Wanganui Arts Society Centenary

  • Judith Tizard
Arts, Culture and Heritage

Wanganui Arts Society Centenary, Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua, Wanganui

Dougall McIntyre [President of the Wanganui Arts Society]
Beryl Warnock [Patron of the society]
And Paul Mitchell [Secretary/Treasurer],
from the Wanganui Arts Society
Bill Milbank and Paul Rayner from the Sarjeant Gallery,
My colleage, Jill Pettis,
and Your Worship, the Mayor, Chas Poynter

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa,
Thank you for your warm welcome on behalf of wonderful Wanganui.
In the Kindred Spirits exhibition mounted here, you have a unique opportunity to view the development of the visual arts over a hundred years. What is a great way to celebrate the contribution of the Wanganui Arts Society to Wanganui, and to the development and nurturing of the arts in New Zealand as a whole.

The Labour-led government places very high value on fostering and maintaining the arts and cultural sector in New Zealand. As Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, I have had much to do with the cultural recovery measures that we have put in place over the past couple of years. We have put these in place to confirm our commitment to developing a vibrant and innovative arts and cultural environment which all New Zealanders can enjoy.

There are a number of reasons why this government is committed to supporting culture. Firstly, there are intrinsic benefits - for individuals and for society as a whole - from exposure to and engagement with culture. The arts are satisfying and rewarding in themselves: they entertain, they inform, they enlighten. For our communities, they stimulate insight into our past and contemplation of our future, and they serve as critic and conscience of society.

The arts also enable talented people to express their creativity - and it's not only the individual artists and performers who benefit from that - as audiences, we all do.
Our distinctive New Zealand culture has a key part to play in the development and maintenance of our broader national identity. It is through our artists that we see our country and ourselves and where we stand in the world.
Cultural activities help generate economic wealth, too. Not only do they provide a satisfying means of earning a living for committed people in the sector; they are increasingly contributing to the wealth of our nation. For example, events such as local exhibitions and performances attract greater numbers of tourists not only to the region but also to the country as a whole.

It seems to me that these objectives could not more closely match the 'objects and rules' of the Wanganui Society of Arts and Crafts, recorded 100 years ago. It is fascinating to imagine the people of Wanganui who gathered for that first meeting on 1 July 1901, talking about what they hoped to achieve in forming a local arts society.

They hoped to promote 'Art' - with a capital 'A' - wherever it might be and in whatever media; they wanted the Society to be inclusive, to consist of amateurs and those simply interested in art, as well as professional artists; they wanted art to be accessible to all, through their public exhibitions; and - most important for our creative people - they wanted to ensure that artists could make a living by selling their work. [The objectives and rules of the society are cited in Paul Rayner's 'Quick History', provided with his background information.]

Even with a willing government committed to the same ideals of enhancing New Zealand's cultural life, the arts cannot burgeon without the energies and dedication of a large number of citizens and organisations. Arts societies are clear demonstration of such energy and dedication. They have played an enormously significant role in the development of the visual arts in New Zealand. In the past, arts societies were often the sole providers of visual arts training, of gathering places where artists could meet and of venues for them to exhibit and sell their works. For a hundred years now the members of the Wanganui Arts Society have worked with dedication to serve the interests of the visual arts in New Zealand.

It is often through the generosity of numerous patrons that arts and heritage organisations continue to thrive.
Arts Society members have obviously made strenuous efforts to engage members of the Whanganui community in support of their Society - I was amused to see that at one stage in the 1930s, there were fourteen vice-presidents of the Society. What a wonderful example of a successful merger of artistic innovation and business acumen!

The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and I speak often of the value of partnerships in the arts. Strategic alliances are essential in the cultural and heritage sector. Members of the Wanganui community are extremely fortunate in the longstanding and successful partnership that has been forged between the Arts Society and the Sarjeant Gallery.

That partnership is one that ensures the people of the Wanganui district have the opportunity to view the work of locally and nationally important artists in a venue of particular beauty.

They are especially fortunate in that past exhibitions of the Society have attracted the work of prestigious New Zealand artists such as Frances Hodgkins, Toss Woollaston and Don Driver; and that the annual exhibitions have featured well-known guest artists such as E Mervyn Taylor, Eric Lee-Johnson, Sydney Lough Thompson, Avis Higgs, Doreen Blumhardt and Gaston de Vel.

This exhibition and the centenary we are marking today reflect both the efforts of local people and the evolution of visual arts in New Zealand over 100 years.

Congratulations to everybody involved in ensuring that the Wanganui Arts Society centenary is an occasion of which we can be proud.