|Open Air Art was formed in 1989 after a public meeting to see how the town of Katikati could promote itself. Katikati, at that time in its history was going through a tough time, the share market had crashed the year before, and was now hurting hard, the kiwifruit industry which had become the main industry of the local area was in crisis, the threat of a by-pass was being looked at and there were up to 32 empty businesses in the town.
Katikati needed a major boost. The driving force behind it all was a group of volunteers inspired by a vision of a small town called Chemainus, on Vancouver Island in Canada. This was a small town that had been though a similar situation that Katikati was going though. To make this happen, Katikati was fortunate to have an inspiring motivator in the form of its local Art teacher from the College, June Carlton. She was to become the project manager and probably the main driving force behind the whole idea of making Katikati New Zealand’s Mural town.
The first mural to be produced in 1990 was the “Waitekohe School”. It was painted by a local artist, Irene Tuscia Falconer. By the end of the year a further 5 artworks had been added to the collection. 1991 saw the official formation of Katikati Open Air Art Inc.
A Mural Information Kiosk was built to be manned by volunteers; it provided a link between OAA and the community. This continued until 1996 when the Western Bay of Plenty District Council built a new Muraltown Information Centre as an extension to the new Katikati Library. Meanwhile the artworks keep on appearing and by the end of 1996, 21 works had been completed and still more were in the pipeline.1996 also saw the first Mural Town Magic festival, when Katikati celebrated it first five years of projects, and part of this celebration led to the first Garden Ramble as a fund raiser. This in turn led to the first Twilight Concert being held with the profits going to OAA. The ideas of festivals has not been lost as now Katikati celebrates with the week long bi-ennial NZ Mural Contest & Art Festival that involves as many forms of the arts and groups as possible.
The initial initiative of OAA was to revitalise the town and district by showcasing its history and this has not stopped, but our art collection has diversified from not only murals but to sculptures, tapestries, mosaics, carving and ceramics just to name a few. This collection that is owned by the community of Katikati has not only grown but also increased in value in 2011 to be around $350 000, a true community asset.
The arrival of “Barry” the real kiwi bloke, close involvement in the establishment of the Haiku Pathway, the construction of “The Pioneers” sculpture to honour June and Colin Carlton and the addition of the Birdwalk beside the Uretara Stream to celebrate the life of outstanding local bird photographer Brian Chudleigh are just some of those many highlights.
In 2010 Open Air Art celebrated 20 years of helping create this amazing outdoor art gallery. In that same year the loyal band of volunteers was recognised for their service to the Katikati community by being awarded ‘runners up’ in the Trustpower NZ Volunteers of the Year award.
KOAA will continue to look at new and innovative ways of continuing the legacy, creating the “wow” factor and adding to the already impressive collection that makes Katikati, New Zealand’s Muraltown.