New trust formed to promote unique sculpture park

The new Art-in-Nature Arboretum Trust Board members pictured at The Sculpture Park. They are Dorothy and John Wakeling (seated), and back from left, Rob Graham, Felicity Campbell, Ian McKim, and Simon Reynolds.

The future of The Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum in Tauwhare is looking brighter with the recent formation of a new charitable trust.

The Art-in-Nature Arboretum Trust was set up in mid-November, tasked with helping the park achieve its potential through raising its profile and recognising it as a regional resource of botanical, cultural and recreational significance.

The new Trust Board met for the first time on November 27.  It elected Rob Graham and Felicity Campbell as co-chairs, Ian McKim as treasurer, and Simon Reynolds to cover marketing and creative liaison. The park’s founders and owners, Dorothy and John Wakeling took on the roles of trust secretary and arboretum curator respectively.

It was about 30 years ago that the Wakelings developed The Sculpture Park and Arboretum from a disused quarry in Scotsman’s Valley Rd. Making the best of its natural features, the couple turned the space into a 17.5-hectare ‘art-in-nature’ trail that also displays more than 20,000 trees and shrubs from around the world.  Its value is recognised both for its global biodiversity and as one of New Zealand’s largest outdoor galleries. Until Covid-19 hit, it attracted over 10,000 visitors a year, almost a quarter of them international.

The inaugural board includes trustees with a range of expertise and skills to contribute to the park’s operations, Dorothy explained. She said they hoped to include a local authority representative in due course.  “We want this charitable trust to drive more initiatives to promote creative and environmental inspiration at the park.”

The Trust’s primary purpose includes managing the tree collection for carbon sequestration and global biodiversity; curating the sculpture collection; providing ongoing rehabilitation and management of the site; offering an accessible and safe recreational space with creative resources and space for art-in-nature education; and recognising that the park’s long-term protection ultimately relies on a sound business proposition.

Dorothy said the Board would be tasked with developing a plan to increase visitor numbers and potentially reach a self-sustaining income.  The park needs to increase its income to cover the cost of maintenance, she explained. Entry fees contribute to maintenance costs, but are not enough, particularly with the loss of international tourists.

In 2018, the Wakelings initiated a ‘Share the Park’ campaign in which presentations were made to the regional council and the four surrounding local authorities to win support for the park’s maintenance, with the goal of it becoming the equivalent of a free-to-enter regional park. Many visitors to the park come from Hamilton, Cambridge and Morrinsville.

“We wanted to work with the local authorities, but that didn’t get as far as we would have liked,” Dorothy said. “It has become even more apparent now, with Covid-19, that all local authorities are having greater call on their budgeting. We are not expecting to be able to progress that at this stage.”

The formation of the Trust is seen as a way to secure the park’s future, she said, with direct partnerships involving local authority and corporate backing, volunteers, donations, and pro-bono professional contributions vital to that end goal.

The park features numerous tree-enclosed spaces, cliffs, rocks, a stream, ponds and waterfalls. It is a popular venue for families, with interactive activities for all ages, and hosts annual programme of exhibitions and open weekends in support of various charities.

More information, and details around visiting the park, is via their website: www.sculpturepark.co.nz.

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