Guest Voices at The Dowse

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director
Over the next three months or so, we’re running a little experiment here at The Dowse. Called ‘Guest Voices’, it involves inviting creative people—mostly of the writerly bent—into The Dowse for a day or two, giving them access to whatever they want, and then asking them to share whatever they make in response to the experience.

I originally came up with the idea for Guest Voices when our beloved communications manager Rachel Healy moved on to City Gallery Wellington. Rachel was the lead storyteller at The Dowse, always pouncing on people who were doing interesting things in and around the building that we could share through this blog, Twitter and Facebook. As we recruit for her replacement, I knew we’d be fighting hard to keep up the same level of sharing that we like to have.

Rather than bringing in a contractor, we’ve shared the communications tasks out around the team (I, for example, am working out my atrophied media-release-writing muscles and the wonderful Bev is minding Facebook, while Sarah takes care of media requests). But this felt like treading water and not doing anything interesting. So one day the idea occurred from somewhere: could we bring people in to find the stories in us, and share them with us?

Originally I thought the project might eventuate in an orderly procession of blog posts, or people taking over our Twitter or Facebook accounts for a day. Instead, it’s become wonderfully unruly and beautifully diverse. We have one person considering absurdist plays, and another hunting through correspondence by our early directors in our archives. One has requested info on all the works with a botanical leaning in the collections; another is pondering a zine, fired by a spooky encounter with some Don Driver assemblages in a quiet corner of collection storage.

What I’m loving is watching how people are melding what they see and experience at The Dowse with things they were already working on. We are becoming—in a very modest way—an opportunity for people to take an idea for a walk, a prompt to get onto that thing they’ve been thinking about making for a while. Guest Voices is becoming something like a weekend residency, and I I’m getting excited watching it unfold.

Today saw the publication of the first fruits of Guest Voices, which I am stoked to share here.

Guest Voices 1: Rachel O’Neill

Rachel O’Neill is a artist, writer and editor based in Paekakariki. She has just published her debut poetry collection, One Human in Height with Hue & Cry Press – you can read a review by Paula Green here.

Rachel came to visit us recently at The Dowse and got especially captured by our behind-the-scenes show The Cabinets. The ceramics on show here meshed inside her head with a phrase that had been bumping around on her trip out here. As she wrote on her blog today:

At the time of my first visit to the Dowse I had been doing some initial work on a screenplay. On my way to The Dowse one of the characters asked one of the other characters ‘Are father’s like prizes?’ (the conversation was going on in my head, obviously).

I love and loathe when this happens.

In particular, Bronwynne Cornish’s terracotta cats from the series Home Is Where The Heart Is captured Rachel’s attention:

I was drawn to a series of cabinets on temporary display bursting with amazing ceramics from their collection store. A series of large ceramic cats by Bronwynne Cornish were on display as well as a few other works of hers, including some lovely heads with mouths that were to varying degrees open and closed. I returned again and again to the cats though as they immediately sparked some ideas in relation to the screenplay.

You can read Rachel’s whole account in her blog post. She has also shared some early sketches:



We’re looking forward to Rachel coming out to visit us again soon, so she can get even closer to the cats (we’re going to move one out the back temporarily so she can have a really good sketch). Rachel will keep blogging the project, and we’ll keep sharing it … along with all our other Guest Voices, as they move out into the world.


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