Arts editor puts last edition to stack of more than 700

01:13, Jun 06 2012
Peter Gibbs, Judith Ritchie
OUT WITH THE OLD: Peter Gibbs is leaving his role as arts editor, being replaced by Judith Ritchie.

A set of faux-wood drawers by Peter Gibbs' desk upstairs in the Nelson Mail building in Bridge St contains stacks of faded arts pages.

Arts reporters have been and gone and the newspaper's arts section has been through a handful of redesigns, but Gibbs has been a pillar of continuity.

The sub-editor has commissioned and written stories and reviews, updated the arts diary, co-ordinated content and overseen the production of more than 700 weekly arts sections.

"I have always seen the production of the page as a collaboration between me and the reporter, with the reporter doing most of the work.

"It's not a big role in the scheme of things. It might take a few hours a week, but it's got a lot of nice perks," he says.

These include free wine at exhibition openings, tickets to review shows and being in the know when it comes to Nelson's art scene.


Taking the reins this week is Judith Ritchie, who is already a familiar face in Nelson's creative community.

Ritchie has a background in fine arts from the University of Canterbury, has been to film school and was a costume design tutor at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology for five years.

She was one of three judges in the Changing Threads exhibition at the Refinery Artspace this year, owns a textile design and print business and has been a World of WearableArt finalist five times.

Ritchie says she is looking forward to keeping her finger on the pulse and highlighting what's happening in the arts community, leaving "personal preferences" at the door.

Gibbs has worked with at least a dozen arts reporters over the years and says everyone brings something new to the round. "The same story might be covered in a dozen different ways."

The former school teacher had close ties to the Nelson arts community before becoming arts editor. Gibbs moved from Auckland to Golden Bay in the 1970s, bought land and set up as a potter. He did that for 20 years, moving to Nelson in 1979, and discovered potters were not particularly good at publicising themselves.

He started writing the newsletter for the Nelson Potters Association, became a magazine publisher, arranged exhibitions to promote the region's ceramic artists and wrote art columns for the Listener.

"One thing led to another and over a period of 15 years I kind of morphed from a potter who wrote a bit to a writer who made pots a bit," he says.

Gibbs joined the Nelson Mail as a sub-editor in 1994, was later given the arts job by then editor David Mitchell and the rest is history.

He says the biggest change in Nelson's art scene under his watch has been the decline of craft and the rise of visual arts, with arts training at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology taking on a more university-type role.

"Nelson has a very dynamic and busy arts community in all sorts of areas.

"I just liked getting the art out there, without being too precious about it. There has never been a shortage of content – ever."