• Rose Northey and Devonport Takapuna Local Board member Jennifer McKenzie celebrate the unveiling of 'Soapbox'.
  • Rose Northey performs to the crowd at the unveiling of 'Soapbox'.
  • Rose Northey presents the first performance on 'Soapbox'.
  • Artists Olivia Collinson, Prue Fea and Vanessa Cox speak at the unveiling of 'Soapbox'.

Takapuna on a Soapbox about its arts reputation

On 25 May, Auckland Council unveiled ‘Soapbox’ – a new and interactive public artwork – at Killarney Park in Takapuna, overlooking Lake Pupuke. Christne Young went along to see what was happening.

'Soapbox', it transpires, is a glass reinforced concrete artwork, coloured in a red that offers a nod to both the neighbouring PumpHouse and to the volcanic origins of the lake. It stands boldly overlooking the lake - and simply invites interaction as you wlak past. It was designed and built by artists Olivia Collinson, Prue Fea and Vanessa Coxhead in collaboration with architecture and design firm Jasmax.

Once unveiled, ‘Soapbox’ immediately hosted several artistic performances, by Rose Northey (poet), Courtney Sina Meredith (poet, playwright, fiction writer and musician), Julia Croft (performance artist and theatre maker), and Grace Taylor (theatre director, published writer and spoken word poet).

Terence Harpur, chief executive of the Takapuna Beach Business Association was among the crowd celebrating the installation of another significant art work in Takapuna.“Takapuna is increasingly a key Auckland destination for arts enthusiasts, with the local business community committed to seeing it grow further,” he says. “We really want to build on the strong arts and culture reputation Takapuna has already. We’ve got a first-class hospitality sector to support it and a rich coastal and lakeside environment to help showcase it.”

The new artwork pays homage to Kate Sheppard and other suffragettes, reflecting the “soapboxes” they used to spread their message of women’s rights. Terence says exploring the theme of women’s suffrage, and marking last year’s 125th anniversary, sits well in Takapuna. Hurstmere Green is already home to a Kate Sheppard plaque and planting honouring the 100th anniversary of the suffrage movement achieving voting rights for women in 1893 and in remembrance of North Shore’s pioneer women.

On the arts front, every second November the North Shore is a destination for works by the country’s best sculptors, when Fort Takapuna Historic Reserve has hosted NZ Sculpture OnShore – the country’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition, one of the oldest, and one that originated on the shores of Lake Pupuke. Proceeds from each NZSOS exhibition are donated to Women's Refuge New Zealand.

Lake House Arts, in Fred Thomas Drive in Takapuna, has similarly been a long-time host of a major wood carving symposium and exhibition, and a number of the works created over the years are on permanent display in the Lake House grounds.

More permanent public art installations in Takapuna include the business association-sponsored owl sculpture in Hurstmere Green, while a controversial giant crayfish mural on the side of the Bruce Mason Centre highlights the plight of ocean pollution. 

Terence says more public artwork is in the offing, with Panuku committed to creating a large new town square at the site of the current Anzac Street carpark, while later this year Takapuna’s main street, Hurstmere Road, will be significantly upgraded with a pedestrian-friendly focus. Both projects offer scope for more public artwork to be included.

With a former retail building at 38 Hurstmere Road now demolished to form part of the planned town square, different activations are taking place in that newly accessible public space. They have included performances as part of Youth Week and New Zealand Music Month.

Terence says no town centre or suburb in Auckland draws as many art and theatre lovers as Takapuna does every week of the year.  “The Bruce Mason Centre is a hugely popular venue that stages world-class theatre, music performances, and exhibits art. Then we have the historic PumpHouse Theatre, the Lake House Arts Centre, and of course our arthouse Berkeley Cinema. These are real destinations in their own right which attract all ages, with our 150 hospitality operators 100% committed to further enhancing people’s Takapuna experience.

“The ‘Soapbox’ installation will be a popular and practical addition, helped by the fact that it’s near the PumpHouse Theatre which enjoys a busy performing arts calendar including a huge variety of shows and classes.”