ArohArt - A Labour of Love

Aroha Hathaway’s journey has been both colourful and eventful. The artist, broadcaster, writer and business owner has travelled the world, speaks three languages and happily describes herself as an activist when it comes to issues she is passionate about.


Her latest venture, ArohArt, is born out of that passion and a deep desire to celebrate and recognise authentic Maori art.


“It’s that word authentic that often prompts discussion. What is truly authentic? My son Tikirau and I were travelling around the Coromandel looking for Maori art for our new home and we came back disillusioned by what we found. We saw a great deal of items that incorporated Maori design, but very little that had been created by Maori artists  and it was almost impossible to find any work from our local Hauraki artists,” Aroha recalls.


Further discussion and a feeling of being compelled to try and address this deficit, prompted  the vision for ArohArt, a dedicated centre in Thames for art and crafts by primarily local Maori artists. While the kaupapa was clear,  Aroha admits that the other rather important goal of having a successful business and turning a profit was based on mostly hope and gut instinct.


“There were only a few times that panic set in and I was wondering whether or not it was all going to work. But

it’s been amazing really,” she says of the process of opening in January this year and the five months that followed.


“We found a store on Pollen Street and it was right next door to the cafe owned by my good friend so that immediately felt like a good sign. We only had about 3 weeks to get it up and running but luckily we knew some amazing artists to reach out to. I couldn’t have dreamed how things would just fall into place, at times it  felt like half choice and half chance. It’s exceeded all my expectations.”


The response to the centre has been overwhelmingly positive which Aroha attributes to the uniqueness of the creations provided by the artists she works with and simple timing.


“People now want to know where things come from, they want to know the history and understand the significance of it. We get a real mix of people through, from locals to tourists, and so many aren’t just coming for the art. They want to hear the stories and understand the culture. Our indigenous culture is one of the key things that Tourism New Zealand promotes overseas but where can people go in Thames to see or experience that culture?  We are having those conversations here and learning so much ourselves in the process.”


Paintings, photography, sculptures, carved pieces, colouring books, games, clothing and homewares are among the extensive range of items AroHart now houses, many of which can be purchased online via the store website. Local artists whose work features at the centre include greenstone carver, Springer, from Manaia; Thames based carver, Darin Jenkins; weaver, Laurette Madden-Morehu and Aroha’s son and co-director Tikirau Hathaway. Some of the ranges frequently sell out and, even with the onset of winter, Aroha says sales have been strong.


But ArohArt’s purpose was always intended to be more than just a store. Rather, the vision was for a hub for the local artistic community. Te Reo classes and just recently a flax weaving workshop are among the activities bringing people together.. In fact, with over 40 participants, the flax weaving session needed to be relocated to The Back Room  venue just across the street in Thames in order to accommodate everyone.


As well as obvious delight and gratitude, ArohArt’s success also brings challenges, excitement and thoughts for the future.


“I think we’re probably going to need more space. We want to have studios where artists can collaborate and hold demonstrations, room for a carving workshop, hold a food market with locally produced kai,” Aroha offers as a glimpse into what may lie ahead. But right now, being home in Thames, travelling to her media job in Auckland 3 days a week instead of 6, life is good. As for the future...


“There’s lots to think about and I’m looking forward to it.”


Article published 20-06-2019

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