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Forsyth Barr is proud to support Clay Week

When the staff at Forsyth Barr’s Nelson office decided to try their hands at making pottery as part of their Christmas function a couple of years ago, Adviser Assistant Sarah Frost was very confident and thought she was “going to nail it”. “But it was so hard. I was terrible and needed a lot of help.”

Now Forsyth Barr is providing the help to potters after it signed on as the headline corporate sponsor of Clay Week, a biennial festival that launched in October 2022.


The origins of Clay Week

It all started when Jamie Smith and Tom Baker, experienced potters and long-time friends who run a ceramics workshop and studio space in central Nelson called Kiln Studio, met the organisers of Jewellery Week, which kicked off in 2021. They felt there could also be room for an event that celebrated the region’s rich pottery history, brought together ceramic artists from around the country and showcased their work to the public.

The pair were approached by the Arts Council to see if they were serious about the idea and managed to secure some funding from Creative New Zealand and the Nelson Regional Development Agency to make it happen.

“We decided to put our money where our mouths were. Well, their money,” laughs Smith.

The pair developed their dream festival schedule of workshops, markets and exhibitions. One of the main goals was to host a contemporary exhibition but, as they were fairly short on time, they decided the best way to do that was to run a competition and incentivise artists from around the country to enter. That’s where Forsyth Barr came in, funding the prize for Pushing Clay Uphill.

“It wasn’t a huge sum of money, but it’s a significant amount of money for someone in this industry and would help to make their business a bit more viable,” says Smith.

All up, there were well over 200 entries into the competition from both well-established artists and up-and-comers and Smith was very impressed with the quality of the submissions.

Elise Johnston, who won for her piece ‘Square Peg, Round Hole’, is based in Dunedin and said the money was going to be used to help her establish a permanent workshop space.

Forsyth Barr also commissioned local artist Amber Smith to create a special ceramic trophy to hand out to the winner.


An engaged and supportive team

Celia Dasler, a Forsyth Barr Investment Adviser, had a connection to Smith and Baker and was the instigator of the relationship, says Frost.

“She was really excited about it,” says Frost. “And we wanted to support the event properly in its infancy to get it going.”

As a small branch with six advisers and two adviser assistants, Frost says it was important that everyone in the office was keen to be involved, especially as it would be supporting an event in the arts and culture space when its sponsorship efforts had typically been focused on local sports and food, wine and beer events.

Frost says the main reason the business got behind Clay Week was to support local artists who had been through a few rough years after Covid, but it was also a great opportunity to provide a unique experience for Forsyth Barr clients.

“We wanted to create an experience that was only available to Forsyth Barr clients. And this hit the nail on the head in so many ways,” she says. “The main Pushing Clay Uphill exhibition at Refinery ArtSpace opened on the Saturday but we hosted a function for around 100 clients on the Friday night and all the pieces were for sale. The prices ranged from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars and our clients had first pick. Seven or eight pieces were sold.”

Frost says they didn’t purchase anything for the office (although some of the younger staff members were keen on Oliver Cain’s shopping trolley full of aubergines), but it was a great opportunity to spend time with clients in a less formal setting.

Charlotte Davy, the Head of Art at Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, was one of three judges of the competition and spoke at the event.

“She explained the process they went through to choose the winner. It was great to have her support”.

Frost says the first year was about testing the water with an exclusive event and seeing if clients were interested in attending.

“And they really were. The feedback was very good. The next step would be to let our clients know that they should bring their friends along, too, so the numbers will probably be higher next time and we will also look to host at some of the other public events.”

The relationship between Clay Week and Forsyth Barr has got off to a very good start, Frost says, and Smith and the team were very thankful for the support. They were worried the event wouldn’t get the support of the ceramics community, but “day after day, it worked really well” and carloads of artists from around the country made the trip to Nelson.


Future plans

He says there is potential for international potters to run workshops at the next event in 2024 and, if the prize was able to be increased, the competition could also start to attract international entrants.

The hope is that Clay Week will continue to grow and attract more artists and art lovers to the region and Smith says the next instalment will definitely involve more public participation. There was a studio space set up in the central city last year for people to try their hand at it and when they found out how difficult it was, they tended to gain a greater appreciation for the skill required to make pottery and “start to understand why that mug is $50,” he says.

Through their own experience, and their sponsorship of Clay Week, that’s something the Forsyth Barr team now know very well.


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