The Katikati Open-Air Art project is a community-based initiative designed to celebrate the unique identity and heritage of Katikati and the surrounding area. Through a mural project that would highlight specific historical, cultural and environmental influences.

Katikati Open- Air Art Inc. was formed as a result of real concern that a major effort was needed to restore and stimulate pride in our past and future, and to rejuvenate a community severely hit by the economic conditions of the time.

In late 1990’s, Katikati was a town in the economic doldrums, with no foreseeable bright prospects ahead. Kiwifruit growers had endured four years of low returns, there had been a downturn in the dairy industry, the share market crash of 1988 had severely affected the livelihood of many orchards and businesses, and to top it off a projected state highway by-pass had many local business people worried.

The proposed by-pass of Katikati, on the main road between Waihi and Tauranga proved to be the catalyst to bring together a wide range of people from within our area, who believed we must develop a cohesive revitalisation plan of the town centre by means of a wide ranging project, designed to involve and benefit the community, while also reflecting who we were and where we have all come from. These people believed it was time for a new approach, a new direction and initiative.

Katikati was one of the last planned settlements in New Zealand, and the only settlement with immigrants being drawn from Ulster in Northern Ireland. Descendants of these settlers still reside in the district to this day; they were supportive of the mural project and would prove to be a valuable source of resource material.

Both Ngati Ranginui (of the Takitimu canoe) and Ngai Te Rangi (of the Mataatua canoe) are the tangata whenua of the area.


The concept of a mural project involving the whole town and community had its beginnings when a group of enthusiastic local people had visited the town of Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Chemainus, a logging town that was dying by 1982 after the closure of its one timber mill, has set about painting its history with quality murals on the walls of the town. These frescoes recorded both the diversity of the community, the cultural heritage that contributed to this diversity, but also the history of the place and the environment. After ten years there were now thirty –two murals and the town had prospered through its community initiative. Chemainus had 300,000 visitors annually and eighty-two new businesses.

The Chemainus Mural Project was to provide the successful model upon which Katikati Open-Air Art Inc. could develop its own plan and approach.


Katikati Open-air Art aim is to portray in a highly visual way, Katikati’s own special historical past.

The committee’s main aim is to make the township a unique living work of high-quality open-air artworks, accurately portraying major aspects of its history making it a more interesting, exciting place, and that would attract people to live and visit.

Katikati Open-Air Art is an initiative to revitalise a township and district by showcasing its history, while at the same time creating promising potential for economic and cultural growth. The project will take years to achieve but it will ultimately transform the town into an open-air art gallery of outdoor arts, sculptures and carvings.

This initiative has not waned over the last thirty years, the town has changed, its population has grown like its art collection, and new businesses have been attracted.

The original dream is being fulfilled.


The idea for the project was first developed by Barbara Wolfenden who had visited Chemainus in 1986, even though she was only in the town for one hour the impact on what had been achieved made a real impression. After sharing her ideas with Randle and Eileen Henderson who put her on to Joan Clarke, President of the Katikati Art Group and June Carlton, a respected and former art teacher at the college, the seed was planted and the proposal for a similar project in Katikati was started. In October, 1990 a group of enthusiastic and concerned Katikati residents meet at the Talisman Hotel and formed an organising committee, which began planning and raising funds.

Research into historical and photographic material was undertaken to identity appropriate themes for murals, based on historical developments, including major social, economic and cultural influences on the district and key personalities from our past community.

On Monday, February 18, 1991, a public meeting was held at the Moore Park Rugby Clubrooms chaired by local College principal Brain Blackstock. The Katikati community was introduced to the bold and imaginative venture that could set Katikati on a new path for the future and make it the mural centre of New Zealand.

On May 29, 1991, the organising committee became incorporated as Katikati Open-Air Art Inc. and the first four mural concepts had been approved and painting was well underway.

In 1992, Artist Mary Jones from Waihi, painted the 10th mural “Haymaking”. It depicts a farm scene from the 1920’s

In 1994, KOAA were runner ups receiving the “Highly Commended” award at the 1st Trustpower Western Bay of Plenty Community Awards.

TV3 were in town for two days in May 1995 filming a documentary called “In Putting Our Town On The Map’ it explored the imaginative ways in which small New Zealand towns are giving themselves a unique “image”. 1995 saw KOAA win the overall prize at the Trustpower Western Bay of Plenty Community awards. Katikati Open – Air Art were also a finalist in the 2005 New Zealand Tourism Awards.

By 1996, Open Air Art was celebrating the completion of the 25th art piece, and the “Mural Magic Festival” was held to celebrate, with invited guest from other mural towns from around the world in attendance. Part of the festival was the official opening of the new Muraltown Information Centre by Dame Cath Tizard. In December KOAA launched a book called “The Mural of Katikati” written by Rosalie Smith.

In 1999, the 30th mural was unveiled; the “Pohutukawa Sentinal” was the work of the youngest mural artist to date Jessie Brodie, a Katikati College student. The town welcomed a new resident when “Barry” the kiwi bloke, took up his seat in the middle of town, Barry has over time developed into the most iconic and photographed artwork in the OAA collection. This was further enhanced when in 2002 Barry was to be seriously vandalised; the town was so upset and angry they fundraised to get Barry repaired and returned to his rightful spot.

The driving force behind Katikati Open – Air Art June Carlton, was recognised with QSM (Queens Service Medal) for her service to the Katikati community in the 2002 New Year’s Honours list.

In 2000 Katikati celebrated its 125 years of European settlement, the mural “Our People – Our Story” was dedicated by New Zealand’s Governor- General, Dame Silvia Cartwright. The year also brought the first appearance of the Pukeko character which was in 2002 named “Pukeko Kid’, PK for short. After some public feedback the concept reappeared in 2001 on the proposed new road signs promoting Katikati as Muraltown.

In January of 2002 the first Open- Air concert was held and the Haiku Pathway Reserve came alive with the sound of music. These were to become a popular fundraiser of the mural project.

2005 was to be a very sad year for KKOAA when in June we lost suddenly Colin Carlton a committee member and behind the scenes all round volunteer, then a few weeks later his wife and KOAA stalwart June passed away. Their passing left a huge hole in the ranks of OAA, both had been the driving force behind the whole mural project and gave countless hours of service and dedication.  At the beginning of the year an artist from Holland, Peter Enter painted the 40th mural “Going Nowhere” a light-hearted look at a story from early Katikati

During 2006 the first New Zealand Mural and Art festival was held. Eight mural artists competed against each other in a five day paint off to win the June Carlton Memorial Trophy, Nelson artist Chris Finlayson was the first winner.

In 2007, the road signs north and south of the town were finally erected five years after the first concept was revealed.

September 2008, the second mural festival was held and the winner that year was Peter Nicholson from Whitianga. A sculpture was unveiled in 2008 by Queenstown artist Mark Hill. The Corten steel structure called “The Pioneers” was dedicated to the memory of June and Colin Carlton, it reminded us of the hardship and dedication of the early European settlers who arrived from Ireland in 1875

June 2009, KKOAA was announced the supreme winners of the Trustpower Western Bay of Plenty District Community Awards. Up against 58 other groups and organisations OAA won the prize and the honour of representing the district in the 2009 Trustpower National Awards to be held in Nelson in March 2010. Also that year saw the development and unveiling of the “Birdwalk” sculpture trail on the Yeoman Uretara Walkway, the bird walk is dedicated to renowned wildlife photographer Brian Chudleigh.

March 2010, KKOAA represented by Judy Junger and Kit Wilson, competed against 23 groups of volunteers at the Trustpower National Awards, the team came away the runner-up to winners Motueka Hospital Trust, a sterling effort.

2011 was a busy year for OAA, not only did we hold the third New Zealand Mural and Art Festival but we unveiled our 50th mural the “Anglican Church Mural”, commissioned as part of the 125th celebrations the church held in 2010. We also unveiled the biggest mural to date that year, “The Kiwifruit History” mural and at 20 metres in length the mural required its own special frame. The mural was painted in the “trompe l’ oeil “style by New Zealand’s best Marc Spijkerbosch from Rotorua and unveiled in the same week that the Kiwifruit vine disease PSA was found in a Katikati orchard.

2011 saw the opening of The Little Blue House, a little derelict old garage in the middle of town. OAA have leased the building off the owners Western Bay of Plenty District Council and it has become the art hub of Katikati, operated by a dedicated group of caretakers where weekly exhibitions promote a varied array of local and national talent.