Celebrating Creativity: Wānaka Arts Labour Weekend Exhibition & Sale

The Wānaka Arts Society stands as a beacon of creativity in the heart of Wānaka. A non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting local visual arts and artists, the team work tirelessly to elevate Wānaka's status as an arts destination.
At the core of Wānaka Arts Society’s yearly calendar is the long-standing Labour Weekend Exhibition & Sale. A showcase of visual…

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The Wānaka Arts Society stands as a beacon of creativity in the heart of Wānaka. A non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting local visual arts and artists, the team work tirelessly to elevate Wānaka's status as an arts destination.

At the core of Wānaka Arts Society’s yearly calendar is the long-standing Labour Weekend Exhibition & Sale. A showcase of visual art featuring pieces from hundreds of artists, both locally and across Aotearoa New Zealand, the event also includes a selection of guest artists and working artists. The long weekend exhibition typically kicks off with a vibrant opening night, setting the stage for a weekend of artistic exploration.

The positive impact of the Labour Weekend Exhibition is felt right throughout the creative community. Agate Rubene is a local artist and illustrator, and one of the working artists at this year’s exhibition. “Exhibitions like this one in Wānaka are essential for our creative community,” she says. “They provide a vital platform for artists, fostering talent, encouraging collaboration, and enriching our cultural landscape. Such events inspire, connect, and unite us, making Wānaka a more vibrant and inspiring place to live and create.”

The history of the Labour Weekend Exhibition

With a long history in the region, 2023 marked the 44th annual exhibition for Wānaka Arts. Several founding members and past presidents are still involved today, offering a range of experience among Wānaka Arts members. The committee has been run mainly by volunteers throughout its history, a testament to their hard work and commitment to local arts/artists.

Not only does the exhibition have a long history, it’s also continued to evolve as the artist community has evolved, drawing in new styles and visions. Constantly gaining attention from visitors impressed by the calibre of the work, the exhibition now draws both established, well-known artists and emerging artists from all over Aotearoa New Zealand, including Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, and Christchurch.

Each year artist entries continue to grow, with the latest exhibition marking their biggest year yet. Building from 80 entries a few years ago, to 130 entries last year, to well over 150 entries at this year’s exhibition, it’s all thanks to support from volunteers and sponsors that the exhibition continues to grow.

The Labour Weekend Exhibition & Sale is Wānaka Arts' main source of fundraising throughout the year. Funds raised are then sown back into the community through student scholarships, funding public art, subsidised workshops, artist residencies, and more.

A community event

While high-profile artists are featured, this is also a community exhibition creating a safe space for new artists to exhibit for the first time. This welcoming environment encourages new artists of all ages to exhibit professionally in a supportive way, while also creating an environment that invites people from all walks of life to experience art in an accessible way. It’s a great opportunity to showcase Wānaka’s creative community to wider Aotearoa New Zealand, especially with more and more artists travelling from all around the country to be involved.

“Walking through the exhibition really is an experience for visitors,” says Whitney Oliver, Arts Coordinator of Wānaka Arts Society. “Exploring the different rooms, discovering the many displays, observing the working artists as they create - there’s something for everyone.” The exhibition also boasts a wide range of pricing, from prints and cards to large-scale originals.

This year’s exhibition

This year’s Labour Weekend Exhibition was the biggest yet, boasting well over 150 exhibiting artists from across Aotearoa New Zealand, with a special emphasis on local Wānaka talent. This includes guest artists, working artists, and special guests Wānaka Camera Club

The guest artist-in-residence this year was John Walsh from Wellington, who gave an artist talk on the Saturday of the exhibition. Guest artists Rachel Hirabayashi and Neil Driver also featured at this year’s exhibition.

The exhibition began with an opening night filled with live music, refreshments, art awards, and a real celebration of creativity. Throughout the weekend, visitors had the unique opportunity to witness five working artists in action, gaining insights into their creative process as they demonstrated their work. These were artist/illustrator Agate Rubene, watercolour artist Sophie Melville, flax weaver Enger Pelosi-Fear, ceramicist Esperance Steven, and jewellery artist Anna Claire.

For Enger Pelosi-Fear, this year marked her first time exhibiting as a working artist. A contemporary raranga and fibre artist from Wānaka, her work revolves around the ancient art of weaving harakeke / flax. From a modern interpretation of the traditional rain cape (pākē) to intricately woven baskets (kete whakairo), each creation spoke to the intimate connection between the elements and Māori tradition. Enger was thrilled to be sharing her work with this year’s visitors. “It’s fantastic to see the way the arts society is intentionally expanding on the diversity of artists represented by including a range of different creative mediums,” she says. “I spent three days demonstrating and talking about my work - I was honoured to have this opportunity and humbled by the experience.”

Participating in the Labour Weekend Exhibition was also a new experience for working artist Agate Rubene. Originally from Latvia, Agate is an artist and illustrator based in Wānaka. Agate was thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase her creativity through live painting, engaging conversations with both visitors and fellow artists, and creating a vibrant and inspiring atmosphere at the event. “My work flows from a personal connection to feelings, identity and strength,” says Agate. “I love experimenting with colours and shapes to create expressive, dynamic compositions that capture the essence of my subjects in a unique and abstract way.”

This year’s award winners included a large-scale sculpture, a self-portrait made from embroidery, a framed lightbox highlighting a sketch of reflective ink, a mountain scene in oil paint, and 3D textile - all extremely different from one another, all very impressive and engaging.

Advocacy, support and connection with local artists

While the Labour Weekend Exhibition is certainly Wānaka Arts' cornerstone event, the team tirelessly advocate for artists within the community year-round, providing opportunities to exhibit and sell their work, secure funding and promote their pieces. A constant support network for local artists, Wānaka Arts offers ongoing connection with artists through meetings, exhibition opportunities and support throughout the year.

The Wānaka Arts Society is not only a platform for artistic expression but a driving force in elevating the local art scene. Through their exhibitions, ongoing displays, and advocacy efforts, they continue to inspire and empower artists, solidifying Wānaka's place on the map as a thriving arts destination.

“I would encourage any visual artists looking for connection to get involved,” says Whitney. “Whether it's for the odd meetup, to exhibit in other smaller exhibitions, or to volunteer time - it's our artist community that keeps the momentum going.”

All photographs by Kirsty Taylor. Please see Wānaka Arts for full list of artists.