In another life, I would have pursued a career in art. Perhaps one day, I might still.
Growing up, I always felt absolutely overwhelmed with creativity. I read books and got lost in my imagination for hours. I loved to paint and sketch, making things with my hands. But like many young people, that is neither a viable nor encouraged career path, especially in the USA.
I can still remember letting go of my art classes in favor of classes and extracurriculars that would look better on college applications. And after many years, I suppose I found my way back through writing and photography. Slowly I have begun drawing again.
Perhaps because of this, I’ve always gravitated toward museums and places that emphasize art in my travels.
Left: by New Zealand artist Cinzah
However, I love having no expectations when it comes to traveling. That always leaves heaps of room to be surprised. And wow, the art scene in Whanganui was amazing. It felt like a real hub for creatives. I felt right at home. Something is always happening, whether art, music, theater or just about anything.
There’s even an established Coastal Art Trail you can follow on the North Island’s west coast.
From the perspective of a curious visitor, there was so much to see and do. I was there for nearly a week and could have stayed longer. From creative street art to amazing galleries to pop-up events and other visual art exhibits, the art in Whanganui was so impressive.
Here’s a glimpse of the art in Whanganui through my own eyes. Enjoy!
Explore Whanganui through its street art
Cities that support street art are always cool, in my opinion. And there are so many amazing pieces of art around Whanganui. Searching for them is the perfect way to get to know a new place, even if you look funny hanging out in random parking lots.
Many of these cool murals were created during Whanganui Walls, a street art festival, a few years ago. Over the course of four days, street artists from around the world have a chance to make their mark on Whanganui.
The downtown area of Whanganui is really walkable. Take your time wandering around, and you’ll stumble across some pretty amazing art – trust me.
Right: by SwiftMantis of Whanganui stray cat, Hangar | Left: by Pat Perry, painting of Edith Collier
By Amsterdam artist Amok Island
By Dan Mills
‘The Weird Tales Of Whanganui’ by Cracked Ink
By Claire Foxton – two elders from the local iwi, Kataraina Millin and her Josephine Takarangi-Firmin
Try your hand at glassblowing
New Zealand Glassworks – Te Whare Tūhua o Te Ao – is one of the coolest spots to experience art in Whanganui, even hands-on. In fact, it’s actually the national center for glass art in New Zealand; how cool is that?
Located in the local newspaper’s old printing press building in the heart of downtown Whanganui, it’s an amazing space where you can watch the artists at work, shop and check out their collections, and even participate in a class yourself. It’s interactive. I was lucky enough to spend some time making my own paperweight here. There’s something so mesmerizing about watching and working with melted glass. Very AMSR.
Though how they tolerate the heat, I couldn’t tell you. I felt my mascara melting off. If you’re keen to make a paperweight, sign up for the workshop well in advance; they book out fast.
The museums are amazing
I will always love a local/regional museum, especially in New Zealand. They are full of treasures.
As a well-known arts hub, a few local museums are worth checking out. Spend some time at the Whanganui Regional Museum, which has an extensive collection of Lindauer portraits and taonga Māori artifacts. It’s free to visit. The Lindauer Gallery has portraits of prominent Māori rangatira (leaders) by renowned artist Gottfried Lindauer. Upstairs is more of a natural history museum, with probably the biggest moa (huge extinct bird native to NZ) exhibit I’ve ever seen. Obviously, I spent hours here.
The other incredible museum you must check out is the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics includes a comprehensive collection of ceramics. Housed in the most Soviet-looking building this side of the quarter, it was established by renowned potter Rick Rudd. The Quartz Museum displays his collection of over 700 works by New Zealand and international potters. It’s really cool, and also free to visit.
Visit the historic Sarjeant Gallery
The Sarjeant Gallery is home to one of the best collections of fine art in New Zealand, with over 8,000 artworks covering four centuries of European and New Zealand art history.
Right now, the gallery is temporarily housed in a modern warehouse space downtown as the original gallery in one of New Zealand’s most important heritage buildings is redeveloped. Once that reopens, it’s going to be so impressive.
Be surprised by pop-ups and local exhibits
Whanganui is a dynamic, creative place. It’s always changing, growing, and showing off something new. From music to art to culture, it has a vibe that invites you in and makes you want to stay for a while. Often the cafes in town display different art as well, with pop-ups. It’s always changing, and you’ll often be surprised.
As an avid reader, I try to visit local bookshops when I’m traveling. Stumbling across Paige’s Book Gallery in Whanganui was just incredible. And right next door is the Lockett Gallery, NZ’s only art gallery for published illustrators. There was an amazing exhibit by local artist and quilter Jenny Brown when I was there. Merging quilting with children’s stories so that beloved kids in their families could wrap themselves up in their favorite story.
Isn’t that beautiful? Whanganui not only shares a beautiful art culture but also paves the way for art around New Zealand. You can’t help but leave feeling creative and inspired.
Have you been to Whanganui? Are you a fan of art travel too? Share!