It's taken twenty years but the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes finally has its own own venue solely for the arts. Te Oro Glen Innes Music and Arts Centre wants to bring young people together to, in their words, perform, practice and learn the arts.
Facility manager Jenni Heka tells Justin Gregory there's been a need for a place like Te Oro for a long time.
“It’s political” says facility coordinator Petelo Esekielu when asked why it took so long for Glen Innes to get a facility devoted to nurturing local artists and musicians. “The new local board, it’s given voting power to people who are actually in the community. Two of the local board members live up the road and they get to see what happens every day.”
Glen Innes, or G.I. as the locals call it, is a predominantly working class Polynesian suburb to the east of central Auckland. Over the years it has quietly produced its share of artists and musicians, despite there being what Te Oro facility manager Jenni Heka describes as a “gap” in the infrastructure.
“We haven’t had that opportunity for this community to actually experience the arts. Very great with sports!”
Like a lot of her staff, Jenni grew up G.I. and would have appreciated something like Te Oro when she was young.
“There was nowhere for me to go. There was nowhere for me to learn the craft. I was really fortunate that I had a drama teacher [who] encouraged me to create a career. When she said ‘you could become a professional actor’ I latched onto it and I’m still working in the industry."
Te Oro opened its doors on 11 May and according to Jenni, ever since then they have been running to keep up with the needs of their community. Te Oro boasts a large, albeit slightly awkward performance space that can seat almost 400 people as well as two dance studios, rooms for carving, painting and sculpture, a recording studio and a digital suite. It offers free or very cheap classes in digital filmmaking, visual arts, hip hop dance, theatre, audio engineering and music recording. Workshops run during the daytime and the pace ramps up once school finishes each afternoon.
“I think a lot of young people are wandering around trying to figure out what they’re good at,” says Jenni, “Because we keep our classes free or low cost, they can have that taster.”
Te Oro’s nearest neighbours are a cluster of community services, with a library, a marae, a community centre and a police station all within hollering distance. Petelo Esekielu likens it to a body, with Te Oro as the hands and heart, the feet placed firmly in the community centre and the marae, and the head being in the library. Built into the floor of Te Oro is a manaia motif reflecting these connections.
Although it is open to the public, the building is not yet fully finished and Jenni Heka hopes to have the formal handover from the architects soon. But she’s already looking ahead to a time when the name Te Oro means not just opportunities for the community but also excellence in ability.
“Ideally if somebody said ‘where’d you get your training’, ‘Well, I started at Te Oro’ they’d say ‘we’ll take you'".