More than $150,000 of artwork overlooks offenders and court staff alike at Ministry of Justice sites in the region.

An expert says it plays an important role in what can be a stressful, emotive environment.

Ministry figures provided to the Rotorua Daily Post revealed artworks at the ministry's Bay of Plenty sites were valued at $150,873.86.

The works included paintings, prints, artefacts and carvings.

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The most valuable was a mural by James Turkington valued at $70,000.

Turkington was the most prominent mid-20th-century muralist in New Zealand, according to Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Very few of his works survived into the 21st century.

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."

Mr 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."

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

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

He had provided artworks for hospitals and health care facilities where it was important to consider restful, meditative, subtle healing themes, mediums and colours.

"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."

Ministry of Justice 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.

Works 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 Kare Kare 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 art work in Dunedin called Allegations, worth $2560.

The most valuable works nationwide include the Turkington mural as well as sculptures in Auckland and Hawke's Bay worth up to $50,000.