2 Jun 2023

Hawke’s Bay Arts Community Digs Deep

by Jenny Barrett

Resilience Tested in the Year the Entertainment Sector was Set to Bounce Back

(Pics: One of Toitoi’s main venues, Functions on Hastings, was turned into a distribution centre in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.)

We caught up with Glen Pickering, Presenter Services Manager at Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre, to find out how the arts and entertainment community are coping four months on from Cyclone Gabrielle.


The impact on Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre

Toitoi itself lost all bookings for the four weeks following the cyclone, including sadly the Royal NZ Ballet’s Tutus on Tour, instead transforming into a distribution centre. Toitoi staff stepped up and helped out across the region, Glen recalling, “We had people supporting the Incident Management Team, we staffed community hubs and distribution centres, overseeing the inventory or deliveries. We were spread far and wide and honestly it was the best thing to be doing during those early days. To be able to keep busy and be useful was so beneficial to our teams’ mental health.”

After the initial emergency response phase, Toitoi staff turned their attention to the arts and culture sector, “Due to COVID we know how precarious things can be so we are doing what we can to help individuals and organisations, be that reducing costs, investing our time and resources, providing marketing support and pulling together promotional packages and working with local accommodation providers.” Staff have also contributed to drop-in sessions around the region supporting artists and creatives access assistance after the cyclone, be it sorting out funding applications, form filling, navigating information or just having a chat.


Glen and his team are also committed to providing some normality for the sake of the community’s mental health, “We are focused on making sure our communities can enjoy arts, culture and creativity. We know from COVID that this is a key part of the recovery process and we want to get people into the building, to be able to participate, and feel joy and fulfilment.”

Happily for many who needed to lose themselves for a couple of hours, The Proclaimers went ahead on 22nd March, and since then Toitoi’s schedule has been hectic, “We have had a lot of short-lead-in events to support the recovery including meetings, free shows and a wonderful charity quiz night. The one lasting effect, the same as when we were coming out of the pandemic, has been a lot of uncertainty around ticket sales but again we know how to manage that after the last few years.”

A stand out for Glen were the two free shows of ‘The Worm’ by Auckland’s Nightsong Theatre Company at the end of April, “It was a wonderful uplifting show about survival and resilience that really spoke to our audiences.” A family variety show ‘When the Grit Hits the Fan’ assembled through sponsorship and funding grants was another success, “It was especially important for the children to be able to enjoy arts and entertainment whilst having to cope with so many other opportunities being taken away.”

The impact across the wider community

Directly impacted, Napier’s Waiohiki Creative Arts Village, home to independent artist studios was completely flooded. The signature thick contaminated river silt left no building untouched and residents were relocated to different parts of Hawke’s Bay. Events across the region were cancelled or postponed in a flashback to the COVID years. Glen sums up the sense of devastation, “2023 was supposed to be our year and everyone had an air of confidence and a buoyancy about them, then along came the cyclone. We all know we need to be resilient, but it is tiring, and you start to ask how long can we really keep on going?”

To help with the rebuild, Creative NZ has earmarked additional funding for creative communities and the regional councils are doing what they can to minimise costs and prevent any rate or price increases being passed onto artists.

Suppliers who had endured a month’s rain prior to the cyclone and were already suffering, have also been impacted by further cancellations and the major hit on infrastructure, “They are adapting and working out ways around things. COVID ultimately made us stronger and the cyclone is having the same effect.”

Glen reflects that whilst there is still a long way to go, Hawke’s Bay will rise again, “When these big traumatic events happen, the effect on people is lasting, on their mental health particularly. So I’d say reach out, be there for people and be kind. We are a strong region and we will use this as an opportunity to come back tenfold.”

People can still donate via Mayoral Relief Funds. Details can be found on Council websites.


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