Being bypassed by a major expressway has given Ōtaki a new lease of life, thanks to a unique community project that is hoped will keep it firmly on the map.
The project is designed to reaffirm Ōtaki as a thriving community with a cultural centre and a destination retail hub by sharing stories of the town's people, history and character, including its success with Māori language revitalisation.
Elevate Ōtaki is a collaboration between community groups, business owners, cultural representatives, Kāpiti Coast District Council and the NZ Transport Agency to support the diversity of the town, lifting it up to be seen and heard, said project spokeswoman and acclaimed New Zealand filmmaker Libby Hakaraia.
"We know we live in a unique, storied landscape and we wanted to share this widely," she said.
It includes a stunning photography series depicting people and whānau who live, work and play in Ōtaki, along with their stories, produced as a set of large billboards and photographic artwork placed on buildings around the town and on State Highway 1.
This powerful, community-integrated art installation is supported by a digital campaign with storytelling and social engagement.
The project also includes a new identity statement and a new logo that reflects the Ōtaki story, which was revealed at the project's launch on Friday.
The entire campaign is bilingual - reflecting Ōtaki as a town where Māori is heard widely due in part to it being the location of the first Māori university in New Zealand, Te Wānanga o Raukawa.
Councillor and Elevate Ōtaki committee member Angela Buswell said values and a sense of purpose for Ōtaki are some of the main drivers behind the project, especially in light of recent world events.
"Our world has changed.
"Values of diversity and inclusion are more important than ever and through these stories, Ōtaki is saying proudly, this is what we stand for."
Angela said supporting the town's loyal retail sector was also a vital component, with the roading changes placing pressure on businesses even before Covid-19 hit.
While a small number closed their doors, new businesses are choosing to open in Ōtaki, joining those who have been a huge part of the community for much longer.
"A lot of key relationships and connections have been formed or uncovered through the project through a willingness to collaborate between business, community and local government."
The Elevate Ōtaki project was funded jointly by the council and NZTA, and is the culmination of a series of community consultations including public and stakeholder meetings and engagement, preview feedback, and social media engagement and polling.
The logo and identity statement was developed by Ōtaki local Fraser Carson and the project has been photographically curated and coordinated by Talk Creative, a Kāpiti-based organisation that specialises in helping communities thrive through the power of storytelling.