Reignition of the light

New Brighton Community Developer Rebecca May on the TEZA effect.

I didn’t understand exactly what TEZA meant, despite having worked alongside many of the TEZA steering crew for many months, until the very end.

A Temporary Economic Zone of Aotearoa, blending arts, culture and alternative economies was how I would describe TEZA to anyone who would listen. And many did, as is often the case in greater Brighton: folk are keen to welcome new energy, vibrancy and people to our village. Throwing in the words ‘temporary’ and ‘economic’ acted as carrots to many, such is the nature of our depleted and somewhat broken post-quake environment.

Despite having an inside angle on the programme, the artists and a reasonable understanding of Letting Space’s kaupapa I felt, after the first day of TEZA on the ground here in New Brighton, it had given me little advantage.  I wanted to tell everyone I’d spoken to in the months and weeks leading into the arrival of TEZA that I’d unfortunately gotten it terribly wrong. I felt the need to send out a series of ‘ooops’ type messages to the masses.

I didn’t. And I’m pleased I didn’t.

Because by the end of TEZA I arrived back at the understanding I’d assumed initially by reading the four letters that represent the project. TEZA not only teased us, as the name aurally suggests, but it also provided the platform for blending arts, culture and alternative economies. Defining those three elements would provide the key to understanding TEZA.

From the point of view and perception of a busy Brightonite, who wished she’d had the opportunity to partake of every single opportunity TEZA offered, TEZA rocked.

Greater Brighton is an incredibly vibrant, creative village. If you were banking social capital, it would be the richest quarter of the city. Residing between the river and the deep blue sea and once described as only being attractive to “artists, bohemians and labour voters”, the beach at the beginning of the world nurtures original thoughts and processes. Allowing a creative summit to take place within our village was quite possibly the most sensible thing that’s happened here in a long time. I’ve often wondered how, in a village that fosters this type of ‘alternative’ culture why this hadn’t happened before?

The second problem with our local culture (and I believe there are only two) is that there are no secondary educational facilities here. At age 12, we send our tamariki across the river to be awesome elsewhere. These great beings and citizens of our community, once finished their education become city dwellers rather than village folk. Their awesomeness is seldom realised here.

The earthquakes demanded that many returned home to craft, but they did it alone .

Attending the Powhiri with the TEZA artists at Raupaki I felt like an impostor, stuck in a rotten dinghy in the sea of ambiguity. I was neither an artist, manuhiri nor tangata whenua. Like many folk, my ‘creations’ never raised a gallery fanfare and I wondered how I might maintain an authentic conversation with The Artists. But a week onsite in this new community allowed me to redefine ‘art’.

Following Letting Space conversations on Facebook with a keen eye, I partook in a conversation where one of the other participants announced: “Either all of us are artists or none of us are”. TEZA allowed me to join the cult. I create. We all create.  And whether or not we can define it as public, community or high art is irrelevant. Hosting a Creative Summit that sounded like a teaser was a piece of art in itself.

TEZA provided a platform for creative discussion, for original thoughts and processes to evolve in a collaborative and open environment. It allowed Brighton to be marked on the map not simply as the poor cousin that continues to embarrass the city, but as a place where artists meet.

What emerged from the last moment of TEZA was that re-ignition of the light that resides within all of us, that senses that we can achieve more and greater things when we do it together.

Rebecca May is the Programme Manager and co-founder of Renew Brighton, an organisation founded to be the catalyst, platform and inspiration for community-led ideas and initiatives and to be instrumental in leading the development of a community-led recovery and revitalisation plan for Greater Brighton.  She resides in South Brighton.