Newsmaker: Karl Johnstone

This week's Newsmaker is Karl Johnstone who is the director of New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI).

Tell us about yourself?

My iwi is Rongowhakaata and I grew up in Turanga (Gisborne). I moved to Rotorua in 2008 when I spent a short six-month period working at Waiariki Polytechnic, before taking on a role at Te Puia. I am married to Nerida and we have three children aged 13, 10 and five years.

I formally trained in Fine Arts at Auckland University (Elam School of Fine Arts), majoring in painting and I have been a practising artist for many years. I also trained as a teacher and returned to Gisborne to teach for approximately three years.

These days, my art is more about my work and ideas - everything I do now is an extension of my art.

What is your role at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and how did you come to take on this job?

I am the director of New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI). I moved to Te Puia in 2008 as the General Manager Visitor Experience and Operations. I had a particular focus on the interface between cultural and commercial development and leveraging the NZMACI cultural heritage opportunity at a local, national and international level.

I became the director of NZMACI in 2011, as the organisation evolved and expanded its focus, making the conscious decision to invest more in its legislative responsibility and cultural mandate.

What other jobs have you done in your past?

I spent several years managing creative and strategy teams at our National Museum - Te Papa. While at Te Papa, I was responsible for leading or supporting the development of more than 20 major exhibitions. I have also been an art teacher, gallery owner, exhibition developer, strategy manager, senior communication strategist, practicing artist, filmmaker and graphic designer.

I continue to be involved in a number of cultural centre projects in New Zealand and internationally, and I have a particular focus on supporting numerous iwi throughout New Zealand towards developing culturally and commercially sustainable businesses.

What makes Rotorua as a city special?

Its geographic position, its people, and its history. Every place is special if you have an appreciation of its history.

What do you like about working at NZMACI?

The students, the Schools and the challenge of protecting our culture into the future.

What is the role of NZMACI and how does it fit with Te Puia?

NZMACI was formally established in 1963 (we celebrate our 50 year anniversary this year). It is a self-funded charitable entity legislated under the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act (1963) with a mandate to protect, promote and perpetuate Maori cultural heritage.

NZMACI operates Te Wananga Whakairo Rakau o Aotearoa (the National Wood Carving School), Te Rito (the National Weaving School), and Te Takapu o Rotowhio (the National Bone, Stone and Greenstone Carving School). NZMACI will be opening a fourth wananga in Doubtless Bay, Northland - Te Wananga-a-Kupe Mai Tawhiti - later in 2013.

As part of fulfilling our mandate, we have led or been involved in several key cultural projects in the past 18 months, particularly Te Kakano, Storehouse, Ahua, Te Matatini mahau and our recent presence at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.

NZMACI sits alongside Te Puia, which is our visitor experience and cultural centre.

Describe the experience and importance of the carving for Te Matatini?

The mahau, named 'Te Matatini' has a 30 metre span and stands more than 13 metres tall. NZMACI has been a partner of Te Matatini for six years. Like Te Matatini, we acknowledge the strength of diversity among iwi, hapu and whanau, and the mahau celebrates this diversity through its carvings of tupuna (ancestors) and with korero (narratives) that unite and represent all iwi across the motu.

The mahau has been a significant project for NZMACI, demonstrating the skill and expertise of our carvers on a scale like no other. The many carvers who have worked on the mahau acknowledge the endurance that has been required to complete such an epic task, the importance of working together, and the value of learning the korero of each carving style and ancestral figure they have created.

Some of the carvers will have the opportunity to perform at Te Matatini 2013, and will bring the stage alive with their particular understanding of its components. They all acknowledge the privilege of working on a project of this magnitude. In the words of one student, 'in the future I will be able to say I was a part of the Matatini job that will live on forever'.

Tell us three things about yourself most people wouldn't know?

My maternal grandfather is Norwegian.

My favourite food is Malaysian.

I like to think I'm an existentialist.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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