The West Auckland community is in the process of being transformed by the Henderson Youth Art Project. Colour, culture, youth energy and art are the tools harnessed to combat the issues the township has recently faced.

The Henderson Youth Art Project (HYAP) was launched as a reaction to Auckland Council’s Graffiti Vandalism Prevention Plan, seeking to use art and design to combat vandalism in the suburb. The project, which began in June 2015, includes a partnership between Kākano Youth Arts Collective and Unitec, supported by Auckland Council and the Henderson-Massey Local Board. This involves Henderson youth being mentored and guided by established artists to create murals and street art.

A key part of the project is the involvement of Kākano Youth Arts Collective. The group, based at Corban’s Estate Arts Centre, consists of at-risk yet talented upcoming young artists who share a common interest in visual arts. Supporting and leading the collective is the creative director Mandy Patmore, one of the HYAP leaders and a West Auckland artist.

“It means seed,” Mandy says as she explains ‘Kākano,’ the name of the collective. “We find the tiniest little spark of interest in any medium. Where there’s an interest, we nourish it until it grows.”

The designs the young people create often work with elements of Kiwiana and Māori culture. By involving local youth and their ideas, the Henderson Youth Art Project fosters community pride and embraces local talent.

“Our community is diverse and exciting,” says Mandy. “It’s cool that we are able now to give the kids a bit of freedom and space to express themselves in a way that they get some genuine attention. It makes our town centre a much cooler place to be.”

She mentions that the project has “grown much more beyond art” and “much more than just beautifying the space”. The experience has positively changed the lives of the youth involved.

A project objective is to provide pathways into education for these talented young individuals. As a result, two members of the Kākano youth have been admitted into Unitec for an Art Design pathway.

“It wouldn’t have happened without this awesome partnership,” says Mandy.

Bobby Hung, a project leader from Unitec’s Department of Design and Contemporary Arts, and a well-known street artist by the pseudonym BERST, says that this project tells people a lot about graffiti art.

“Graffiti art, or street art, has huge potential to transform the community,” says Bobby. “When you paint on a canvas indoors, it’s most likely it would end up in a gallery. But when somebody paints a mural or graffiti art outdoors, it’s very much for the community. It’s out there. Art is for the people. It’s not meant to be exclusive.”

Bobby also points out that this project is shifting people’s perceptions about art.

“Somebody could do a beautiful landscape painting indoors on a canvas. But they could also do that outdoors. Or they could not do a landscape at all, and still consider that as art.”

As a result of the HYAP, four murals and two frame installations have been installed and completed throughout the Henderson town centre. The project will continue to evolve the visual landscape and community of Henderson until May 2016, with six more murals scheduled. A public exhibition of the works done from the HYAP will be held in early 2016.

The Henderson Youth Art Project is an inspiring local operation that deserves attention. This project shows the under-rated power of art, particularly street art. Street art can be used as a catalyst for activating positive social change and empowering community. As Mandy simply puts it, “art can save the world.”

Make sure to check out Kākano Youth Arts Collective’s Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. Support the project and Kākano by visiting the frame installations, murals and Kākano social media pages.

Photos: Ashley Rogers/Department of Design & Contemporary Arts at Unitec.