Sandra Debney believes in 'getting out of your safe zone' from time to time, and taking on the role of chair of the Friends of Aratoi this year fits with this philosophy.
'I have to admit there was a bit of arm twisting from (outgoing chair) Jo Beetham but the fact is I'm passionate about the place; the art, the people and what Aratoi offers to our community.'
The former teacher and assistant principal at both Totara Drive and Lakeview Schools, says her passion will carry her through the hard work she knows lies ahead. Collectively, the Friends of Aratoi put in 3,000 voluntary hours each year, and the role of chair demanding demands many hours per month.
'Our role is to support the staff and the gallery, and we will be working out ways to do this,' says Debney. This includes organising events to fund new acquisitions for the collection and other Aratoi projects, and continuing to grow the Friends membership which now stands at over 400 - a healthy number for a city, let alone a provincial gallery.
This was one of Jo Beetham's key achievements in the role, which she held for three and a half years. During this time, the membership increased by 25%, something Beetham puts down to engaging with people in the community at all levels, from King Street artists to graffiti artists, and collectors through events such as the popular art and architecture tours.
Beetham, formerly a pain management physiotherapist, plans to keep volunteering at Aratoi, alongside her work on the Kokomai Creative Festival board.
'One of the things I valued most during my time as chair of the Friends was the committee's huge work ethic, and that included Sandra's,' says Beetham.
Debney's first major event for the year is a strategic planning meeting in February and, not surprisingly, she would like to strengthen the educational side of Aratoi's work and its outreach to schools.
Debney has lived in Masterton since 1999 and quickly connected with Aratoi’s forerunner the Wairarapa Arts Centre. 'I always thought this was a valuable asset to our town, then when Aratoi opened I found it an exciting and vibrant place.' She has now been involved with the Friends for over a decade.
Sandra Debney, Friends of Aratoi Chair 2017