A section of Australian artist Lisa King's powerful work in Walton St.
A section of Australian artist Lisa King's powerful work in Walton St.

Lindy Laird takes a look at the mural festival that wove people together and painted a new image of Whangārei. Michael Cunningham took the photos.


The kaupapa was ''Tuia te muka Tāngata - Weaving the threads of Humanity'' and certainly the outcome of a mural-fest in Whangārei is a proud, loud shout out for humanity and multiculturalism.

Whangārei is pretty good at that anyway, but after a few short days there's a new face to the city centre - thanks to the talents of 15 artists, 10 from overseas and five local, whose murals now adorn buildings, lanes and walls. Even the cop shop got the treatment.

Touched by the symbolism and power of the hongi, Italian artist Millo incorporated the concept of the sharing of breath into his mural.
Touched by the symbolism and power of the hongi, Italian artist Millo incorporated the concept of the sharing of breath into his mural.

Fitting for the theme and place, the artists attended a powhiri before the paint jobs began, the first intro for some to cultural experiences such as hongi. The concept of sharing breath, sharing of the life-force, had such a profound effect on Italian artist Millo he changed the idea he'd arrived with for his mural.

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His mural of a couple sharing a hongi, with a huge international metropolis in the background and the couple themselves encircled by a blue ribbon — is that a reference to the police's thin blue line?— is the one on the back wall of the police station.

Each mural speaks a thousand words, and the public is enjoying the new stories plastered over the city.

''The artists had an amazing time, the community has been amazing,'' an elated creative director Jah Smith said as the festival wound down.

The event called Street Prints Manaia, organised by Mount Maunganui-based charity Pushing Arts in New Zealand Trust (PAINT), which Smith instigated.

It was a five day street-art-love-fest between the muralists and the public, where bypassers ended up bystanders as the artists worked, philosophical discussions were shared between painter and spectator about the meaning of art, including debate triggered by ''call that art!'' comments.

Auckland muralists Janine and Charles Williams.
Auckland muralists Janine and Charles Williams.

At its heart was culture, urban space and art. Friendships were formed, food and other fare offered, the breath of life shared.

''We were all blown away at how people embraced this. There were people in cars, some with young families in, driving around the sites sometimes as late as 11pm at night to watch the artists work and talk to them,'' Smith said.

''We'd had 2000 booklets and maps printed so people could find and follow the work, and we ran out really quickly. That's never happened before.

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''We're probably going to have more printed and made available at the council and information sites, and probably include the stories and inspiration behind the artists and their works.

''We've got a debrief coming up where that's likely to be decided.''

Whangārei artist Bryce Williams' working in John St.
Whangārei artist Bryce Williams' working in John St.

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said she's thrilled about the visual impact on the city and the response to the event.

''I'm gobsmacked at the quality and talent of the artists. Social media wise, it's been plastered all over the place. It's created a lovely buzz, not only here but far and wide.''

 Mexican artist Paola Delfin combined cultural icons in this work in Robert St, photographed before it was finished.
Mexican artist Paola Delfin combined cultural icons in this work in Robert St, photographed before it was finished.

The council was a major sponsor and supporter, and Mai is excited about Street Prints' tentative plans to return in two years' time.

As well as enhancing Whangārei's street scene, the festival attracted outside funding, sponsorship and attention which is good for the district, she said.

Street Prints is a movable feast of mural art. The Whangārei one named for Manaia, the guardian ancestor at the harbour's entrance, is the fourth PAINT international street art festival.

As happened at Street Prints Mauao in 2015 and 2017 at Mount Maunganui and Street Prints Otautahi in Christchurch in 2017, Whangārei's festival featured live mural painting, youth mentoring, free workshops and an exhibition.

Back in 2015 and 2017, Smith and his wife Lovie took Fin DAC to Lovie's home turf of Whangaruru, and the Irish artist fell in love with the region.

''He said 'why are we not doing anything up here, up north, I love this place, it's so beautiful', and he became our first sponsor,'' Smith said.

Irish artist Fin DAC references the cultural mix in this work in Hannah St.
Irish artist Fin DAC references the cultural mix in this work in Hannah St.

Putting his money where his mouth was, DAC donated $15,000 of his own to kickstart the gig.

Whangārei kaumatua Te Warihi Hetaraka, who is Lovie's uncle, collaborated with the Smiths on the theme.

The artists were chosen for their artistic differences and aesthetics. Smith said while the mission is to rovide an inspiring and artistic journey for all to enjoy, it is important to have variety.

Adding to the fabric of Whangārei, tuia te muka tangata - weaving the threads of humanity, were Amanda Valdes (Miami, US), Askew One (New York, US), Bryce Williams (Whangārei), Charles and Janine Williams (Auckland), Dourone (Madrid, Spain), Earnest (Ernest) Bradley (Whangārei), Fin DAC (Dublin, Ireland), Gina Kiel (Wellington), Lisa King (Adelaide, Australia), Mateus Bailon (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Melinda Butt (Whangārei), Mike Tupaea (Whangārei), Millo (Rome, Italy), Paola Delfin (Mexico City, Mexico), SwiftMantis (Palmerston North).