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Communicating Freshwater Values Creatively In The Pūharakekenui/Styx River

Styx Living Laboratory Trust, a local river care group, was granted over $4.1 million in 2021 by the Ministry for Environment’s Freshwater Improvement Fund. This funding, for a five year work programme named Project Kōtare, includes the employment (alongside Ministry of Social Development’s Jobs for Nature fund) of more than ten staff, with goals to eradicate significant areas of pest plants, and replant both riparian and forest native vegetation. A Creative Communicator will be employed, as part of Project Kōtare, three times per year for a 12 week period.

The aim of the Creative Communicator role is similar to that of an Artist in Residence – to interpret aspects of the Styx Catchment in a creative way, as well as to produce artwork to raise the profile of the catchment and the work that the Styx Living Laboratory Trust is doing. The Creative Communicator programme aims to provide professional development opportunities for successful applicants and for the wider Pūharakekenui community, which will offer opportunities for the community to be invigorated through an exchange of ideas and new ways of working. The programme will facilitate community participation and communicate freshwater values through art and Mātauranga Māori.

The successful applicants for the 2022 (and beginning of 2023) Creative Communicator programme are Lucy Dolan Kang, Timothy Veling, Bridget Allen and Dr Jo Burzynska.

Lucy Dolan Kang began her term in May, experimenting with organic materials from the Catchment as pigment on paper to create imagery. She utilised the qualities of the materials such as natural deterioration/oxidisation to speak of the effect their environment has had on them; illustrating a story held in the passing of time – connected to the shape of the river, the relevance to Maramataka, or as observed and learned through story/folklore.

Beginning in July, Tim Veling will be creating a mixture of what he loosely describes as topographic photo-maps, intimate studies of light and weather, as well as ‘portraits’ of the river water itself, in this photographic medium. He intends to produce a broad art-documentary record of the catchment, experimenting with darkroom printing techniques and tri-colour separation landscapes.

In November, Bridget Allen will make a series of dry point etching prints from Source to Sea, showcasing the different biodiversity along the river and catchment. She will establish a printmaking studio at the Styx Living Laboratory Trust’s Christine Heremaia Field Centre in Lower Styx Rd, and will invite members of the public to make dry point etchings of areas of the river.

From December, Dr Jo Burzynska will be on site in the Pūharakekenui, engaging in site-specific work focussing on sound and smell, which involves public engagement, driven by her interest in how the non-visual senses can be used to create connections between people and places. Jo’s proposed multi-sensory walks, texts and final installation will highlight fascinating elements of the catchment, which visitors might otherwise overlook. The novel interactive and imaginative approaches these take could further encourage deeper embodied connections with the nature which exists on peoples’ doorstep, thus promoting the wellbeing of both.

Creative Communicator programme coordinator Hannah Watkinson is delighted by this unique project from an environmental group. “Ultimately, a lot of what is required for environmental projects, such as Project Kōtare, to be successful is public buy-in, community engagement and involvement. The artists that will be working within the catchment will be adding another layer of possible access points for people to encourage an interest in the natural landscape, and the protection and improvement of the waterways which surround them on a daily basis. If people don’t already understand the importance of conservation via scientific or wellbeing access points, perhaps they will engage with an artist and a visually interesting approach. It’s brilliant to see a trust value the creative communication of these environmental aims and ideas.”

Applications for future Creative Communicator positions will reopen in 2023, and will be advertised on the Styx Living Laboratory Trust’s website, social media, via The Big Idea and Toi Otautahi.

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