Tara Cooney has plenty of reasons to be breaking open the bubbles.

Married during summer, the 33-year-old is graduating this week.

As a valedictorian, she will represent other graduates in delivering an address at EIT's capping ceremony in Napier's Municipal Theatre.

Tara and her husband, photographer and painter, Jeff Robertson, are both graduating with EIT's Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design.


In the first cohort to complete ideaschool's project-based degree, the only one of its kind offered by a NZ arts and design school, the couple also share a commitment to further study.

While Jeff is enrolled for a graduate diploma in teaching, Ms Cooney has started working towards two postgraduate degrees, New Zealand's only applied honours and master's of professional creative practice degrees steeped in kaupapa Māori philosophy.

Jointly offered by ideaschool and EIT Tairāwhiti's Toihoukura, the degrees can be tailored to the individual students' creative direction.

"The launch of the degrees is perfect timing, allowing me to carry on with my studies," says Ms Cooney, formerly from Tauranga, now living in Taradale.

"Otherwise I would have had to take a break or move out of the area and that probably wouldn't have happened at this point."

Students doing both degrees are required to hold two exhibitions showcasing their own art and Ms Cooney is likely to use one to springboard her new business venture, Teller of Tales. It will be the country's first design studio specialising in bespoke personal archives, she says.

"I'm passionate about family, stories and designing meaningful archives that last. That is, magazines and products you can touch, treasure and hand down. Nowadays, our photos and memories fall into the digital abyss. No one gathers around to look at them or talk about the memories.

"That's pretty sad, and it's my goal to change that."

In the first year of her degree, Ms Cooney used her artistic skills to weave yarns about Napier's heritage.

Winning Napier Inner City Marketing's Box Art competition, she painted variously-shaped transformer boxes downtown, using an unravelling ball of wool as a motif to connect the stories of the city's past.

In 2014, she impressed the judges of the Wallace Art Awards, who selected her entry for exhibition in the Salon des Refusés.

Other achievements include a Rotary Club of Taradale scholarship of excellence and best design and best artwork awards in ideaschool's wine label competitions. Her art has featured in the Hawke's Bay Wildflower Sculpture exhibition and the Tauranga Garden and Art Festival. She was also top student in her class.

Evolving her creative practice through her study programme, Ms Cooney is progressing brand identity design, marketing ideas and a business plan for Teller of Tales.

But this week she will be taking time out to enjoy graduation with Jeff, daughter, Ava, and family travelling from Sydney and Auckland to join the pair in the celebrations.