"I just love getting stuff done": Queenstowner Olivia Egerton

‘‘I guess my life’s been a bit of a squiggly line, but it comes back to working with people and making really cool ideas happen.’’ Olivia Egerton, whose team of 3.5 is getting the Te Atamira arts and cultural hub up and running, talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about that ‘‘squiggly line’’ and how she’s dabbled in both the arts and business worlds

Expect Olivia Egerton to take a deserved breather on May 16.

That’s the day her ‘baby’, Queenstown’s Te Atamira arts and cultural hub, opens for business.

The development director’s been ‘‘running a million miles an hour’’ to get the $4.2 million Remarkables Park facility, only green-lit last June, open.

Though the role’s been all-consuming — ‘‘character-building’’, she calls it — it’s been her
‘‘total dream job’’.

‘‘It’s been such an honour to do this job and join up the dots for the community’’,  giving local arts and cultural groups a fit-for-purpose space — 22 spaces, to be exact — for the first time.

‘‘Why I’m here is ’cos I passionately believe in the arts and, especially in this crazy world we live in, the arts are a way of coping, a way of learning about yourself, and they should be accessible for everybody.’’

Given her arts and business background, it’s easy to see why Te Atamira gives Egerton such a buzz.

Auckland-raised, she ‘‘grew up with the arts’’ — her mum’s family was very musical and her dad, Neville Porter, one of the Porter brothers who developed Remarkables Park, is an accomplished photographer.

She did a bachelor of fine arts at the Elam School of Fine Arts, learning to paint from ‘‘amazing tutors’’.

‘‘Everybody said, ‘why would you do a fine arts degree?’

‘‘But it teaches you a lot about critical thinking and relationships’’ — while she’s  subsequently also exhibited paintings and prints.

Egerton then did a masters in cultural heritage in Melbourne, and was awarded a scholarship to study in Europe.

‘‘That was an opportunity to see art is just part of life, and how great that is for connectivity.

‘‘As much as we were looking at objects in beautiful museums, it was about art in the street and festivals and things like that.’’

About 13 years ago, she joined the family company in Queenstown and set up the still-thriving Remarkables Market — ‘‘I lifted those tables in and out for a good couple of seasons, Saturday mornings at 6 o’clock’’.

‘‘I remember saying we needed a five-year resource consent and everyone saying, ‘oh, this probably won’t last a season’.’’

About eight years ago, she moved to Christchurch after her hubby, locally-raised Dan
Egerton, was headhunted for a job.

Olivia became strategy director at The New Zealand Merino Company.

‘‘It’s always been a bit of a running joke, ‘the artist in the agri sector’, but I absolutely loved that experience, and did a lot of work around a primary sector collaboration to shift from volume to value.’’

After her first child, Evelyn, was born, she became programmes and partnerships manager for the Christchurch Arts Centre as it came to life following quake damage.

‘‘That gave me a lot of learnings as to what to do [at Te Atamira], and what works and what doesn’t.’’

And after her second child, Henry, was born, she went into export consultancy ‘‘to get a bit more work/life balance’’, before moving back to Queenstown last July after the local council approved Te Atamira in its 10-year plan.

Egerton explains the role’s so full-on as it’s overseeing a building project, raising $4.2m and organising curated programmes to go alongside the activities of 30-plus arts groups, which alone will attract about 2000 people a week.

‘‘The goal really is you could turn up any hour of a week and you could be involved in something.’’

While ‘‘a quality facility’’ — Egerton’s full of praise for builder Cook Brothers  Construction — she says they’ve also been ‘‘creative’’ in keeping costs down.

She’s grateful her trust pushed ‘go’ on the fitout of two former tenancies, even though the funding wasn’t all in the bag, so they could stay ahead of ever-rising building costs.

‘‘Really, I just love getting stuff done, and this was an opportunity — right time, right place — to have this platform for the community to explore the arts in one place.’’

Egerton says she’s committed to oversee Te Atamira for the next year or two, by when she’ll surely be ready to bring another big project to life.

‘‘Hopefully in the next couple of years there’ll be another wonderful person who will take it over.’’