During the debate over whether Tauranga, New Zealand's fifth biggest city should have a museum, someone described Tauranga as a cultural desert.
I can understand why that might be so. It seems that other places in the country, large and small, boast such a facility.
Dunedin, the city that we have displaced size-wise, has two fine museums full of local heritage and history and displays bursting with innovation and imagination.
But Tauranga a cultural desert? I'm not sure about that. I guess it comes down to what you imagine "culture" to be.
Everybody immediately looks to some amorphous thing called "the arts" for guidance and by "the arts" the first thing that springs to mind is the visual arts.
We have a fine, if in my opinion under-utilised, art gallery which, from time to time, mounts exhibitions that attracts great interest.
The relatively recent exhibition of works by street artist is an example; in fact, I met people who had travelled down from Auckland to view it.
As places such as the Incubator at the Historical Village demonstrate, we have any number of talented artists in residence producing thoughtful and sometimes stunning works – landscapes, portraits, abstracts, impressionist – it's all here.
On the larger canvas we can boast amazing giant portraiture works scattered around town.
Works by Kawerau ex-pat Owen Dippie and Motiti Island's Mr G.
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I know too that in other areas of visual expression such as photography we have a resident group of photographers just crying out for exposure on a wider front.
In terms of drama there are several local drama groups; the Tauranga Musical Theatre and the 16th Ave Theatre.
Both groups were established in the 1930s and have operated over the years with a dedicated cadre of volunteers while providing a valuable training ground for not just actors but dancers, singers and the technical staff who undertake all the necessary back of stage activities.
I'm aware of several groups looking to establish a film/video industry in and around Tauranga using local talent and of course our stunning locations.
I understand that Tauranga is also seen as a fruitful recruiting ground for "talent" with at least one agency active.
Music? I think Tauranga is well served in all forms. For contemporary music - local singers and musicians – we have oodles of talent.
When putting together our annual Waitangi Day commemorations, which involves music from across the board; I've found there is no shortage of people willing to put their hand up to entertain and celebrate our national day.
And they are good! We get something a little more highbrow with the New Zealand String Quartet recent visitors – playing on a local marae - and of course we have the annual jazz festival not to mention live music at various city venues catering to all tastes – from blues to country.
Kapa haka in Tauranga is especially strong and I am pleased that the contribution that Māori cultural performance brings to events throughout the wider community is becoming an expectation rather than an exception.
Kapa haka roopu from Tauranga perform with distinction at national competition level and regularly travel abroad to take this special feature of Māori culture to an international audience.
So, what of the literate scene in Tauranga? Judging by the number of literary projects I know of around the city, we seem to have a surfeit of writers or people interested in good writing.
In recent years I've been fortunate to be involved with literary projects involving youth and have been pleasantly amazed at the talent shining through.
Last week I was invited to a Poet's Evening at a local watering hole and the participants with their mix of earnest and clever wordsmithing showed that this almost esoteric literature field is also in good creative hands. Poet Fino Sullivan:
…the intricacies and exaggerations of two people trying to find the perfect partner and only parting
In the promotion of a whole range of cultural activities I take my hat off to organisations such as Creative Bay of Plenty, TECT, Tauranga Performing Arts Competition Society and The Acorn Foundation plus a whole raft of generous philanthropists and businesses who freely support our local cultural activities in the widest possible sense.
The launch last week of another Tauranga Arts Festival is in some ways a culmination of all these activities; all these efforts.
I don't think we live in a cultural desert in Tauranga, but I do think we sometimes live in a narrow way which restricts the cultural experiences that we could come across in our daily lives.
Everyday conversations about "the arts" are not your typical morning tea chats but if we want a richer life that draws on the amazing variety of human creativity, well, maybe it should be.
Buddy Mikaere is an historian, environmentalist, resource consents consultant and Tauranga Moana iwi representative with a wide variety of interests across the Mount Maunganui and Tauranga community. He serves on various council committees.