Masterton may lack the pizazz of LA, but this was more than made up for by the warmth and feeling of Monday’s powhiri for Alice Hutchison, who this week takes up the role of director at Aratoi. The foyer rang to the sounds waiata, and the full-bodied bagpipe playing of Matarawa oral historian and broadcaster Hugo Manson, who is also Hutchison’s father’s cousin.
It was a moving welcome into the ‘Wairarapa whanau’ for the graduate of University of Auckland who has been based mainly in Los Angeles for the past 15 years, working as a gallery director and museum curator. She is also a contributing writer and editor on several international art publications.
Manson pointed out that this is a homecoming in many ways, as her great grandparents lived in the region, and grandmother Patsy Drummond was born at Clareville.
Artist and arts administrator Ray Thorburn spoke on Hutchison’s behalf, describing her as someone who stood up for artists and the community, a prime example being her championing of Rachael Rakena and Brett Graham’s major installation 'Aniwaniwa'.
“Alice took it upon herself to take [Aniwaniwa] to the 2007 Venice Biennale [to represent New Zealand] with the artists," said Thorburn.
Mike Kawana and Haami Te Whaiti concluded the powhiri by presenting her with a tewhatewha, which had been presented to Aratoi by former director Marcus Boroughs on his departure. They explained it is a symbol of the strength and mana needed to protect taonga such as those held in the region and at Aratoi.
Hutchison’s previous roles have seen her working with renowned artists such as Carl Andre, Bill Viola, and Helen Frankenthaler, as well as promoting emerging artists. She has worked as Associate Director at Ace Contemporary Exhibitions/Ace Gallery, (Los Angeles, CA / New York) at various times over the past 15 years; and Manager Art at Te Manawa, Palmerston North.
A recent project from her time as curator at the Skirball Museum, Los Angeles, is a blockbuster retrospective of Emmy-award winning film and television animation producer Gary Baseman, perhaps best known here as the artistic designer of the Cranium board game.
Hutchison says this show (www.skirball.org/exhibitions/gary-baseman) is an example is of the engaging, multidimensional experience she would like to see happening at Aratoi: “I am interested in looking at the culture of the locality, and exploring different aspects of New Zealand culture that have not necessarily been explored before - that might include music, fashion, academic or scientific research that is going on in the region.”
At the core of her vision is “serving the community”: “I want to use my experience specifically to think of innovative ways to attract people and provide a welcoming place for the community.”
Using her extensive international contacts will be a logical way forward, and she plans to initiate reciprocal touring exhibitions with other regional museums and galleries both in New Zealand and abroad, and develop wider networks for artists overseas through exchanges and residency programmes.
“I am keen to continue to build partnerships with artists, writers and film makers to find ways to spotlight Wairarapa and tell different stories. There is a wealth of local and personal stories to be mined here.”
Grantwriting, which she plans to use to benefit Aratoi – is only part of the skill set she brings. She also attributes her success to “empathy with artists and willingness to share their vision balanced by resourcefulness, practicality and problem-solving”.
Through recent work with the Man Ray Trust, New York, a rare exhibition in New Zealand may be forthcoming. For now, however, her priority is connecting with staff, and forging relationships in the Wairarapa community.