By Guest Insider – Eric Dorfman
I suspect, like a good many New Zealanders, as Rugby World Cup 2011 approached I became thoroughly immersed in making my own preparations. Depending on how you look at it, I was lucky enough to have two different and intensive projects to do leading up to the Tournament. As Director of the Whanganui Regional Museum, I was heavily involved with the creation of our exhibition Our Boots and Butcher’s Boys: Celebrating Five Generations of Rugby in Whanganui.
At the same time, I was assisting the team of the creative design company Eklektus Inc. develop the exhibition Oranges at Halftime, which tours the country as part of the REAL New Zealand Festival. Both have had extremely satisfying responses – both projects have been flooded with visitors, and both creative teams are naturally very happy. People’s interest in rugby’s power to connect New Zealand society has been wonderful, and at times moving, to experience.
Personally, however, I had such tunnel vision with these two projects that I was only dimly aware of what others were doing. So it was quite a revelation to see it all unfold before me as I soon as I stopped to take a breath.
All of a sudden, it was the 4th of September and the Eagles arrived in Whanganui. Canoeing down the river in a waka, they cheered on by thousands of excited fans. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand). The joy and excitement during their reception was enough for me to start getting out and about to experience as much as I could.
The diversity has been astounding, and far from focused solely on rugby. I’ve been to the Len Lye exhibition All Souls Carnival at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth. While there, I hung out at the Taranaki Fanzone, visited the Traders and Whalers exhibition at the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera.
A trip down to Wellington waterfront provided a chance to get some produce at the open air harbourside market history of the haka, in their virtual reality exhibition The Story of Ka Mate, the World’s Best Known Haka at Te Papa and the wonderful New Zealand On Screen installation, a partnership between Storybox and Chrometoaster. A few minutes’ walk and I was at the fanzone, taking in a group of Indian performers as part of the Diwali Festival of Lights. Palmerston North has also been celebrating, with the centre of town taken over by their festival “Our People, Our Place”.
Back at home, Whanganui has also had a wealth of different sorts of events. The big paint, on the 17th of September, was a standout, part of the REAL Whanganui Festival, in which 100 artists and non-artists put brush to canvas to recreate Leigh Mitchell-Anyon’s composite photograph from pre-dawn to dusk of the Wanganui landscape, featuring the Sarjeant Gallery and Mt Ruapehu. See the wonderful results here. The witty and poignant works of Andrea Gardner in her exhibition Wild at the Green Bench is also memorable.
Driving through the smaller communities in the Lower North Island, I’ve been struck by the pervasiveness of the activities surrounding the tournament. Flags and signs encouragement along the road, small community events, and extravaganzas covering local food to vintage cars. And then there’s the ubiquitous bunting.
As promised, the REAL New Zealand Festival has delivered a delightful, thoughtful and also astoundingly diverse range of activities that demonstrate nicely the rich cultural and artistic character we’re blessed with in Aotearoa New Zealand.