The Arts Village was opened on 16th November 2002 by Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick. The complex was created by joining three historic dwellings into a unified gallery, studio and office space.
THE ORIGINAL BUILDINGS: Lewis House, built in 1885 is the oldest of the three buildings and was the accomodation for Rotorua’s Dr Lewis. In 1908, Wohlmann House was built as accomodation for Dr Arthur Stanley Wohlmann, a renowned balneologist who was the designer and first director of the Bath House (now the Rotorua Museum of Art and History). The single storey Bungalow is the youngest of the three buildings and was built in the 1920s, it was occupied by the head of the Tourist Board in Rotorua. The three buildings continued to function as dwellings through until the late 1970s, after which they became empty. However, from October 1986 Wohlmann House was leased to a variety of Rotorua artistic societies and community groups, including the Geyserland Arts and the Creative Fibre groups.
CREATING A VILLAGE: In 1999 the Rotorua Electricity Community Trust (later to become the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust, and finally the Rotorua Charitable Trust) commissioned a series of investigations to assess the needs for further arts and music facilities in the town. A steering committee chaired by mayor Grahame Hall was established that over the next three years undertook extensive surveys and public consultation. The aim was to create a combined music, arts and cultural complex that would provide a significant contribution to community arts in the broadest sense.
With $1.6 million from the Millennium Grants of the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and further funding from the Lotteries Grants Board and the Rotorua District Council, construction began on 15 October 2001. The Arts Village (initially called ‘RAVE’ for ‘Rotorua Arts Village Experience’) was officially opened by Rotorua MP Mrs Stephanie Chadwick on 16 November 2002. From the start community involvement has been a major imperative. The floor of the ambulatory gallery is a mosaic of 350,000 glass tiles in a design by local muralist Marc Spijkerbosch, glued onto 116 pieces of mesh by more than 1600 members of the public over 3500 hours. From time to time other artworks have been added to the building – murals along the back studios, a vertical sundial and the three columned Nikau signage at the front on the building.
THE ARTS VILLAGE TODAY: The Arts Village has grown from being run by a small group of volunteers to become an independent, thriving community organisation with staff, volunteers and user groups running countless projects, exhibitions and community events. The Rotorua Arts Village Trust employ a small team of energetic staff who work alongside volunteers to create a death of arts-based opportunities for locals and visitors to visit, make, share and innovate.
The Arts Village today is home to over 30 arts and cultural groups, and provides a venue for many more one-off or annual cultural activities with a bustling calendar of exhibitions, floor talks and arts networking events and a variety of art classes for both adults and children. In the past couple of years these have included such events as the Japanese Tanabata celebrations, Chinese 50th anniversary celebrations and Matariki. Each year The Arts Village also hosts a six week summer artist residency over Summer, a one-night Winter arts and cultural festival across the city and Art in the Park, can artists-market in the Government Gardens.
The Arts Village is located in the heart of the Creative Precinct and takes every opportunity to work with other organisations in Rotorua including the Museum, Library and Children’s Art House. Today The Arts Village occupies a central place in the artistic community of the city. It is the envy of most other centres in the country, where a permanent, purpose-built arts centre is only an impossible dream, and is something that Rotorua can justifiably be immensely proud of.