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These Walls Do Talk - Are You Listening?

26 Mar 2022
Literally plastering the walls of Tāmaki Makaurau with the voices of its youth could be one of the most significant impacts from this year's Auckland Arts Festival.

In your youth, how many times were you told to quieten down - even that old chestnut about ‘should be seen but not heard’?


Good manners is one thing, but silencing the voice of our future generations isn’t exactly a productive thought process. There's no questioning that now, more than ever, Aotearoa's youth have a growing desire to be heard - to express their opinions and creativity.


That’s been something that’s played on the mind of Auckland Arts Festival Artistic Director Shona McCullagh - and has led an inspiring activation across the city, Spoken Walls: A City in Verse.


“A festival is a portal for speaking, listening, questioning, and reflecting about who we are as individuals, as a city, and as a nation. There is no ‘one truth’ and we all bring our personal story to every dialogue and experience we encounter.


“The aim was to create a public platform for young people to amplify their truth and hopes on our city walls, shop windows, bus shelters, and more. We wanted to invite poets from high schools and communities across the city to contribute to this concrete kōrero, and gift their visions of hope and inspiration to all of Auckland.”


As AAF heads into its final weekend after two and a half weeks of uplifting and engaging creativity, much was forced online - which makes the in-person experiences that are on offer like the Spoken Walls project so rewarding for McCullagh.


Explaining how the concept became a reality, McCullagh told The Big Idea “I have always been moved by the power of renegade art and the disruptive, joyful impact stumbling upon art can have on our day. 


“When I was locked down in Melbourne, every day I walked and discovered messages scrawled with chalk on the pavement - I was astonished what an impact such a seemingly simple methodology could have. I saw that Jim Wilson, founder of Phantom Billstickers, was still really passionate about this random method of communication when he posted on social media last year about his NZ poems on poles project in the States. 


“We chatted online and talked about how challenging it was to get cut through for the arts on mainstream media and that this generous action was potent in its power. “Keep the faith” he said to me. So I did, and Spoken Walls was born. 


Photo: Shelley Te Haara.


“I wanted to give voice to our rangatahi and uplift their words onto a Festival platform. Tthe Festival team and I brainstormed and wanted to ensure we could offer a great process and highly visible end result – so I approached Phantom who agreed to partner with us.”


While the poems are available online to soak in and enjoy, walking the streets to see them for yourself gives you the full scale of the project.


There are multiple locations all over Tāmaki Makaurau (find out where on this map) - with specific focus on the wall opposite Auckland Public Library and the back of the old St James in town. But they are just a couple of the 45 locations - ranging from Wellsford in the north, Henderson in the west and Manukau in the south. 


Photo: Shelley Te Haara.


McCullagh explains “the young poets are talented writers and spoken word artists drawn from high school students from all over Tāmaki Makaurau. They have been coached and supported through the process by Action Education, an organisation which provides platforms, safe spaces and opportunities for people to connect, reflect and express who they are, and strengthen community and identity, through creative self-expression.


“We have loved the enthusiasm of the rangatahi poets, especially in having their work seen in print by people they do not normally connect with, but also the opportunity to kōrero about the 2022 Festival theme of Truth and how it relates to their lives.”


Photo: Shelley Te Haara.


The impact of empowering these young creatives could become catalyst moments for our future creative forces. 


One of the poets, Kate from Mt Roskill describes her poem as “a rangatahi call to action to arise in hope and use our voice to positively influence others. We need to be the change.”


Voices like this deserve to be encouraged, not extinguished.


Written in partnership with Auckland Arts Festival 10-27 March. Click here to see the programme for the final weekend.