Art opens world
THE CAFE culture of Ponsonby Rd is a far cry from the south side for the kids of Nga Rangatahi Toa.
But it takes little more than a few days before they are settled right in, the programme’s creative director Sarah Longbottom says.
‘‘Our kids wig out when they first get to Ponsonby Rd because they’ve never seen anything like it but by the end of the week they are ruling this building and going down the road for a hot chocolate.’’
The arts-mentoring and transition programme connects young people from South and Central Auckland who are in alternative education with Kiwi artists, musicians and actors.
Ms Longbottom started the trust in 2009 in South Auckland to fill a ‘‘massive gaping hole’’ she saw in the alternative education sector.
‘‘As soon as a kid is excluded from mainstream education they lose access to specialised teachers – art, drama, music, dance.
‘‘They function on a very restricted curriculum which is very short-sighted because for a lot of these kids the first academic success they will experience will be in the creative arts curriculum.’’
Just eight young people were involved when it first began but now that number has grown to more than 130 a year from across Auckland.
The trust now calls the central city suburb home with students working from Ponsonby’s Artstation.
Ms Longbottom has just received a grant as part of the Vodafone World of Difference programme which aims to support and promote people who work with youth.
The funding will allow the Ponsonby-based former teacher to focus fulltime on the programme this year.
Basing the trust in the heart of Ponsonby during Auckland’s transition to a super-city was a conscious decision, she says.
‘‘My theory was, yes you may come from Mangere but you live in Auckland. This is your city so you should feel as comfortable walking down Ponsonby Rd as you do in Mangere town centre.’’
They may have been a bit ahead of the eight-ball on that decision back in 2010 but after three years the kids are feeling more than at home in the programme’s new hub, she says.
It is even more significant as most of the students’ parents and grandparents grew up in the area.
Exhibitions of the student’s work give central residents a chance to experience what it’s like to grow up in South Auckland.
‘‘Personally I think we pathologise in our society. Everything that’s wrong is blamed on youth and it is particularly blamed on marginalised youth.’’
These programmes give the general public an opportunity to lay those myths to rest, she says.
‘‘With the events that we’ve held here at Artstation it’s amazing to see the Ponsonby public turn up and meet our kids and they’re as freaked out of our kids as our kids are freaked out of them but as soon as people start talking it’s quite an exceptional thing to witness.’’
The programme continues to go from strength to strength but funding is always the main struggle.
Mentors would ideally like to work on a one-to-one basis with each student to help them reach their full potential.
‘‘It pains me that the only reason we’re not doing that right the way through the year with all alternative education students is simply funding,’’ she says.
Students will exhibit their first inter-arts project in June with aspects of visual arts, theatre and music in Central Auckland.
Creative edge: Nga Rangatahi Toa creative director Sarah Longbottom says the programme’s students are settling in to its new home on Ponsonby Rd.