featherston’s Lake Domain.

The bed was formed by burying old wood and compost, and plant growth on the site has been fundamental in just two years.

A spokesperson for the rōpū said it was “deeply committed to building kaitiakitanga of te taiao [the environment] in South Wairarapa, and to creating more ways for local people to help restore te taiao for the benefit of the whole community”.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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