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Photo: Mark Tantrum / www.marktantrum.comHid­den in the depths of Wellington’s cre­at­ive dis­trict lies a treas­ure trove of multi-tal­en­ted people ded­ic­ated to the arts. The Toi Pōneke Arts Centre com­prises two rather unas­sum­ing build­ings on Abel Smith Street (ori­gin­ally the home of the Wel­ling­ton Edu­ca­tion Board and giv­en their new role in 2009, some 20 years after the board was dis­ban­ded), but once you cross the threshold it is clear you have entered a vibrant com­munity space. The rab­bit war­ren of cor­ridors and artists’ stu­di­os is accom­pan­ied by offices, dance and music stu­di­os, group spaces and, of course, the Toi Pōneke gallery.

Natalie Smith, Toi Poneke – Whitireia Artists in Resident (has an exhibition in our gallery 24 October – 15 November). Photographed at the artists studio Friday 19 September 2014. Photo: Mark Tantrum / Natalie Smith, Toi Poneke – Whitireia Artists in Resident (has an exhibition in our gallery 24 October – 15 November). Photographed at the artists studio Friday 19 September 2014. Photo: Mark Tantrum /

Take a bunch of cre­at­ive people, add the vibe of upper Cuba Street, and the res­ult is an ener­get­ic hub of cre­ativ­ity. A Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil ini­ti­at­ive to encom­pass the tal­ent of our cre­at­ive city, Toi Pōneke is an open space aim­ing to help devel­op and hone cre­at­ive prac­tices in groups and indi­vidu­als. The sup­port the centre offers people involved in the arts is one of the things that makes Toi Pōneke so exciting.

Man­ager Paora Allen has been in charge of Toi Pōneke for two-and-a-half years, and he’s a famil­i­ar face there. As we walk around the centre togeth­er, the com­munity vibe is clear, as he greets every­one who passes by name and knows their profession.

Toi Pōneke has 28 per­man­ent artists’ stu­di­os. The 29th is reserved for people want­ing a tem­por­ary stu­dio — the space can be ren­ted for days or weeks at a time. There are also three acous­tic­ally treated music stu­di­os, which are often hired out as rehears­al spaces by loc­al bands. Large, multi-pur­pose rooms, a fully equipped dance stu­dio and the ‘hub’, a shared space at Toi Pōneke’s entrance for all res­id­ents and vis­it­ors to enjoy, and the tour of Toi Pōneke is complete.

Toi Pōneke places spe­cial emphas­is on sup­port­ing up-and-com­ing artists as they find their feet in the industry. The aim is to cre­ate an envir­on­ment that sup­ports innov­a­tion and encour­ages artists to work togeth­er. It is the sup­port­ive nature of Toi Pōneke that per­forms an import­ant role in the trans­ition from art school stu­dent to prac­tising artist.

In a joint ven­ture with the centre, Whitireia Poly­tech­nic spon­sors a gradu­ate stu­dent to have an art stu­dio at Toi Pōneke for 11 months, with the centre put­ting on an end-of-res­id­ence exhib­i­tion to show­case their work. This year, mul­tidiscip­lin­ary artist Nat­alie Smith has occu­pied Stu­dio 10. After gradu­at­ing with a Bach­el­or of Applied Arts, she says the res­id­ency has been a chance for her to explore art even further.

When I stud­ied, I kept my options open and ini­tially star­ted with paint­ing, then I star­ted print­mak­ing and even­tu­ally moved on to some object mak­ing in my last year.” The focus of her res­id­ency was to look at install­a­tion art. “My cur­rent body of work is look­ing at the idea of a dysto­pi­an soci­ety. It’s influ­enced by sci­ence fic­tion and looks at envir­on­ment and nuc­le­ar disasters.”

Heavy-duty top­ics need heavy-duty mater­i­als, and Nat­alie says most of her mater­i­als come straight from hard­ware stores.

I’ve been mak­ing hand-made nets, which are very time-con­sum­ing. I also use a lot of rope and string, even fish­hooks. There’s poly­ureth­ane and lots of enamel paints — they’re raw materials.”

The res­id­ency has allowed Nat­alie to work on her art full time, some­thing she has always wanted. “It’s been a really great bridge from leav­ing study and going into being a full time prac­tising artist. Paora and every­one here are so sup­port­ive and are around if you want feed­back. It’s made fin­ish­ing art school not so freaky.


High visibility paints used in the farming industry. Artist profile of David H Brown, Studio 9, Toi Poneke Arts Centre. Wednesday 6 August 2014. Photo: Mark Tantrum / Deatils of paints with colour code numbers on them. Artist profile of David H Brown, Studio 9, Toi Poneke Arts Centre. Wednesday 6 August 2014. Photo: Mark Tantrum /


David Brown Artist: Artist Profile of resident at Toi Poneke Arts Centre, Te Aro, Wellington.  Photo: Mark Tantrum /

Just next door, in Stu­dio 9, abstract artist Dav­id Brown is an old hand at Toi Pōneke. He first moved into a stu­dio space at the centre in 2008, where he worked for three years before mov­ing out to study at Mas­sey Uni­ver­sity. After com­plet­ing his Mas­ters in Fine Arts, Dav­id returned to a stu­dio once more — even though he nev­er quite said good­bye to the centre.

When I was study­ing, I worked down­stairs at recep­tion, so I’ve actu­ally nev­er left over the last six years. I still work the recep­tion part time.” Hail­ing from Taur­anga, and with a back­ground in archae­ology, Dav­id believes that Toi Pōneke embod­ies the Wel­ling­ton art scene. “I moved to Wel­ling­ton to engage in the arts com­munity and Toi Pōneke offered me that — I was able to meet oth­er artists who were inter­act­ing with the Wel­ling­ton art scene and it enabled me to cre­ate a friend base.”

Dav­id says the com­munity vibe of artists is a net­work for the people shar­ing the space; there is a help-each-oth­er-out atti­tude among the res­id­ents. “See­ing oth­er people hav­ing suc­cess can inspire you in your own work: it shows you that it’s possible.”

While study­ing at Mas­sey, Dav­id began to think about what he wanted his art prac­tice to mean. His cur­rent body of work has roots in his feel­ings about anim­al rights. His media are paint­ing and install­a­tion work, and he’s cur­rently explor­ing three-dimen­sion­al ideas. He brings this theme into his abstract work, basing com­pos­i­tion­al struc­ture on chick­en wire; using tail paint (used to mark sheep and cattle); and using leg and tail tape (used to con­trol anim­als when mov­ing them around for pas­ture or slaughter).

Your art is nev­er really dis­con­nec­ted from your­self, so I wanted to find an issue that was per­son­al to me.” The anim­al lov­er is now six months out of uni­ver­sity and plans to stay at Toi Pōneke for at least the near future. “It ticks all the boxes so far — it’s close to home and I’ve got a lot of friends here. It’s a good place to be.”


Profile of Pamela Brabants in her studio at Toi Poneke Arts Centre. Monday 22 September 2014. Photo: Mark Tantrum /

Upstairs, Stu­dio 16 has been home to artist Pam Bra­bants for just over two years. Return­ing to Wel­ling­ton after liv­ing in the UK for 18 years, where she stud­ied at the Chelsea Col­lege of Art in Lon­don, Pam secured a stu­dio at Toi Pōneke in less than a month. “It was great for me because I hadn’t lived in New Zea­l­and for a long time and it felt like it put me in the centre of things.

Some­thing I like about it most of all is that you have pri­vacy if you want to keep your door shut, but you can still be in con­tact with oth­er artists if you want to.”

Her pen­cil draw­ings are incred­ibly intric­ate and time-con­sum­ing, and she says hav­ing feed­back from anoth­er artist can be really help­ful. “There is the pro­fes­sion­al side where we can bounce ideas off each oth­er, but there is also the social aspect of work­ing as part of a community.”

Pam has had oth­er stu­di­os pre­vi­ously, in the UK, and says she has nev­er come across some­where quite like Toi Pōneke. “This area of Wel­ling­ton has a repu­ta­tion for the arts. There are a lot of smal­ler gal­ler­ies and deal­er gal­ler­ies around here, which bene­fit a place like this.”

Pam’s stu­dio is bright and full of col­our. Vari­ous knick-knacks line the shelves, which strike some­thing of a con­trast to her mono­chrome draw­ings. “I use the lan­guage of com­ics; I do small com­ic works and then also large pieces that take months to do.” Her smal­ler works include The Amaz­ing BraPants! series — she is cur­rently work­ing on a third issue of the quirky com­ic. “It’s a play on my last name. I used to get called it at school, but I’ve turned it around on the bullies!

The com­ic work high­lights ordin­ary life and the power of ordin­ary things. People say to you, ‘Oh, I’ve lived a bor­ing life, I haven’t done any­thing’, but every­one has a story, and it’s often those stor­ies or secrets that I am quite inter­ested in.”

Through­out her work, the human form has been an under­ly­ing theme. One of her cur­rent pro­jects is a series of hori­zont­al fig­ures, which she bases on exist­ing art­work with a twist of her own interpretation.

Pam says a centre like Toi Pōneke can give artists without gal­ler­ies a sense of cred­ib­il­ity. “Because I don’t have a gal­lery, it’s great hav­ing this stu­dio space. People take my work more ser­i­ously because Toi Pōneke has such a good reputation.”


Not just a space for private stu­di­os, Toi Pōneke also houses a num­ber of organ­isa­tions that are busy in the arts sector.

Cre­at­ive Cap­it­al Arts Trust (CCAT) has a stu­dio on the top floor of the centre’s second build­ing (the her­it­age-lis­ted ori­gin­al Edu­ca­tion Board build­ing, con­struc­ted in 1939). They are the brains behind the New Zea­l­and Fringe Fest­iv­al and next year’s inaug­ur­al CubaDupa — a rein­ven­tion of the Cuba Street Carnival.

Man­ager Emma Giesen says Toi Pōneke suits the trust’s needs very well. “It’s great for us because for both our fest­ivals, we need to be as access­ible as we can to the arts com­munity. We really need a place where people can find us eas­ily and feel like they can pop in any time.”

CCAT has had its office in Toi Pōneke since the trust was set up in 2011. Emma says it is an inspir­ing place to work. “It’s quite a gor­geous big space, which is unusu­al for the centre. We’ve got win­dows along two walls, so there’s always light and sun, and it’s always warm — we love it.”

Toi Pōneke has a vari­ety of shared spaces that res­id­ents can enjoy, some­thing that works well for CCAT. “The extra facil­it­ies here are great. We hold free work­shops in the hub for Fringe artists, people par­ti­cip­at­ing in the fest­iv­al. Because it’s free for us, we can make the work­shops free for every­one else.

The loc­a­tion of Toi Pōneke is per­fect for us too — it’s right in the heart of things, and one of our fest­ivals is on Cuba Street, which is so close.”

Emma says it is import­ant to have a place where there are the facil­it­ies for lots of people to be in one build­ing, because it sparks cre­at­ive net­works. “We have recently been talk­ing with the Com­munity Music Junc­tion and DANZ [Dance Aotearoa New Zea­l­and, who are also at Toi Pōneke] about ideas for pro­jects we could do togeth­er. Every­one is all head down so it’s not like we hang out dur­ing the day — but it is good to know the people around you and you can talk about things together.”

Talk­ing about the upcom­ing CubaDupa, Emma says to expect the unex­pec­ted. “It’s shap­ing up to be really excit­ing at the moment. We’ve put an open call for pro­pos­als from people and we’re look­ing for as much excit­ing and inter­act­ive, immers­ive per­form­ances and events as we can.

It’ll be a week­end of explor­ing this pre­cinct of the city and com­ing across things you won’t have seen or exper­i­enced before.”



Any­one inter­ested in rent­ing space at Toi Pōneke for short or long terms should email or tele­phone (04) 385 1929. You can find out more about the centre, exhib­i­tions and facil­it­ies at