Award winning New Zealand singer Ria Hall made her debut in her new 'gig' as director of Tauranga Arts Festival in a party on Thursday evening at the University of Waikato, Tauranga Campus.

The gathering hosted by Tauranga Arts Festival team was also a thank you to their many supporters in the Tauranga Moana community who shared a common passion for the arts as an intrinsic part of the community.

There was a diverse crowd of story tellers, writers, musicians, academics, lawyers, teachers, managers and more attended the function which included the Te Manawaroa Art tour, a highlight of the 2019 Arts Festival programme. The tour provided insight into the beautiful artwork, and cultural stories on display on the campus.

Joseph McFarlane, the University of Waikato director of regional engagement said the purpose of the tour was to give an insight into the "cultural narrative" of the campus, and that the artworks on display represented Tauranga Moana for locals, for visitors, and for students.

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"We are all from the ocean. We are all Tauranga Moana, and it is really important that when students come here, especially international students that they feel like they belong here."

New festival director Ria Hall is taking over the reins from Bond who is staying on as a consultant director. The hard-working tight knit team also includes Sandra Simpson as programmer of the festival and Nikki Hansen, general manager, along with the trust board and a whole range of volunteers.

Ria Hall told the Bay of Plenty Times that while music is her first gig that she is most known for, her role as director of the Arts Festival is very much linked to her talents and beliefs as a musician.

"Art is about storytelling and it can take many forms and all these forms are linked - music, stories, writing, visual arts, theatre...they are all encompassing and there are endless possibilities in the arts as a way of communicating something meaningful and powerful."

Hall said she was excited to be part of the festival.

"Last year I worked as an intern under Jo and I am just so thrilled to be working with such a great team and the whole community."

It has been a busy year for Hall already. In January she wowed a 40000 strong crowd at One Love Festival, and she a new album out in two weeks called MANAWA WERA which she says is a collection of songs that speak to her views, vision and experiences - on the arts and life.

". In these testing times which we live, and with the current social and political climate, it is essential we remain passionate and fervent of heart. To be steadfast, bold and brave irrespective of the storm."

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l also release a single on February 28 called Owner, described as "a hard-hitting and unapologetic anthem, with a vibe steeped in beat-driven reggae"

Hall co-wrote and produced the song with Laughton Kora along with musicians Ara Adams-Tamatea and Miharo Gregory from L.A.B. Zane Graham from Sons of Zion and Wiremu Barriball from Katchafire also play on the track.

Hall says she likes to "champion" the Maori language through the arts

"I would never say that I am fluent but I am passionate about the language being an intrinsic part of who we are as Tauranga Moana, as Aotearoa "

Hall's passion and beliefs about the arts go back many years and one of her most well known songs is the 2013 hit Aotearoa which she recorded and sings with fellow Bay born singer Stan Walker.

Written by Vince, Stan Walker, and Troy Kingi , and translated into Maori by Te Haumihiata Mason, the song has a One Love anthem, sung each year by Walker and Hall at the annual One Love reggae festival in Tauranga.

"For me this song symbolises my direction and feelings about what I do in life and in art, to celebrate and be proud of who we are in Aotearoa. I love that the Tauranga Arts festival is very much a celebration of Aotearoa"

The next Tauranga Arts Festival will take place in Tauranga 2021. This year s year from 29 May to 1 June the Festival is running the Escape Festival of readers and writers. Programmer Sandra Simpson said the exciting programme will be revealed later this year.