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Brenda Johnston Brings Auckland Flair to New Mount Maunganui 'Compose Art Gallery'
24 May 2018
Brenda Johnston Brings Auckland Flair to New Mount Maunganui 'Compose Art Gallery'

Having grown up in Kawerau, Brenda Johnston has always considered herself a Bay girl, despite putting her roots down in Auckland for 25 years. 

Of her exciting and varied career, her favourite role was opening and running local art gallery, Compose, in Auckland's Grey Lynn with her husband, Steve.  After four wonderful years, the couple closed the gallery in 2009 to spend more time with their two young boys.

Fast-forward nearly a decade and the Johnston family was ready for a move. With the boys in school, both Brenda and Steve wanted their sons to experience the provincial New Zealand life they had enjoyed growing up - and Mount Maunganui called to them.

Living in the Mount has given Brenda the chance to re-establish Compose Gallery in their new neighbourhood, while still having plenty of time with her family. The local community has taken well to their new gallery, embracing the trendy yet casual space which showcases the works of local new and emerging artists.

Brenda, what took you to Auckland originally?

I moved to Auckland when I was 18 and worked in the hotel industry in front office and accounting roles before spending a few years travelling and working overseas. When I returned to Auckland in my early twenties, I became an international flight attendant with Air New Zealand for ten years. I met my husband, Steve, in Auckland and left the airline following the birth of our first son. Steve and I opened Compose Art gallery in Grey Lynn in 2005, running it along with his construction business before the boys were in school.

What inspired the move out of Auckland?

Having grown up in Napier and Kawerau, we both had a sense that growing up in provincial New Zealand provided a different experience to growing up in Auckland. Once the boys started school, we realised we were keen for them to have the opportunity to grow up with a sense of space and a quieter pace of life, less traffic and independence to use their bikes more often. We moved here in January 2017.

What appealed about living in Mount Maunganui?

The hunt had us searching in Hawkes Bay as well, but ultimately the Mount came out the clear winner due to the beach lifestyle. Steve and I both love living close to such a beautiful beach. Our eldest son, Ned, has become a keen surfer and I rarely miss a day walking our dog Bu on the beach. Having lived within walking distance to the North Shore beaches since the boys were young, the Mount offers a similar lifestyle with a more relaxed feel.

Can you describe Compose Art Gallery?

Compose Art Gallery in Mount Maunganui is a local art gallery space showing a varied range of contemporary art, objects and jewellery by established artists. There is a professional yet casual feel to the space. Visitors are encouraged to pop in and check out new works arriving on a weekly basis, and pieces on display are constantly changing. We occasionally hold solo and group shows with the aim of bringing some of the Bay of Plenty's and New Zealand’s finest artists to the attention of Tauranga locals.

We opened the first Compose Art Gallery in Grey Lynn in 2005. The space was new and contemporary and the gallery received wonderful reviews and amazing feedback. The local community really welcomed having a quality gallery in the neighbourhood and we also attracted art lovers Auckland-wide. It was very successful and we had some great shows by both emerging and established artists.

Why did you close Compose in Auckland in 2009?

The decision to close it came because we had moved our young family to the North Shore. We had two young boys aged two and four and Steve's construction business needed to take priority for us. We retained our gallery presence online and ran pop up exhibitions for years in various central city venues to promote artists who were keen for us to continue exhibiting their work.

With our encouragement many of the emerging artists in our stable moved on to be exhibited by other prominent Auckland galleries and, because we have maintained close relationships, the artists have been keen for us to exhibit their work here in Tauranga.

Why did you choose to open Compose Art Gallery in Tauranga nearly a decade later?

Being keen art lovers and long-time collectors, we had a desire to bring a high level of contemporary art to our new local neighbourhood. We love that the space has a friendly, relaxed vibe with a bach-like Mount feel to it. While it is open casual hours, we only live five minutes away from the gallery which lets us accommodate visitors by appointment outside advertised hours.

What was it like opening a new art gallery in a new city?

Everyone has been very welcoming, we have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors about the relaxed and friendly feel of the space and quality of work showing. Many people have commented that there has been a need for an art gallery to view and purchase high quality contemporary works.

Our initial opening show was well attended and it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our arrival in the neighbourhood. Following our years of business in Auckland, we had a large database of existing clients and are now growing it with local interest.

Tell us about the relationships you build with local and emerging artists.

I’ve been approached by a number of local artists and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to promote their work. The rapport and trust we have with our existing artists is apparent in the fact they have been so happy to exhibit with us once more in a new location after more than a decade of first representing them.  Prior to Christmas last year we held exhibitions for artists new to our gallery including local Tauranga photographer, Julia Lochhead, and painter, Keith Abbot, as well as Opotiki-based Fiona Kerr Gedson.

We are looking forward to our upcoming exhibition, 'Atomic Blue', showing works by artist Kelcy Taratoa. Exhibition opening is on June 22nd, 5.30-8pm.

How has opening the gallery helped you become part of the local community?

It's been a really wonderful way to quickly feel part of the local community. It's been delightful to meet some local art lovers who pop in regularly and we have a lovely relationship with the staff from In-Hair Mount whose hair salon business is in front of the gallery. Many of their clients have popped in and purchased art or the exquisite contemporary jewellery we have on display by Jess Winchcombe of Queenstown. 

We have collaborated with local businesses such as Kath McDonald from KM Design, providing lease artwork for home staging and design shoots. We have also leased art works to enhance the space at Craigs Investment Partners and recently sold numerous works for a hotel and bar space. All these connections help consolidate our presence and widen our reach in the area.

How do you see the local business and arts communities?

We are still new to the area but have been very impressed with the local arts scene. The business community is vibrant, thriving and keen to support one another.

What is Steve doing for work in Tauranga?

Steve has his own business working in construction providing quantity surveying and project management services combined with being engaged as the main contractor for commercial interior fit-outs. The fact that Tauranga is seeing so much growth, and that Auckland is an easy overnight or day trip away, has given him the confidence to move the business down here.

Since moving, he has been completing projects both locally and in Auckland, but moving forward he will concentrate on further opportunities in the Bay Of Plenty.

Does Steve play a role in the gallery?

Steve is a great sounding board: while his construction role may seem a lot different from the art world, he has a firm eye on good aesthetics, evident in his fit-out works. The gallery is primarily run by me, but Steve is on hand to help out when I need a good eye for hanging a new show.

What vision did you have for your famiy life here in Tauranga?

We wanted to settle into a family home and gain more quality time with our boys while they are still young. We like the idea of living in a close community with friends nearby that the boys can visit and schools they can walk or bike to.   

How has the reality compared to this vision?

We love where we are living and definitely have a close community of friends nearby. The kids often have friends from the neighbourhood dropping in and we enjoy the more casual and impulsive get togethers. My youngest son has mentioned that he loves where we live, that it feels like a small village and he definitely does not miss the traffic and commute that was the morning routine to get to his previous school. Steve has been commuting back and forth to Auckland to complete projects he is still involved in but sees this changing as he takes on more local work. 

What has surprised you about life in the Bay of Plenty?

It's provides most of what we had in Auckland within a five-minute drive from home.

What do you do for fun here?

We love walking, going to the Mount, the beach, swimming, biking, meeting up with friends for a drink and listening to music including some local bands.

What has moving to Tauranga meant…

For your wellbeing?

It has provided an injection of new adventure and interests into our lives, providing new and refreshing opportunities and a sense of success.  

For your career?

Change is exciting to us, so we look forward to seeing what the future holds for continuing our careers in the region.   

For your family?

Overall, we feel the family has hugely benefitted from a move away from Auckland. Although we loved our time in the city for different reasons, there is something special about being able to raise children in a less frantic environment. The move has provided us with closer proximity to extended family, less stress and more time with our boys.


Gets You Thinking Doesn't It?

No-one can tell you when you're ready for a change of lifestyle...but when you are, we'd love to have you in Tauranga!

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2. Subscribe to our montly e-newsletter to receive stories just like this one about people who have already made the big move you are thinking of making. 

3. Have a story to share? We love sharing your sea-change or homecoming stories. Email me at kathryn@priorityone.co.nz to start a conversation.

Meet Kathryn Overall
Explore www.wishyouwereworkinghere.co.nz


Looking for work in Tauranga?

Send me your CV and a 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesess who are on the lookout for good people. Priority One is not a recruitment agency, but as the economic development agency for the region we seek to make connections for people where we can. There is no charge for this service.

Email me at annie@priorityone.co.nz.

Annie Hill | Priority One
Communications/Project Manager

Contact Priority One

Contact Priority One

Need help?

Send us your 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesses who are on the lookout for good people! info@priorityone.co.nz

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About Kathryn

About Kathryn


Kathryn Overall is the friendly voice behind the 'Wish You Were Working Here' stories and Facebook posts.  Each month she chats with returned Kiwi expats,  Auckland imports and New Zealand immigrants who have moved to Tauranga, collecting their stories and advice to share with you. 

CLICK HERE to read her own story of reluctant homecoming!


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