#keeponkimiora, a nationally significant exhibition by photography artist Edith Amituanai and primary school pupils, has put Hastings City Art Gallery into the finals of a prestigious museum awards.
The exhibition opened in June last year, featuring photographs of the children by the children.
It followed weeks of workshops for the youngsters of Kimi Ora Community School in Flaxmere, taken by "rock star" Auckland photographer Edith Amituanai.
The exhibition is one of three finalists in the Service IQ New Zealand Museum Awards, Exhibition Excellence – Art category, up against MTG Hawke's Bay, Napier, and Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Auckland.
Gallery director Toni MacKinnon said making the finals recognised the innovation of the exhibition, which was very much driven by the artist.
"Really this started as an engagement project, between the gallery, the school and Edith, which became a very strong example of documentary photography that is nationally important.
"We are very proud to have supported Edith in this and excited to have had the exhibition accepted for these awards."
Hastings Art Gallery's development co-ordinator, Tryphena Cracknell, agreed that the award was a tribute to Amituanai.
"Edith's unique artistic practice and the way in which she worked with the students gave them the tools and the confidence to create something spectacular.
"It also took a lot of trust on the part of the school, and Edith fitted in so well with the school's distinctive approach to teaching. Working alongside her and the students was a rare and enriching experience."
The children involved in the exhibition in the main came from homes where the opportunity to use a camera was limited, so it was a whole new learning curve.
And the results were incredible, said the school board's chairman and Hastings District councillor George Lyons.
"Some of those photographs were truly breathtaking."
He said from the school's perspective it was about giving the children as many experiences as possible.
"Many of these children don't get to venture far from their immediate neighbourhood, so we think that as well as making sure they are proficient in things like literacy and numeracy, we need to make sure they are at ease with as many experiences as possible – getting comfortable with photography and spending time in the art gallery are part of that."
Lyons said the children would be truly excited to learn that their exhibition would star on the national stage.
"We really do want to acknowledge Edith, who was just fantastic. She trusted the children with all of her camera gear, and really just let them do what they wanted to do."
At the time of the exhibition, Amituanai said the children had an instinctive response to the art.
"We talked about the stories they wanted to tell, and their audience. With the older children we also talked about light and composition; went out and took photos and then reviewed them; going over what they liked or would change next time.
"But for some it was pure intuition. I had one 5-year-old I hadn't shown anything to who took an image that is in the exhibition – the light and composition are incredible."
The winners of the eight categories will be announced at the Museums Aotearoa awards evening in Christchurch on May 20.
The gallery's entry is in good company.
Museums Aotearoa executive director Phillipa Tocker said the "breadth of entries was extraordinary and it is a real privilege to witness the huge amount of time, expertise and professionalism that goes into these projects".
The awards promote excellence by recognising institutions which have developed outstanding exhibitions, programmes, products or projects that exemplify the highest standards and innovative practice, engaging with diverse audiences, she said.