It's all about the arts down at the historic village
If you haven’t walked down the cobblestone streets of Tauranga’s Historic Village for a while, you’re in for a heart-warming arts and cultural shock.
The quaint Colonial-style replica buildings are still there but the old static museum displays are long gone, replaced with a riot of colour, energy and quirky creativity.
The Incubator Creative Hub is now the beating heart of this village. “Seven years ago it was very desolate. We used to joke about tumbleweeds blowing up and down the road,” laughs The Incubator’s Director, Simone Anderson. “But I think when you put a lot of arts into a location, it gentrifies it.
“Arts and culture is a really great way to fill up a space and that’s what we set out to achieve back in 2013. We began with a blank canvas and the area has now become a massive magnet to people.”
Nowadays, the Historic Village at the bottom of 17th Avenue, is buzzing seven days a week. Stand-alone businesses, community groups and not-for-profit organisations are based here but The Incubator has well and truly brought the place to life.
Its HQ is the big red barn which is home to several emerging artists plus a dedicated space for solo exhibitions. It’s as far removed from a pretentious art gallery as it’s possible to get. Oversized couches with bright crochet blankets invite you in to relax and explore the art adorning the walls at your leisure.
The Incubator’s mission is to support grassroots art – proving it isn’t an indulgence or “flaky” hobby but a legitimate career path.
“We’re here to support artists who have some promise. We help them move away from their kitchen table or spare room by saying ‘you're at that point where you can take yourself seriously. Come and have a studio, and that's your workplace’.
“People experience a really big mind shift when they start working alongside other creatives. Their genres might be completely different but they can nurture each other, boost their self-esteem and give each other confidence.”
As well as providing studio space, The Incubator encourages artists to share their skills with the public and a wide variety of workshops are regularly offered through ‘The Artery’ which caters for beginners through to teaching more advance techniques.
One of the artists who has found a home here is British painter Nik Williams. He admits he completely lost his identity when he immigrated here two years ago but The Incubator took him under their wing.
They helped him line up some commission work, painting murals at Rotary Park and the Hillier Centre, and gave him a studio space to create his colourful blend of impressionist and David Hockney-style scenes.
“What I learned quite quickly, coming to Tauranga, is if you’re not known, it’s quite hard to get your foot in the door. Ultimately what I wanted to do was to teach and paint. This place gave me credibility so when I went to one or two schools and said, ‘I'm based down at The Incubator’, I actually got a job.”
Nik now teaches art at Otumoetai Intermediate School three days a week and focusses on his own work the remainder of the time. “You’re not judged down here and I think what Simone and her team has created is a place where people can grow and develop massively.”
Strolling around the Historic Village, you’re always welcome to pop into the artists’ studios and say hi. Across the road from the barn, you’ll find half a dozen ‘artists in residence’ including acclaimed watercolour expert Nick Eggleston and fashion designer Kerry Funnell whose work has featured in Wellington’s World Of Wearable Arts multiple times.
“It is a real community down here,” Kerry explains. “And so much better than working at home being isolated. Just talking to other people about their creative gig is good - stuff happens just from conversations, regular meetings and relationships.”
Don’t be surprised to see china teacups dangling from cherry trees or giant sculptures of insects clinging to the side of buildings – it’s all part of the rich tapestry of creativity you’ll find these days at the Historic Village.
And the fun isn’t limited to visual art. Music is also a huge part of The Incubator, with their Jam Factory performance space booked out multiple nights a week. Around 60 people can pack into the century-old former school building to listen to music ranging from classical to cultural, underground, edgy and alternative.
“The Jam Factory opened two years ago and we had a tsunami of bookings. We realised nobody was catering to the grassroots music scene so when this building came along, we were like ‘yes we need this’ to develop as a music hub.
“It’s the same as what we're doing with visual artists; we want to give musicians the opportunity to succeed. You can have a connection with the performer here because it’s so much more intimate. It brings more value to what they’re doing.”
Innovative indigenous art is on display and available for sale at The Incubator’s Okorore Ngā Toi Māori studio which is set up to celebrate, nurture and ‘incubate’ indigenous artists.
“It’s providing Māori an opportunity to represent their own art with integrity. When we opened there was nowhere in Tauranga that you could buy authentic Māori art. So this place has been really flourishing, and we have indigenous artist residencies as well.”
Renowned Aotearoa tohunga whakairo (master carver) Whare Thompson has set up his studio in the old Fire Station building and is “one of the best-kept secrets,” Simone explains. His work can be seen at Waikato University’s Durham St campus, The Elms, Tauranga Crossing and other high-profile sites around the Bay.
Thanks to The Incubator’s influence, the Historic Village is now a vibrant, welcoming space that locals and visitors alike enjoy exploring. Artists and exhibiting groups are always happy to chat about what they’ve created, and you can experience the raw emotions that only grassroots art and music can generate.
“We say the Village is now like a great big arts and cultural quilt. It doesn’t really matter what the piece looks like, but it always fits together and creates something amazing!”
To find out what’s on (and what cool initiatives are coming next), visit their website.
ElementApiProduct.ss --- Carousel