True love: A brief history of Rotorua and Me

One of my favourite things about the holidays is family. I am the youngest of four children and the only daughter, our family of six came to New Zealand around 19 years ago. Since then my mom's whole side of the family have immigrated, and I have been able to go back to visit my dads side of the family in South Africa twice now. I'm a real nerd about my family, I just love them to bits.

I often wonder if immigrating makes your family a little more brady-bunchesque. We all talk a lot, see each other fairly often and family affairs are loud, happy and usually based around copious amounts of food (often very South African in nature: a roast complete with potatoes, veggies, rice and gravy followed by my Aunty Talitha's Milk Tart. Yum).

When we first came here I was 7, and kids do seem to roll with change pretty easily so it was fairly easy for me to settle in. I think my parents were brave though, to come to a country where there they knew few people and had no family. I'm not sure it is something I could do - as nice as it is to have family on the other end of a phone call is is also pretty great to have them just down the street.

Rotorua is a very multicultural city, when our family arrived we were very lucky in having the kind attention of a wonderful ex-pat South African couple called Margriet and Louw. Our whole family of six were at one stage living in their house with them! I often wonder how many people Margriet in particular has settled into our little town; made to feel at home by the gift of her time and enthusiasm for Rotorua in showing them the places and sites of a town she is proud of.

I love Rotorua. Though, when I came home from university I have to admit, I was slightly disenchanted with it. I had been wanting to work in community development in a time when council community development departments seemed to be being cut and re-organised up and down the country. So dream job shelved, I worked for a big tourism group and although the people I worked with were for the most part absolutely wonderful, I was not comfortable there; the hours were unsociable, and even when I did get out and about it didn't seem to feel like home.

One thing and another led me to The Arts Village where I volunteered at first, and eventually got a job on the Front Desk; and things changed. I was meeting people and connecting with them... sharing stories and starting to find more and more that I would bump into faces I knew all around town. I know the same can probably be said of any community, but I still feel like the 'Village People' are a pretty special bunch.

I have nearly been at The Arts Village for four years now, and sometimes I almost have to pinch myself to check I am not dreaming because it is my absolute dream job. My love for our work is driven by my love of our purpose: which all buzz-words aside is about making opportunities for people to get busy in the arts.

Art + Sunshine is born from this: I know what we do connects people, spreads happiness and gives purpose. We can quantify how many people come through our doors and we can show you pictures of people doing the  things inside the space but how do we show to funders and others the value of what we see happening here? The joy, and the sense of belonging people have over our space.

As Christmas approaches and the date for my journey to "begin" draws nearer I am getting excited to leave... but I am also excited to come back. To share the stories and experiences with my friends and to bring the lessons into improving what we do here, and how we show its value.


ReflectionsMary-Beth Acres