Parlour Projects: Contemporary in the Bay

Parlour Projects is a new gallery bringing contemporary art to the Hawke's Bay. We asked its director Sophie Wallace about where it came from and what its dreams are.

Hawke’s Bay has no shortage of beautiful, tasty reasons for a visit. The region is home to a natural fertility that produces some of our best wine, produce, and subsequently, markets and restaurants. With that natural beauty it’s not surprising that the communities in the region are deeply interested and involved in the arts. A new gallery, Parlour Projects, has opened in Hastings that hopes to tap into this and bring more contemporary art to the provincial town.

The small town is far from empty of artistic presence. The Hastings City Art Gallery is active in the community with frequent events and even the ‘tagged’ telecommunication boxes in the area are getting an artful upgrade. And of course, Dick Frizzell did grow up there (up-and-coming artist Josh Lancaster, who has been inspired by Frizzell's work, has also moved there).

Sophie Wallace, a Hawke’s Bay native, is behind Parlour Projects and proudly opened its doors earlier this year with an exhibition from Ans Westra and Wayne Youle. We spoke to Wallace about the gallery.

Where did the idea come from for Parlour Projects?

I grew up in Hawke’s Bay and then moved away to study and pursue my career. Each time I came back to visit, I felt that—while there were a lot of exciting things happening—there was a real need for more contemporary galleries in the region. I had spent time in New York, where I would go to the gallery openings in Chelsea on Thursday evenings, and in the Lower East Side on Sundays. In Auckland, I would spend each weekend gallery and museum hopping around all of the exhibitions on offer. I decided that Hawke’s Bay shouldn’t be deprived of these exhibitions just because of its provincial location. We have a lot of visitors to the region each year, as well as a community that is interested in the arts. I felt strongly that in order for the region to continue to grow and progress, it had to keep up-to-date, culturally, with the major cities, not only in New Zealand but also around the world. It was with that that I decided to open a contemporary art space here.

Tell us about the space itself - and why Hastings?

A wonderful industrial space became available in Hastings at the time that I was considering moving back to open a gallery. Housed in Hastings’ first water and electrical power supply factory, the building had been newly renovated to accommodate the popular Opera Kitchen café. While there is limited foot traffic, I hoped that this would introduce a lot of people to the space. The building is located opposite the Hastings’ City Art Gallery and the Opera House, which gave me the sense that an ‘Arts District’ was taking shape. There are a lot of exciting things starting to happen in Hastings, and it is exciting to be a part of that. The gallery has a main 11 metre-viewing wall with a recess, and the ceiling is eight metres high. The beams and concrete are exposed and the original concrete floor remains. There is a ladder up to a mezzanine level, which I use as a stockroom and office space. I wanted to embrace the building’s imperfections and keep the industrial factory feel.

It seems like a great opportunity for local artists to showcase their work in a beautiful, and importantly, local setting - is that something you're focussed on?

The exhibition programme comprises both local and national artists. While I certainly want to showcase the fantastic art being produced in Hawke’s Bay, I also want to bring exhibitions to the region that normally wouldn’t make their way here, so that the public has an opportunity to experience them without having to travel. This year, one-third of the exhibitions that form the programme are by local artists.

Did you do the branding yourself?

Ken Griffen of Roaring Fork did the branding. He is very clever!

Do you have any dreams for the space and brand?

It is my goal for all members of the community, and visitors to Hawke’s Bay, to regularly visit Parlour Projects to enjoy and engage with the art. I want it to be a place where people come to educate themselves on contemporary art and its wider purpose; I would love for everyone to leave feeling as though they had learnt something new and valuable. As well as holding visual arts exhibitions, I plan to use the space as a platform for performing arts—dance, music and theatre—as well as for workshops, book launches, and film screenings too. I would like to bring exhibitions by international artists here too.