Justice will be served - with a dose of culture.

Around $1 million worth of artwork overlooks offenders and court staff at Ministry of Justice sites around the country.

Ministry of Justice figures provided to NZME revealed artworks worth hundreds of thousands were dotted around the country.

The works included carvings, sculptures and painting, prints and artefacts.


Ministry deputy secretary corporate Suzanne Stew said the items on the ministry's central asset register had been acquired over the course of its 140-year history.

The works are at courts, tribunals, and ministry sites used for delivering other services, including legal aid and the Public Defence Service.

Art on the nationwide register included pieces by well-known artists such as Dick Frizzell and Grahame Sydney.

Many of the works depicted New Zealand places such as Karekare and Matapouri beaches or plants and animals including pohutukawa, morepork and saddleback.

Others had more judicial themes including framed photos of judges in Southland - worth $1194.50 - and an artwork called Allegations in Dunedin worth $2560.

The most valuable works nationwide included a James Turkington mural in Bay of Plenty worth $70,000 as well as sculptures in Auckland and Hawke's Bay worth up to $50,000.

The least valuable works included many examples valued at $1 each - though some artworks at Legal Aid Services were registered as being worth nothing.

Muralist and Rotorua Lakes Council community arts adviser Marc Spijkerbosch said public art had always played an important role in terms of instilling community pride and identity and telling stories.

"I would imagine that placing artwork in courts and tribunals would have a similar effect- to lift spirits, provide cultural identity and heritage, and enhance a feeling of connectedness and reverence."

Spijkerbosch said art was generally created to invite reaction and participation. That could happen on a number of levels and was sometimes subliminal.

"At its simplest level, even colour on its own has the ability to incite specific emotions."

Spijkerbosch thought the artworks could play a significant role in people's perception of - and reverence to - the court system.

It could even send out much needed signals of community belonging, nurturing and responsibility, he said.

"Quality artworks, especially if specifically commissioned can be bigger ticket items, so I feel the combined value of these artworks over the wider Bay of Plenty area is quite reasonable - especially given the role they could potentially play in what must at times be a stressful, emotive environment."

Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga registrar Jo Torr said art in public spaces exposed people to their own culture and to the cultures of others.

"Studies show that as a result of exposure to art, people demonstrate stronger critical thinking skills, display higher levels of social tolerance, exhibit greater historical empathy.

"Experiencing art has well-documented positive effects for mental health and general well-being," she said.

In some cultures, artworks were believed to have spiritual value. Maori taonga were considered to have mauri, or life force.

Creative Northland general manager Hinurewa te Hau said it was important to have art at those sites.

Art wasn't just about the beautification of spaces, she said.

"Sometimes it's about being able to have artwork that actually may resonate with people who are in that building," said te Hau.

Art could allow a moment of solitude, enjoyment or reflection for somebody waiting in a ministry building for something significant to occur.

It could bring a whole new sort of thinking to such buildings, where major issues were dealt with.

"I think if the artworks that go in there are representing those values of truth, goodness and honesty then that's an opportunity to create another form of dialogue," she said.

Te Hau said local buildings should house work by artists with connections to the region and it was important for Government departments to support local talent.

"It's about sense of place and belonging and it's about sharing story and narrative."

She said the Northland Region Corrections Facility invited the public to see the work of prisoners in its arts programme each year then had the work auctioned for charity.

The talent was amazing and it would be great for the ministry to display the works of those being rehabilitated, she added.

"I suppose that's the challenge to put back out to the justice system - if you're going to buy artworks, you need to look at your own house first."

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