Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga – Hastings City Art Gallery’s new manager and curator, Sophie Davis, has spent her first month in her new role settling into Heretaunga, having moved from Ōtautahi to take up her new position.

In addition to getting to know the many varied parts of Hastings and the wider rohe, Sophie has spent much of the past month meeting some of Heretaunga’s arts and culture stakeholders and audiences. For those who haven’t had a chance to meet her yet, read on to find out more about Sophie, and what to expect at Te Whare Toi in future.

No hea koe? Where are you from and how did you end up in Hastings?

I grew up in Te Tai-o-Aorere Nelson-Tasman and have moved around a bit since then, for both work and study. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had the ability to move to take on exciting roles, and the position here in Heretaunga is one of those.

I was drawn in by the opportunity to work with the community to shape the artistic programme and bigger picture direction of the Gallery, which is quite rare – it’s often more one or the other. There are so many exciting things about the Gallery and its role within Hawke’s Bay and nationally - its scale and position in Heretaunga’s Civic Square, amazing 1970s ‘honeycomb’ architecture, and, most importantly, its relationships with the people and communities who have sustained it.

You’ve previously worked at both Enjoy Contemporary Art Space in Wellington and Dunedin Public Art Gallery. What did you enjoy most about each of those galleries?

Enjoy is a small non-profit which started as an artist-run space. That legacy continues in prioritising the artist community and contributing to a national conversation around emerging contemporary art practice. It was fast-paced, hands-on work with a very small team! I came to the role of director and curator from a background in artist-led environments and having worked at The Physics Room Contemporary Art Space in Ōtautahi. The best thing was being able to work with artists and curators on some of their first supported exhibitions – with people, conversations and modest budgets behind them – and to see the impact of that.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery has its own art collection, from historic to contemporary, and a broader public audience and kaupapa – so, in general, I enjoyed the challenge of that pivot and working with a bigger, very experienced team and larger scale of exhibition-making. As a curator, it was exciting thinking about the ways collections come together, and the various dynamics within that process, and then examining how artists can intervene in those ideas and shift the conversation around how we see the role of contemporary art within culture, and within society at large.

Do you have a favourite exhibition you’ve previously curated?

Choosing a favourite is way too hard! But in terms of the most recent exhibition, I co-curated an exhibition called Vital Machinery (currently on at Dunedin Public Art Gallery). The exhibition explores intersections in the artistic practice of five Aotearoa New Zealand women artists who work in photography and moving image: Conor Clarke, Janet Lilo, Meg Porteous, Selina Ershadi and Louise Menzies.

Our motivation for this exhibition was to reach inside the social mechanisms of looking, recording, and orienting through the camera, in our contemporary moment. The works in the exhibition are political – they question images and representation of ourselves, and others.

What sort of conversations are you hoping to have with our Heretaunga community? What are you most looking forward to?

Since I arrived, the most striking thing to experience on-the-ground is the potential of growing partnerships with our communities, as a public contemporary art gallery that stands within the takiwā of Ngāti Kahungunu, and within the histories and social fabric of Heretaunga.

I’m looking forward to building on work which has already been done here; and working with others to actively explore the place we live, and the role of contemporary art in the world we live in.

What can we expect to see in Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga in 2023?

The Gallery is about to open Waiora (on December 17), a solo exhibition by Hemi Macgregor (Ngāti Rakaipaaka, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tūhoe), to run over summer into next year. Hemi works across painting and sculpture – often drawing on geometric structures found in raranga, tukutuku and tāniko. Waiora looks at moments of connection and alignment in our relationships to the sky, water, whenua and seasons.

From there, we have projects with multi-disciplinary artist Salome Tanuvasa, the Iwi Toi Kahungunu artist collective led by Sandy Adsett, and a major exhibition research project with Dagmar van Dyck and Sopolemalama Tohi. There’s lots more than that to come, too! So make sure you keep an eye on our social media channels, website and emails so you don’t miss any of the great exhibitions we have planned.

Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga will also hold an open event for locals to come and meet Sophie in person early in 2023. To find out more about that event and what is happening at Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga – Hastings City Art Gallery, head to hastingscityartgallery.co.nz or follow them on Facebook or Instagram