Step into Creative Tauranga on Willow St in the CBD and you'll see locals' work: paintings of caravans and the Mount, books, soaps and lotions, a peacock feather handbag and, on a back table, promotion posters for the soon-to-be-unveiled Hairy Maclary & Friends waterfront sculpture project.
This is where we meet Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell, who's taking time between meetings to talk about the Bay's art scene.
Rudduck-Gudsell tells the story of meeting with a small group of women shortly after starting her new job with Creative Tauranga, an organisation focused on growing arts and culture in the city and the Western Bay of Plenty. The group was planning a small show at a community hall for friends and family.
"When I sat down and heard the concept of what they did and met the women, it was like, 'Oh, wow, you can actually take this out to the community. And they were like, 'Really, do you think people would be interested?'
That "small, one-time show" was Tarnished Frocks and Divas, a performing arts exhibition, fashion show and breast cancer fundraiser, and the 2005 inaugural event became a biennial show.
Rudduck-Gudsell's background includes expertise in marketing and not-for-profit management, before joining Creative Tauranga, she served as president of the Tauranga Club. She took over as chief executive in 2004 and was tasked with rebranding the Tauranga Community Arts Council Inc to Creative Tauranga. She's lived in the city more than two decades and spent seven years in the UK.
Rudduck-Gudsell considers herself an arts enabler and facilitator and says she neither paints, nor performs.
She says the arts' greatest hurdle is money: "Funding and political support. I tend to flip challenges to being opportunities. It's a hard one with the arts. To me it's as necessary as sports are to our wellbeing but we just don't compare with the level of funding that's available."
She says one of her greatest challenges was fundraising to bring the $656,000 Hairy Maclary & Friends waterfront sculpture project to life.
"Raising the money took five years. I thought it was going to be two. I learned a lot through that process. My timing wasn't great. The global financial crisis ... happened pretty soon after we launched it."
Rudduck-Gudsell says people often struggle to support concepts they can't see.
"It's that whole 'build it and they will come' type thing, but getting people to back that vision and make that commitment is harder than you think." Still, she was impressed by the 'huge proportion' of community and outside support for the Hairy Maclary project, which comprises nine bronze sculptures, plus seating, concrete areas and magnolia trees.
Another stumbling block was the Cargo Shed, the large Dive Cres building. Its arts and crafts market is open weekends in winter and daily in summer.
"That's probably the one thing I'm sad about. I wanted it to be a seven-day-a-week creative space that locals and visitors could enjoy with a number of creative entities involved. That never got off the ground."
She says politics is one of the hardest parts of her job.
"You can't please everyone all the time. The other side I find hard is couch critics - do you actually tell the city council what you'd like to see, do you tell your politicians? Do you get engaged enough for them to hear the clear messaging from the majority rather than the noisy minority?"
The arts chief says progress in Tauranga is evident through the opening of its art gallery in October, 2007, after a 20-year battle. Eighty per cent of the gallery's $864,000 budget for this year comes from ratepayers. Council budget documents show the gallery is estimated to need about $954,000 for 2017/18. Creative Tauranga is also mostly council-funded, receiving nearly $300,000 per year.
Rudduck-Gudsell hesitates to define arts and culture, saying she doesn't want to "box it - because there are so many different ways to express yourself creatively".
For example, she says what used to be seen only as graffiti is referred to in some settings as aerosol art. And even the girl preaching the Bible on a corner of the CBD can be considered art.
You can't please everyone all the time.
"That's the way she expresses herself, and it's obviously important to her, so to me it's about that non-judgment of creative expression and can be in so many ways, shapes and forms."
Creative Tauranga's role is to expose the wider community to writers, dancers, musicians, actors, painters, quilters, knitters, sculptors and others. For its leader, art is about connecting people from cradle to grave to their community, to their past, present and future.
It's a way to promote mental and physical healing, give young people a form of healthy expression, and allow older people to reflect.
"People say they're a 'nice to have', but they're not," says Rudduck-Gudsell.
"The arts are a 'need to have'. Sometimes, it's encouraging people to try something new. And particularly in families, let your children experience all those genres of creativity because you never know what might strike it right with them for how they learn and how they, too, will fit with the community."
SHE says one of her most memorable exhibitions happened in connection with Multicultural Tauranga (then called Tauranga Ethnic Council) in 2007. The display was called Our Suitcases ... Our Roots, and displayed immigrants' mementos.
"It was one of the most moving exhibitions I've ever seen ... To me, that was a beautiful way of those people feeling connected to this community through a creative expression and that was making up a display of what they'd brought in their suitcases when they'd left where they lived to come to New Zealand. Some of them fled to live here."
Rudduck-Gudsell says looking back is hard, because this "ideas girl" is future-focused. She is excited about the increasing variety of events in the Bay, including the 10CC concert at ASB Arena (for which she's already bought tickets) in November and the McLaren Falls music and arts festival in January. She hopes the festival will attract people from the Waikato, Whakatane and beyond.
She says Tauranga could use another venue, somewhere in size between Baycourt and ASB, most likely downtown.
People who want big-name acts must also be willing to support them.
"Events aren't cheap to put on and promoters take a huge risk and that's why I think Tauranga gets left out at times. Look what they do in the Hawke's Bay with the winery concerts. But you've got to put up big money to bring those people and you've got to believe people will come."
Between festivals, concerts, markets and other entertainment, Rudduck-Gudsell says anyone can find their way into the Bay's arts and culture scene.
"I love when you get maybe an average Kiwi along to something like street art or a live demonstration or something they wouldn't generally go to and they enjoy it and you see that joy."
She says public art - enormous metal sculptures at the Domain Rd interchange of the Eastern Link highway - is another way to bring arts to the masses. The project cost $200,000 in total, according to the NZ Transport Agency.
Other gems, she says, are more hidden, such as a Heritage Walk through the CBD: "We had so many people coming in asking,'Where's your museum?' We don't have one, we have historic buildings, so with the local Rotary club and assistance of the community, we put together a brochure and we go through tens of thousands of those every year.
"They want to find the Brain Watkins house, they want to find The Elms. We've got all these treasures, but they're scattered and it's how can we assist people to find them."
Rudduck-Gudsell sees Tauranga's waterfront as a huge opportunity and envisions a possible transformation from carpark to activities centre. The much-debated museum is also on her wish list.
"We don't have to slam dunk something as 'No, we can't do that' ... It's like the glass half-full theory - how can we enable that to happen?"
With her departure set for the end of August, Rudduck-Gudsell is looking to balance new challenges with her role as a mother. She expects to decide on a new opportunity next week.
In the near term, she looks forward to her swansong with the July 30 unveiling of Hairy Maclary & Friends: "Hairy Maclary's been a long, challenging trek for me bringing public art to Tauranga that is internationally significant, hopefully as well as bringing a sense of pride to this region."
Arts: A lot done, more to do
Stuart Crosby, Tauranga Mayor:
The mayor says he's seen the arts growing from strength to strength for two decades, especially evolving over the past ten years with the addition of the art gallery. Mr Crosby says the most important development has been the emergence of new art forms and events at the grass roots level. "That's more important than the higher end flashy stuff.
It's a consequence of our natural growth. We're growing rapidly and there's more opportunity." Crosby says the community must first fund "hard infrastructure" costs such as transport, waste water and parks before funding "soft infrastructure" such as the arts.
He doesn't believe the city will get a museum within three years, "... but it could be in the next five years, more than likely in the CBD, more than likely as part of a redevelopment process." The mayor says building cost isn't the issue for a museum - operational cost is. Meantime, he says council has agreed to fund The Elms Mission at $150,000 per year. "We do have some catching up to do, so in the sports areas, we have made significant investments, but in arts and culture, spending hasn't kept pace with growth."
Megan Peacock Coyle, Baycourt Manager:
"I think like any other city in New Zealand, the greatest thing the arts has behind it is community involvement. Everyone wants to row together to create something fantastic for everybody else. Not being from here and coming to Tauranga nine months ago, there did seem to be an arts and culture gap. A lot of that has to do with having no museum.
We have a rich cultural heritage and not having a museum doesn't help when you talk about enriching arts and culture."
Still, she says there's a huge move towards making Tauranga an events place, thanks to the Arts Festival, Jazz Festival and Garden and Art Festival. "Hawke's Bay didn't have an arts festival until this year, and from that respect, Tauranga Arts Festival is an incredible event that brings in incredible work. Baycourt has spent the last year trying to create programmes for diverse audiences, but it takes time. There is kind of an issue ... we're not all on the same waka."
Clayton Mitchell, MP, NZ First:
"I think we're heading in the right direction. We had the foresight to put the art gallery on. Those art exhibits are international - starting in Tauranga and going further. What the Creative Tauranga space has been achieving the past 15 years is getting those emerging artists involved and getting them a place to be seen and heard."
The opposition list MP says music festivals and events mean there's "great things moving forward on the calendar," and a museum is on the horizon for Tauranga. "I'm supportive, but the question is, can ratepayers afford it right now? In my opinion, not right now. We're already struggling as a city to keep rates at a reasonable level. With growth comes costs. I'm for the museum - I just think we can't afford the operating costs at the current moment."
Simone Anderson, director of volunteer artist community The Incubator:
"Compared to cities half our size such as New Plymouth, then we are not on a par.
Optimistically, however, this is improving with more collaboration spaces for exhibitions and live performance such as the Incubator, Mauao Performing Arts Centre, the Artyhouse, Art & Body Gallery and the Zeus Gallery (all who understand the power of cohesion)."
"From experience from my role at the Incubator, the audience is starving and receptive to anything. They want to engage and become part of the growing momentum ... we need to avoid the danger of stereotyping our cultural and arts tastes and underestimating what is craved. There are a lot of young people here gagging for stuff appropriate to them. Heaven forbid we keep our staid and conservative reputation for much longer."
National MP Simon Bridges:
"I think Tauranga has a vibrant arts and culture scene. It is a work-in-progress and there's even more that could be done to make it even more dynamic.
Tauranga is a young city that has excellent hard structure ... but still has a way to go on social infrastructure in the arts and cultural aspect." Bridges says he's keen to ensure central government plays a role: "That's why I brought Arts and Culture Minister Maggie Barry to Tauranga last month." Bridges says he and the minister toured the Mount Maunganui warehouse, which holds a heritage collection of more than 30,000 pieces.
"Over time, we should aspire to have a space, whether it's a big formal museum or something more modest, where Tauranga people can see their history and culture on display and understand better our own story." Mr Bridges says it's too early to say where the money would come from, but a regional museums fund might be a partial funding source.
Sonya Korohina, Art Gallery trustee and lecturer, Bachelor of Creative Industries, BOP Polytechnic:
"We have a number of creative professionals moving to the Bay, so the sector is growing. It's important that organisations and professionals are supported. For example, we now have a tertiary level degree - the Bachelor of Creative Industries. We have over one hundred students who are producing work, some of which will be shown during the Tauranga Arts Festival. It's time for our council to step up and develop a vision for arts and culture in our community and this is missing from the long-term plan. It is timely for a review to occur in how arts and culture is funded in our community." Mrs Korohina says the Tauranga City Council became the last council to adopt a public art policy.
Claire Mabey, associate director, Tauranga Arts Festival:
"There are many things that come together to evolve a city's arts scene: but essentially it's ensuring that artists and arts organisations with strong plans and ideas have the support they need to execute them. There are many ways a city can support this - creating appropriate space (pedestrianisation across the world's cities has made a huge impact on local artists and businesses), a healthy ecosystem of civic and corporate support, collaboration, and a focus on inviting work that is meaningful, high quality and has an impact. I personally would love to see artist residencies in Tauranga, so that artists from outside of the city can come here to create work and make connections with the people and the place."