This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on May 24, 2019
There is a movement going on in Whanganui, right here, right now. This has been a long time coming, though many of you may be oblivious.
Small signs should alert you; damn traffic is getting worse, street art seems to just appear on walls about the place, live music echoes through the darkened streets. Interesting and articulate people are sitting across from you at your favourite cafe.
What is going on?
In a nutshell, Whanganui has been rebooted.
Wind the clock back 100 years and the region was the powerhouse of creative endeavour in New Zealand.
As the nation grew and developed glitz and opportunity, populations naturally drifted towards the cities. The region became past its best-before and a Mary Celeste-eque state descended.
We hung on to past victories and stories of back in the day like an old saddler arranging a marketing campaign after the arrival of the automobile.
It was difficult to sell the appeal of the region as she began to look like an ageing drunk to the nation.
Jokes abounded as we attracted headlines for murders and gang battles. City folk would clutch your shoulder and offer sympathy when you confided in them over a latte in Cuba St that you were "from Whanganui".
Poor, poor devil. Local businesses could not recruit from out of town. Urban stagnation had become a buzzword that was exclamation marked in real odour form in 2013 when our sewage treatment plant failed. We were rock bottom and assumed the foetal position.
But then somehow the gate-keeper's dog failed to alert its masters that artists had begun oozing into the cracks and voids of the abandoned buildings.
The turning point came in June 2015 when Te Awa o Whanganui flooded. The region uncurled from the rocky floor and realised the show must go on.
Resolve replaced lethargy as the community rallied to help those in need. Whanganui stirred and we feverishly cleared the knee-deep silt so the Saturday market could go ahead. Life in the old girl after all.
Now houses have started selling in Castlecliff, Gonville and Aramoho (gasp ... to out of towners). Venues and cafes are opening in abandoned buildings. The Sarjeant rebuild is signed off.
Te Awa acknowledged as a living being with legal identity. A Flying School, an openly accepted Pride Week. Whanganui the national centre for glass. Musicians from every different genre meet each Thursday night and create the spectacular.
Walls are painted by world-class street artists. Be under no illusion, there is a common thread here; Artists.
There is a feeling of excitement in the air. The rest of the nation has taken note and they want to be part of it. Artists are working together to make Whanganui great again.
There are exciting times ahead as we rise and rise. Combine this with cultural, commercial, educational and lifestyle sectors and the job is on. All Aboard! The 4500 Express is leaving the station.
The "From Whanganui" movement has begun.
And now what? Creativity is the buzzword that needs to be hog-tied.
Now, Whanganui is returning to its rightful place as the art and cultural heartland of New Zealand. Bold leadership is required to support this.
The time has come for Whanganui District Council to step up as it prepares to adopt its Arts and Culture Plan. This is currently in draft form and proposes five goals to "direct our thinking, resources and actions".
The grand central statement in the document is "creativity is at the heart of our identity". Heck yes it is, you may think. Not so quick. Let's review that grand statement in slow-mo.
These words are very well rehearsed, nationally accepted, politically correct strategy speak.
A review of 11 local council strategic documents from around the country shows every one of them refers to "creativity" being the beating heart of art and culture. This sounds acceptable in passing but if you stop and review the line again. Creativity is at the heart of our identity.
Now question and answer the following; What is creativity? Why is it at our heart? And how does it relate to "identity"? A goatee stroker, for sure.
Realistically, Mr Wordsmith, it is a fine line but it amounts to a small puff of notional nothingness.
A brave approach is needed where Whanganui develops strategic plans with real identity by using a focal point that has purpose at the centre of strategic thinking, rather than notional yawn-speak.
So let's look at how this might work for the Arts and Cultural Strategy currently up for discussion.
Whanganui is distinctive and separate from the rest of the country. We must consider, therefore, what should be at the heart of our thinking. What is the spirit of Whanganui? What is the essence or super power that sets us apart from the rest of the country?
If we then apply this to arts and culture, we begin to understand that all creative form comes from the environment around us.
If we accept and understand that art and culture is shaped, created and formed by the area that inspires us to live and work in, then the thinking and planning puzzle begins to fall into place.
The region has a physical area loosely framed in a triangle from the mountains to the sea. Through the heart of this runs Te Awa o Whanganui, recognised as having its own legal identity - effectively a living, breathing life form. While Te Awa is at the heart, the greater body is the region.
If we trust that the spirit of Whanganui is at the very core of all of our thinking we will rise and be strong.
We must accept that creative power and energy comes from the physical and metaphysical environment that surrounds us.
It is legitimate and real and it is the driver as we mount Area 4500 - The Whanganui Juggernaut. The catch cry then becomes "From Whanganui" - the cultural and artistic heart of NZ.
Matt Edmonds is the owner of Lucky Bar + Kitchen and takes a keen interest in Whanganui arts.