A week-long school arts festival featuring Northlanders who have excelled in acting, music, dance and sculpture aims to show students the arts can lead to a successful career.

ToiTU runs at Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa all this week with a performance night open to the public on Thursday.

Performers will include young opera star Kawiti Waetford, now training in London; Maori puppet maker and taonga puoro (traditional instrument) expert James Webster; and dancer Nancy Wijohn, just returned from a European tour with Atamira Dance Company. They will be joined by students performing music, drama and kapa haka.

The festival is organised by Davina Wallam-Duke, an uku (clay) artist and head of the arts department, with drama teacher Michele Wilson and music teacher Rose Loveridge.

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She said ToiTU aimed to celebrate the arts, nurture and develop talent at the college, and prove the arts could be a genuine career option.

All too often art was seen as a "filler subject", she said.

By bringing in high-calibre artists they would show students it was possible to come from Northland and make it in the art world, if they pursued it hard enough.

During the week the artists would hold student workshops with Mr Waetford, for example, sharing his experiences of the Nga Manu Korero speech contest and the challenges he faced as a young Maori opera singer.

Mr Webster would work with te reo and art students, while on Friday actor Rob Mokaraka, who is in Northland for the Upsurge Arts Festival, would perform his play telling the real-life story of how undiagnosed depression led to attempt him to suicide.

After the play students would have a chance to talk to him as well as staff from Ngati Hine Health Trust and suicide prevention group Raid.

It was the first time the college had tried to host an arts festival like it.

"We're quite excited and a bit nervous," Mrs Wallam-Duke said.

Bay of Islands College has a proud history in the arts. Former teacher Arnold Wilson, for example, was the first Maori to graduate from the Elam School of Fine Arts at Auckland University.

■ ToiTU performance night will run from 6.30 to 8.30pm on April 6 in the college hall off North Rd, Kawakawa. Tickets are $10 adults/$5 children from the school office or Kings Creative. Family concessions available.