A 109-year-old hall in Tauranga's Historic Village has been reborn as a community art gallery, with bookings already flooding in for next year.

''People who think the village was dead should come down here and see that it is absolutely flourishing,'' Incubator Creative Hub director Simone Anderson said.

The Forresters Hall was the third building in the village to be taken over by the Incubator, with The People's Gallery-Toi ka rere on the way to becoming another success story for the hub.

''We want the gallery to have a true sense of community.''


Anderson took the opportunity to lease the hall when she heard Creative Tauranga intended to close its gallery in Willow St.

She said emerging and established artists had gallery space for their works, but there was no gallery in Tauranga that supported community groups like the multicultural society.

''It was a chance for organisations to tell their stories through art.''

And now that the interior of the hall had been converted to a gallery space, she said, it looked like it had been a gallery all of its life. Anderson said it also filled a gap for much-needed exhibition space for local art groups and schools.

It was the first time that the former Forrester's Lodge hall had been given back to the community in nearly 30 years.

The official opening on November 25 was 109 years to the day since it opened as a lodge hall. All the works on display were the same modest size and had the same $109 price tag - regardless of the artists' reputations.

With the arts community flocking to exhibit their works, the opening ended up showing 136 pieces of art instead of the original plan to have 109 artworks

''I thought it would be a struggle to get 109. To get 136 was outstanding. The idea was that all the artists would take part as a group.''


And with bargains to be had, two-thirds of the artworks sold on the first day. ''It was an absolute frenzy.''

The first exhibition in the hall was the Tauranga Girls' College art expo, followed by a retrospective of 117 loaned works from private collections of Tauranga artist Antony Warnes. Warnes had been painting for 50 years.

''The emphasis was on the community giving back their works.''

Anderson said the gallery had a fantastic group of volunteers who were rostered on to chat to people who visited the gallery. Each exhibition lasted three weeks, with the fourth week of every month given over to a pop-up artist - perhaps someone who wanted to test the market.

She said it was not about the commercial aspirations of artists but art telling stories and connecting with the community.

''It is another string in the Incubator's bow. It is well known that exposure to art of any kind has the ability to change lives.''

History of Forresters Hall
1908: Constructed in Spring St and opened by Mayor John Bull.
1930s: Forresters Lodge closes and taken over by borough council.
1952-89: Band room for Tauranga Municipal Brass Band.
1989: Council sells land and hall shifted to village.
1989-17: Leased to various private tenants.