A tutor musing

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My name is Dr Elliot Collins, I’m Pākehā, born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland). I am first and foremost an artist, husband, researcher, photographer, poet, writer, plant grower and beach wanderer among many other things that artists have to be. I obtained a PhD from AUT in 2018 for a practice-led research project called Memory Markers in the Landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand. I have always had an interest in stories. This means making and memory that is held in the landscape.

From an early age I showed an interest in visual arts. Being the “strange” kid who preferred spending lunch times painting or quietly reading, or at high school in the photography darkroom rather than smoking behind the bike shed or playing league; I still don’t understand the rules. I’ve had many teachers who championed emerging ability and interest in art, but I’m not a naturally talented artist. I’m one of the hard-working ones who has to try really hard to make good work. After finishing year 13, the following year I would embark on university where I found my people. Weird art kids were finally the norm and tutor’s challenge every aspect of your practice. I had many hospitality jobs and these would be the consistent theme of the art world I was to enter. Working a few jobs at a time and painting till past midnight. Some of the most interesting, creative people are working behind the bar or waiting your tables.

I’ve been a practicing artist for over 15 years now, showing at dealer galleries in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown as well as national public galleries. I’ve been lucky enough to take up artist residency opportunities in France, The Netherlands and most recently in Varanasi, India. All were life changing opportunities. After returning from India I managed to secure a job in the Public Programmes team at Auckland Museum and this was the big leap into the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) and another incredible place of growing and learning.

In the midst of all this I also married my beautiful wife who is of Ngāti Mutunga, Te Atiawa, Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Tama, Te Atihaunui-a-paparangi and Ngai Tahu descent, born and raised in Waitara. We were always moving back ‘home’ at some point and when a perfect job arose to work with her iwi we packed up our lives post first lockdown and moved to Waitara in March 2021. Leaving behind my family and friends was a pretty big deal however I inherited about 15 new siblings, uncountable cousins and have been embraced by an incredible whānau that keeps growing. Waitara is a very different world from Auckland, people will ask how you are and actually wait for a response, they are genuinely interested in making connections. I’ve had to learn to slow down and take the time to respond. 

I was lucky enough to land the best job as an art tutor here at WITT, having previously taught on a Bachelor of visual arts programme in Auckland. It’s an interesting place to be within the vocational training institute, as I said earlier, artists are baristas, waiters, gardeners, retail assistants, so to promise art jobs at the end of a course is a stretch for even the best art student in the biggest cities. But I’ve noticed in my short time here some amazing students who are becoming outstanding artists and on top of that, just good people. They have minds and thoughts and aspirations that will serve them well in whatever job they land and they’ll use their creative outlook to make a better Taranaki, in short, I’ve found my people again!

My vision for WITT and for Taranaki is really to adjust the way it is viewed from the outside. I’m not interested in perpetuating or labouring past problems that stakeholders had with WITT, but I will listen so I can learn better and so that they won’t be repeated. Enhancing the presence of the art and design department is a big one. I am also really dedicated to increasing the use of te reo Māori within the classroom and wider understanding of The Treaty, Mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori. I am still a little unnerved by the lack of bicultural understanding of many Pākehā in the region, however I realise that everyone is on a different journey, but this Pākehā will do his best. Raising the standard of art work as well as cultural and social understanding is a fun challenge; taking weekend, hobby painters away from anime fan art to nationally recognised contemporary artists is the real goal, but at the same time giving creative people a way to navigate their own unique ways of being in the world. WITT can be the best little Polytechnic in Aotearoa especially since it’s such a beautiful part of the country to live in. I’m not even sure the locals realise how lucky they are, this import still excitedly looks to the maunga every morning and finds new places to explore every weekend.

I have had a range of feedback about WITT and many things are being addressed with new leadership and aspirations. But the only way to make real authentic change is gently and with integrity, which is harder and slower than I would like. I’m not good at watching paint dry. I think the best thing to remember is that WITT will be around long after I’m gone, people come and go and we’re just the holders of the important stories and lessons until it’s someone else’s turn to take over. So, with that in mind, I hope to foster a role and a place in Taranaki that is valued and treasured so that it’s ripples will continue outwards and effect greater positive change.

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