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Tour of Ara taonga now at your fingertips

Bilingual app showcases the stories and artists behind treasured artworks

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Rangatahi visiting Ara in the school holidays explore the app

Ara Institute of Canterbury ākonga (students) speak of the powerful impact of the impressive carved artworks when they enter Te Puna Wānaka on campus. 

Now they, and visitors to Ara, have another tool in their kete to learn about the stunning pouwhenua (carved wooden posts) and taonga (artistic treasures).

The Ngā Taonga Māori o Ara app takes users on a virtual tour of Māori art all over campus, offering bi-lingual insights into the works and their makers. 

The app, which works on both android and iOS was developed by ākonga and kaimahi (staff) from the Department of Creative Arts and Digital Information and Te Puna Wānaka.

Executive Director Te Tiriti Partnerships Te Marino Lenihan said the project sat behind Ara’s Taonga Māori initiative which set out to record the institute’s unique taonga and stories as Te Pūkenga came into being.

“We worked alongside our IT colleagues so learners in their department could help us develop this tool to connect all people with the narratives of our taonga – and at the same time it also realised an institute-wide aspiration for real hands-on learning,” Lenihan said. 

The well-researched content is also available in audio – voiced by current and former Ara kaimahi.

The app has also drawn on the expertise of the institute’s expert art curator Julie Humby who was delighted to see the project come to life.

“This incredible resource allows people to take a self-guided tour and find out more about some of the treasured art pieces we are so fortunate to have on our city campus. These works add immense vibrancy to our surroundings, and it will be wonderful for more people to enjoy them,” she said.

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App developer Jacob Klemick with supervisors Dr Bernard Otinpong (left) and Dr Dipendra Ghimire (right)

The app features an animated map, a gallery and detailed information on 13 individual works and the artists behind them. All in both te reo Māori and English.

Senior Lecturer Dr Bernard Otinpong, who had oversight of the student-led project, said the original concept was built as a prototype during a Level 7 mobile technology course.  It was then then taken up by one class member, Jacob Klemick, who worked on a number of iterations to perfect the content.

“The great thing about the app is that it brings together information from a vast range of sources into one place.  Previously the content was scattered and not available for public sharing. Ngā Taonga Māori o Ara changes all that,” Dr Otinpong said.

Klemick, who is continuing his Bachelor of Information and Communication Technologies with strands in Software Development and Information Systems at Ara said the project had been challenging.

“I had to take on some extra learning to gain expertise in a range of tools I’d not used before, so it stretched me technically,” he said. “But also, in my prior education I’d had little exposure to Māori culture, so it’s been a real eye-opener for me and exciting gaining this knowledge.”

Klemick demonstrated the app at a launch in front of an audience of Te Reo Māori ākonga at Ara. 

Level 5 Te Reo Māori learner Matt Calman said the app would be a great additional resource – adding to the stories shared through word of mouth in the whare.

“Each time stories are shared through kai korero and mihi whakatau in the whare our knowledge grows.  But having all this in one place is going to reinforce that matauranga for us. It’s a wonderful thing for learners of Te Reo Māori and those who come to this place,” he said.

Ara is no stranger to the marriage of art and technology. The popular Ara Art Tour, officially launched in 2022 was developed by Mark Noble (then a student of Ara in the Level 7 Mobile Technology class), Dr Bernard Otinpong and Dr Luofeng Xu.

The app provides information about the institute’s extensive art collection, which began with a significant donation in the 1930s by the then board of governor’s chair McGregor Wright. Sixty-one works by contemporary Canterbury artists were gifted at the time with the intent to broaden students’ education and contribute to the culture of the institute. 

Julie Humby said she was thrilled to see the unique Ngā Taonga Māori o Ara app added to the legacy of celebrating art at Ara.

“It will be a valuable resource for years to come,” she said.