Pataka director Darcy Nicholas returns to art career

BY ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 09:45 04/12/2012
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Andrea O'Neil
MOVING ON: Pataka director and Porirua City Council’s community services general manager Darcy Nicholas will leave his roles at the end of the month to focus on his artwork, writing and business interests.

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It all could have worked out very differently for departing Pataka director and council community services general manager Darcy Nicholas.

Nineteen years ago he was offered a job in Zimbabwe, directing a national art gallery under dictator Robert Mugabe. Instead, he accepted a job at Porirua City Council as general manager of community services and set about growing Porirua's creative economy.

He oversaw the creation of Pataka in 1998 and set up the Maori Art Market art fair in 2005.

"I always wanted to work in Porirua City," he says. "Porirua City is basically the foundation of future New Zealand society. It's a combination of Maori and Pacific Island New Zealanders and a mixture of cultures. It's a great example of what future New Zealand society is going to be."

Mr Nicholas will step down from his role at the end of this year. Pataka senior curator Helen Kedgley becomes Pataka director, with a separate appointment to be made for Mr Nicholas' council management role, which includes responsibility for Te Rauparaha Arena, the city's libraries and pools, festivals and events, its visitor industry and sister city relationships.

A Stokes Valley resident and grandfather-of-two, Mr Nicholas is an internationally famous painter, sculptor and jeweller in his own right, and has been hailed as "The Maori Picasso" in Canada.

He is something of a renaissance man - he started his career as a policeman, has played and coached rugby for senior Hutt Valley Marist, was involved in Taranaki treaty negotiations, has written two art books, is a keen cook and music lover, and mingles with the rich and famous worldwide regularly.

"I travel a lot because I want to compete with the best in the world. I've spent time with some of the great artists in the world," he says.

He somehow finds the time to draw and paint for five hours a day - he doesn't sleep much, he says.

In 1984 Mr Nicholas spent a year studying Native and African American art in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, which helped secure a passion for indigenous art. In the 1970s he ran his own gallery in Lower Hutt, in the 1980s he directed the Wellington Art Centre, ran Wellington's Summer City programme, directed the Central Regional Arts Council and was assistant general manager of the Iwi Transition Agency.

He received the Creative Wellington award in 2005, was commended in 2009 by American ambassador Bill McCormick for promoting New Zealand-US relations, and was awarded the Queen's Service Order for services to museums in 2010.

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Princes Edward and Charles heaped praise on the Toi Maori: The Eternal Thread exhibition, curated by Pataka and Toi Maori Aotearoa, which toured the United States in 2005 and 2006.

Making Porirua an internationally-focused city has been a top priority for Mr Nicholas. He set out to make Pataka a world specialist in contemporary Maori and Pacific art and strongly supports a unified Wellington region.

"I have a lot of confidence in the potential of this city. I believe in the bigger Wellington city," he says.

Many of Mr Nicholas' projects in Porirua have had international inspiration. Pataka's central spine was modelled on Carnaby St in London. His push to establish markets under the Canopies was inspired by the Santa Fe craft industry.

He is writing a third book, on the origin of Pacific people, and is planning an art sales business venture in Japan with his son.

"I really want to take Maori art to a new direction," he says.

- Kapi-Mana News

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