A new arts festival is a creative coming of age for the East Coast

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An ambitious new arts festival will be a creative coming of age for the East Coast.

The creative landscape of the greater Gisborne area is about to change. Giving the region a new voice is Tama Waipara, tasked by the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust to direct the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival (4-20 October). With a local population of just 38,000, a three-week festival featuring more than 70 events is a transformative moment in the history of Te Tairāwhiti (which loosely translates as “the coast upon which the sun shines across the water”).

“Our region is synonymous with creative talent, names such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Witi Ihimaera, Lee Tamahori, Murray Ball, [playwright] Hone Kouka, and going back to people like [composers] Tuini Ngāwai and Ngoi Pēwhairangi,” says Waipara, who hopes the festival will become an annual event. “It’s so important that we create opportunities into the future for our community, our artists, and that we spotlight the magic of the region.”

So what is this magic? “Tairāwhiti doesn’t box neatly,” he says. “There’s a kind of a cheek to it. It’s rugged, sometimes with brashness, other times deep humility, and this is particularly evident in the arts.”

Waipara (Ruapani/Rongowhakaata/Ngāti Porou) is delighted to be back among his whānau. His father grew up in Manutūkē, just south of Gisborne, “aka the heart of the universe”.

“He always instilled in us a love and deep connection to who we are as iwi, hapū and whānau,” says Waipara “He was the only boy in a family of eight siblings. I have seven aunties, five with us today, four of whom live in Tūranga [Gisborne]. They are a real litmus test to all of my thinking; they are everything that is home to me. I’ve lived overseas and done various work, but for who? In this role, I’ve had to ask myself, ‘What do I have in my kete to contribute to the wellbeing of all?’”

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