Earlier this year Tauranga hosted the Paradox Street Art Festival, which featured works by internationally acclaimed street artists, including Banksy. The festival was a resounding economic success, but the social impact on our community is harder to measure. Rosie Dawson-Hewes set out to do just that Tauranga is often seen as a laidback, seaside town - perfect for retirees and summer holidays. But with a fast-growing population, economy and house prices, the city is in a state of flux. Paradox Street Art Festival proved that flux can be a good thing. But how can art, and more specifically Paradox, help develop locals' city pride and identity? Creative New Zealand chairman Michael Moynahan says it is about social capital. "The arts build the degree of trust in a society and the ability of people to work together for common good," Michael says. "This is the concept the World Bank uses when they describe social capital ... the arts builds social cohesion and community resilience, they bring communities and neighbourhoods together." Michael says the arts offer a strong economic benefit to cities like ours, but sometimes authorities focus too much on measuring success by the numbers. "Only estimating the financial capital that results from the arts, culture and creative sectors misses much of their true value. As the saying goes, 'not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted costs'," he says. Without a doubt, Paradox brought the community together. Tauranga Art Gallery experienced its highest visitor numbers ever for Paradox: Inside, which featured the Oi You! collection, owned by Christchurch's George Shaw and Shannon Webster, with works by well-known personalities such as Banksy, Faile, Paul Insect, Swoon and Anthony Micallef. It also included seven bespoke, large-scale works on the gallery's other walls, created by a range of international and Kiwi street artists. The entire building was given over to street art, and the punters loved it. Nearly 50,000 people visited the gallery, spending $1.2 million, with 52 per cent of those being locals. CBD cafe owner Sandra Johnston watched it unfold from her business, Dry Dock, on Wharf St. "There were people every-where! There were queues across the road ... you know if people hadn't been to the gallery yet, they were on their way to the gallery or vice versa," she says. "And the number of new people we had in this cafe, that were here to go to the art gallery, was just massive." Sandra say there were no age or gender limits at all. Michael says this is not that unusual when building social capital. "The arts help people better understand the diverse communities in their neighbourhoods and they build empathy and under-standing. They highlight universal truths about all of us." Tauranga City Council analysis backs up the anecdotal evidence, with 84 per cent of out-of-town visitor survey responses saying Paradox showcased Tauranga as a talented and innovative city full of opportunity. Rotorua photographer and mother-of-three Katie Hoy visited for the day with her eight-month-old son and a couple of friends. "We came over specifically to see Paradox ... we were all looking for inspiration in one way or an-other," she says. "I particularly wanted to see the Banksy works - though my favourite pieces were by Milton Springsteen and Adam Neate. I really enjoyed the scale of the bigger pieces too - being surrounded by the works was an awesome experience ... " Mount Maunganui's Jennifer Pearson visited with her family. "Paradox made me feel proud of Tauranga, like we had our own little bit of grunge going on - something unique and special. It was great seeing so many people out looking at the artworks and feeling a real connection to their city. It's the proudest I've felt of Tauranga in the 20 years I've lived here." Eighty-six per cent of locals said Paradox made them feel proud of their city and 81 per cent said it made Tauranga a more enjoyable place to live.
There were people every-where! There were queues across the road ... you know if people hadn't been to the gallery yet, they were on their way to the gallery or vice versa
Mount Maunganui architect Bobbie Cornell felt it, too. "To hear Banksy works were coming here was amazing, I was looking forward to it for months. We went three times!"
Sandra says she has noticed an attitude shift. "It built a stronger sense of community in the CBD and I think it just comes back to us being proud to have it here," she says. So now the test becomes what Tauranga does next. The locals are keen for action, Sandra says. "I think people are still proud. People just now want things to keep going. People want to come out and come into their city. We need to carry this on." Michael says the city has made a start and now is its chance to continue.