Ngā Toi Māori Navigator Kelcy Taratoa on supporting a thriving Māori arts sector

Creative Bay of Plenty’s Kelcy Taratoa brings to his role of Ngā Toi Māori Navigator a lifetime of knowledge and expertise in Māori arts, engaging with tangata whenua, and arts education, and a strong sense of the importance of collaboration between Māori and non-Māori. For more information, you can reach Kelcy at

Can you tell us about your creative background?

My background is centred in creative industries. My formal studies were undertaken at Massey University, under the tutelage of renowned artists and educators such as Professor Robert Jahnke, Shane Cotton, Kura Te Waru Rewiri, Jacob Scott, and Rangi Kipa. I was surrounded by senior students pursuing their postgraduate studies, including peers who have gone on to have really successful careers as artists, designers, curators, educators, arts administrators, and cultural consultants. Studying alongside such talented peers was an inspiring environment to learn in, and definitely supported my own aspirations, providing a sure foundation on which to establish my own art practice. Fortunately, my career has provided opportunities to show in museums and public galleries in Aotearoa and abroad. It’s also afforded me plenty of opportunities to indulge in creativity in a variety of entities: public museums and galleries, and dealer galleries, yes – but also in public spaces with site-specific artworks, with tangata whenua, and as an arts educator and assessor. For me, arts education has really been about giving back to the community and enabling the next generation of creatives to find their feet. It’s been fun, rewarding, and challenging.

How did your creative journey lead you to your current role as Creative Bay of Plenty’s Ngā Toi Māori Navigator?

When I relocated to Tauranga, I became acutely aware of my surname, which identities me as a descendant of Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa, a prominent figure during the Aotearoa New Zealand land wars, and particularly known for his part in the establishment of a written Code of Conduct disseminated to define the agreed protocols for the battle at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā).

This awareness has influenced my journey of making connections to whānau, hapū and iwi, and learning how my discoveries might steer my practice to support the interests of my iwi/hapū.

The Ngā Toi Māori Navigator role is part of this journey of connection. This position aims to make connections with tangata whenua: to understand what is important to them in relation to their creative aspirations, how they desire to develop and support their creatives, and how Creative Bay of Plenty might support iwi/hapū in realising their creative expressions. Another key function of the role is around straddling the space between tangata whenua and mainstream Aotearoa New Zealand, so as to enable conversations across that bridge and explore possible collaborations. There are perceived barriers to working with Māori. It’s crucial to reframe working with Māori by front-loading all relevant messaging with incentives, benefits, and rewards. This requires the narrative to provide examples of outcomes where Māori and non-Māori partnerships have been meaningful and rewarding. Ultimately, this is the challenge, but it’s a good challenge.

What are the services you offer as Nga Toi Māori Navigator?

My first steps have been to understand what Creative Bay of Plenty offers via its four guiding pillars, and the expertise and experience my colleagues provide in this space – oh, and I have learned that collectively, what we offer is HUGE! I am interested in the creative aspirations and needs of our Māori community and how we can provide targeted support. This will only occur through direct engagement. I see Creative Bay of Plenty’s role as one of providing services that build capability, and enable and empower iwi/hapū/whānau to shape, drive and deliver their creative initiatives on their terms. We’re also in a position to develop bespoke resources. For example, professional practice development enables Māori creatives to operate at a level that aligns with industry expectations and deliver creative responses that are both inclusive and reflective of our cultural diversity in Tauranga Moana. Our objective is to assist in the development and sustainability of a thriving creative community, and my role is to ensure our Māori creatives equally benefit from that community.

How do you balance the needs of the creative community with the expectations of funders/stakeholders?

Creative Bay of Plenty is an agency reliant on funding, and we’re held accountable to funding bodies to ensure that we use these resources to provide services that build capability within the sector and add value to community. There’s an expectation that the work we do aligns with these expectations, and that is a balancing act. If there is evidence of such value being added, this offsets the disconnect between what’s meaningful for creatives and what funders require. Creative Bay of Plenty is positioned as the intermediary in this regard. We can help creatives bridge the challenges of funding criteria. We are able to scaffold creatives to meet criteria that may not empathise with the creative disposition and vision. I feel confident that we deliver on this support work, and my role increases our capability to so within our Māori creative community.

Can you tell us about an initiative you’re working on at the moment?

I’ve made a few discoveries. There are public and private entities who desire to work with community creatives, and mana whenua are important stake holders. Creative Bay of Plenty is positioned to enable conversations around process, which is often a concern when engaging with tangata whenua/mana whenua. This desire is reflective of a growing maturation within Tauranga and the Western Bay. There’s a genuine desire to engage with Māori to find a process that is empowering for all concerned. I’ve been working with our team to develop an engagement process guide to support entities to envision community outcomes. This is an enjoyable part of my role to create utilities that answer a sector/community need.

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