Depot Artspace is a socially conscious creative hub. We employ the transformative capacity of the arts to engage, inspire, and challenge the community. We are guided by the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: partnership, protection and participation.
In 2006, Depot Artspace hosted a meeting with Dr Ron Colman, world authority on progress indicators. Dr Colman is universally recognised for his work on a GPI (genuine progress indicator). He is head of GPI Atlantic, which created Nova Scotia’s Genuine Progress Index and is currently an adviser to the Royal Government of Bhutan on maximizing the country’s Gross National Happiness.
The GPI is a response to narrow measures like Gross Domestic Product, which record ecological destruction as economically positive. As Ron Colman has put it, under such measures “we may appear to be richer, but our natural world is poorer.”
This meeting, organised by local Devonport resident, Dr Cam Calder had a significant impact on Depot Artspace and has, over the past thirteen years continued to better inform and articulate its kaupapa/philosophy and values.
Opening of the Auckland City Mission exhibition: I am the Art, the Art is Me
BETTER TOGETHER: GRASSROOTS AND MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT
BETTER TOGETHER references Depot Artspace’ ethos and aspiration to unite people and communities, from exhibiting their work or showcasing a feature of community, collaborating on projects to bringing about significant social awareness and change. It is a significant cornerstone of wellbeing. Our vision is to build meaningful relationships that don’t begin and end at our door.
In the current social climate, where individualism and competition prevail and inequity is its sad outcome there is both opportunity and necessity for diverse sectors to combine and arts, culture and community development have potentially great synergy in representing people and developing a wider critical mass to create change.
BETTER TOGETHER embraces and highlights the Depot’s mission and values. Together they encapsulate a commitment to strengthen the creative sector in Aotearoa, to provide opportunities for engagement in the arts across all disciplines and media, and to engage the arts in the wider environment.
Kuini Karanui speaks at the Turangawaewae: Sense of Place exhibition at Depot Artspace
Our values, the turangawaewae on which we stand:
- We are Grassroots, Inclusive, Innovative, Responsive, Reflective and Courageous
- We employ the transformative capacity of the arts to engage, inspire and challenge the community.
- We are guided by the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: partnership, participation and protection.
‘Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand: Lady Voters going to the poll at Devonport, Auckland’
BETTER TOGETHER, NATURALLY
As part of Depot Artspace response to a GPI, we developed a concept for unified social action because it was apparent that change for good for all was unlikely to take place without shared values and critical mass. It was titled The Gaia Manual for Sustainability, Our Gaia Manual was named after scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock whose theory, developed in the 1960s, postulates that Earth functions as a self-regulating system, like a living organism. It encompassed each of the following components – social, spiritual, ecological, environmental – which together form a living community. Its source is the creative because from this point it is possible to prioritise and coordinate the aspects of Gaia (according to need and resources), calibrating an approach relevant to discrete communities. As an evolving and all-encompassing creative community the notion of Gaia became a reference point for the value of our own activities.
BETTER TOGETHER IN COMMUNITY
“Community is vital and unifying, self-sufficient and harmonious, an antidote to a fragmented, commercialised society that is fatally and contagiously diseased.”
Robert Houriet, Getting Back Together, 1971
Matariki Weavers’ Workshop
In 2010 we were concerned at the transformation of Auckland into a megalopolis, absorbing smaller cities and expunging diversity. A faint odour of the 60s and cultural assimilation surfaced, and we were intent on maintaining our community identity.
It is a truism that in order to grow and thrive, every living thing must be nurtured. And yet we fail to attend to some of the most precious things in life, especially as they become lost in an amorphous whole. Once gone we are, to our detriment, unable to retrieve them. Extinct animals and dying flora are often testimony to neglect, if not wilful disposal/destruction.
Cultural Mapping exhibition and events: Sum of the Parts
Our GPI Gaia Manual comprised a number of observations and admonitions about the value we should attribute to our own eco-system.
- The Taken-For-Granted: More vigilance and concern is required for the things we take for granted. These can be the most important things; the values we live by, the places we live in and the people we live with. How can we question, sustain or protect what we have ceased to pay attention to? In an environment subject to accelerated change it is likely we could lose the things that actually underpin our lives. One such component is community.
- The Endangered Community: A community whose components are neither recognised nor valued is always under threat of extinction. An abstract or uncommitted appreciation is ineffectual in sustaining or protecting a precious resource. External threats do not that initially endanger a community – they can in fact further galvanise it; rather those threats from within (at its heart), such as apathy or inaction, are more likely to be its downfall.
Simon Kerr’s exhibition @ Depot: Simon was on parole from Ngawha prison
- The Importance of Community in Contemporary Society: Traditional or tribal communities were a naturally occurring phenomenon and continued to adapt to and thus occupy an unassailable place in a changing environment. The community withstood population growth, diversification and division of labour, migration, industrialisation and urbanism. Community continued to provide the necessities for a meaningful life, close affinitive relationships and shared experiences, among others. In a society where individualism, ambition, competition and materialism proliferate these qualities are no longer perceived, consciously at least, as priorities.
Sum of the Parts exhibition opening
- The Common Denominators of Communities. Each form of community has characteristics in common which define it as a community:
a) Something shared and to which members are able to relate such as geography; experience; a belief or value system; history; identity.
b) A level of affinitive interaction, as opposed to functional transactions or business relationships.
c) Common expectations, of behaviour, action, responsibility, knowledge, commitment, values.
d) Interdependence; recognition that mutual support and exchange are as natural to human beings as the ecology and achieve greater sustainability for the group. The recognition of mutuality or interdependence provides the pivotal characteristic of community, something the Dalai Lama refers to as Big We, Small I.
GRASSROOTS ARTS: WHERE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
Flag It!! A debate and exhibition on a new New Zealand flag, featuring Dick Frizzell, Pamela Stirling, Hamish Keith, Michael Smythe and Billy Apple
‘Grassroots’ is the cornerstone of Depot Artspace’ own commitment to a sustainable planet. Grassroots are the people in and of a community, as contrasted with those at the top, ‘the leadership or elite of a private or government organisation.’
Depot Artspace is proudly grass roots. From this point it keeps an ear to the ground, the place where people stand – their turangawaewae – and from which, if nurtured, things grow and are sustained.
Grassroots growth and development: The Rhizome concept
Over nearly more than two decades, the Depot has developed facilities, services and new initiatives that respond to the needs and interests of the creative community, both local and beyond. These include: galleries; recording and rehearsal studios; ArtsLab, the biggest professional development programme for artists nationally; creative internships research and development; Cultural Icons, a filmed interview series (78 interviews so far) with people who have been significant in the cultural landscape; Depot Press, including ‘The Vernacularist’ journal, W’akaputanga, Turangawaewae/Sense of Place and LOUD magazine.
A while ago we put together an alternative plan for arts and culture in a submission to Auckland Council. It was motivated by the observation and experience that while local and national bodies determine how the resources are distributed they seldom engage with grassroots in their decisions. ‘Knowing what’s best for you’ is the consensus among power-brokers yet often their decisions lack relevance or interest to the people they are supposed to serve and support. In the current political environment, the creative sector languishes as the pre-election arts policies are retracted while MCH (Ministry of Culture and Heritage) researches more ‘salubrious’ services. They have surveyed the Depot numerous times, drawing their own conclusions, but had we been bona fide experts in our field, our work may have provided some viable policy direction, and we may have even been paid a consultant’s fee!
However, grassroots and expertise are seldom seen as occupying the same territory in a power structure. There is a widening chasm between community and a more evidently paternalistic elite.
The wider the chasm becomes, the more evident inequities are, and the climate becomes ripe for social change. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn talks about disparities between ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ as a crisis, which could facilitate a ‘paradigm shift’. A crisis can be managed, as it often is by those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the current structure, but it can also be addressed and can result in a different way of seeing and responding to the world. The signs in our society currently offer this evidence and opportunity, for example, the recent sad demise of national visual artists’ advocacy organisation Artists Alliance after more than two decades of service, the result ‘of dramatic decline in funding for and investment in the Visual Arts’.
According to Buckminster Fuller, visionary and environmental voice of the 60’s, unless we find new ways of living we are likely to self-destruct. “The world,” he said, “is now too dangerous for anything less than Utopia.” And Utopias are formed not by restructuring what has gone before but rather by creating new ways of living in the world based on issues fundamental to our humanity.
It is at the grass roots, which under trying circumstances remains connected, proactive, necessarily resourceful and effective, where meaningful change is possible especially if able to galvanise critical mass. And the arts, so far, are the most uncorrupted vehicle of a necessary revolution. In “The Story of Utopias” (1922) Lewis Mumford made the following observation: “A community whose life is not irrigated by art and philosophy is a community that exists only half alive. The fundamental values of a true community are to be found in poetry, art, music and the free use of the imagination,…the production of non-profit-making goods, the enjoyment of non-consumable wealth. Here are the sustaining values of a living culture.”
Mapping a Meaningful Community: Local identities, meaningful landmarks
Art is the last bastion of freedom, for freedom arises from our capacity to question the fixed and inalienable ‘reality’ of the status quo, from whom few benefit. Grass roots arts provide alternatives by which freedom is able to be reclaimed.
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“The world is too dangerous for anything less than Utopia.” Buckminster Fuller