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Story: Regional cultural life

Creative people and activities often cluster in particular places. Rotorua has long been a hub for Māori arts and culture, while mid-20th-century Christchurch was home to a fertile literary and arts community. In the 2000s Auckland had a vibrant Pacific arts and fashion scene, while Wellington was known for writing, films and the arts generally.

Story by Pip Howells
Main image: Doris Lusk, 'Canterbury Plains from Cashmere Hills'

Story Summary

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Early regional arts and culture

Māori communities in different regions sang different waiata and had different styles of weaving and carving. In the 19th century European settlements around New Zealand set up similar cultural institutions such as choirs, museums and libraries.

Dunedin

19th-century Dunedin was distinctive because of its Scottish settlers and wealth from gold. Thomas Morland Hocken’s collection of artefacts, books and photos became the basis of the Hocken Library. William Mathew Hodgkins set up the Otago Arts Society and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Rotorua

Rotorua was a tourist destination, and fostered Māori culture. Concert parties were set up, and local Māori acted in early films. Singers Ana Hato and Deane Waretini were among the first New Zealand musicians to be recorded. The Maori School of Arts and Crafts opened at Whakarewarewa in 1927, and a national weaving school was set up in 1969.

Christchurch

Writers and intellectuals from Canterbury University published journals in the 1930s. Denis Glover set up the Caxton Press, which published Christchurch poets and the journal Landfall. The Group was a group of Christchurch artists who held annual exhibitions. South Island landscapes featured in both the poetry and the art.

Wellington

During and after the Second World War European immigrants added to the cultural life of cities. Artists and intellectuals met in Wellington’s coffee houses. Wellington poets included Fleur Adcock, James K. Baxter and Alistair Campbell.

Auckland

Important groups of writers and artists emerged in 1950s Auckland. Frank Sargeson hosted writers including Janet Frame at his Takapuna house. Poet Allen Curnow moved to Auckland. So did Colin McCahon, who was influential at the Auckland Art Gallery. The 1970 Maori Leaders’ Conference led to the creation of activist group Ngā Tamatoa.

Punk rock bands were formed in the late 1970s, and hip hop flourished in South Auckland from the mid-1980s.

Other areas

In Nelson from the 1940s Toss Woollaston painted and attracted other artists to the area. A potters’ scene developed from the 1950s. Whanganui and Taranaki also had communities of artists.

The 2000s

Cultural events such as the WOMAD music festival in New Plymouth and an annual art deco weekend in Napier attracted visitors.

Auckland was New Zealand’s fashion capital and home to Pacific cultural events such as Polyfest. Wellington was a centre for writers, the film industry and the arts generally.

How to cite this page:

Pip Howells, 'Regional cultural life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/regional-cultural-life (accessed 21 January 2018)

Story by Pip Howells, published 22 Oct 2014