“There’re so many fantastic New Zealand creatives around, and it feels awesome to have this space and showcase their work.”
‘Great North Rd’ isn’t usually a phrase that evokes a feeling of calm or warmth. Politely put, the second-longest road in Auckland is a nightmare to navigate during rush hour (and nearly any other time of the day). However, New Lynn’s newest art space, Dung Beetle, challenges that longstanding West Auckland legacy; bright light streams through the large windows and singing cicadas compose relaxing hums for a stroll through the cosy shop.
Dung Beetle showcases an extensive collection of locally crafted goodies. There are long racks of drool-worthy vintage, secondhand, and designer clothes, along with shelves stacked with seeds, pottery, notebooks, poetry, teas, prints, jewellery, zines, and more. When I pay the shop a visit, I’m greeted by a very friendly mask-up face. Courtney, who co-owns the space with their partner Jazmine, immediately offers me a coffee as I greedily glance around at the racks of clothing. To interview or to shop? That is the question.
When I ask Courtney about the unique name of the space, they laugh a little.
“We just brainstormed with a friend during a chill night at home. Dung Beetle came up, it’s quite a sacred little beetle… it felt right, so we just stuck with it. I mean, people remember it, right?”
The space arose from the desire to share art and foster community within the West Auckland area. Courtney explains, “The idea of [Dung Beetle] came about because we wanted to have a creative space. We wanted to feature local artists, that was one of the main things… It’s cool to get people involved, and know that we’d have these beautiful creations here when we started out.”
Looking around at the eclectic collection of goods, I feel that sense of connection in the space, even though it’s just Courtney and me. The secondhand clothing, hand-spun pottery, and the homemade tables (crafted by one of Courtney’s friends) make the shop feel alive with all of the people who’ve come together to fill the space.
Like many other events within the arts scene, the grand opening of Dung Beetle was pushed by Covid outbreaks. The opening, albeit still restricted, finally took place on the 10th of November last year.
“We were in the midst of a lockdown when we started the lease, which meant we couldn’t open for a period of time. That was definitely a little bit stressful, but it gave us some time to get the space ready, to a place where we were really happy. By the time we opened it was really exciting.”
And the space is inviting, with the walls freshly painted a warm shade of red and thrifted curtains dressing the changing rooms. Even a short time in the shop makes it feel like you’re visiting a friend, sharing a coffee, and then raiding their closet.
When I express my enthusiasm about the clothes, Courtney shares in my excitement, explaining how the process of sourcing the pieces started from a personal place.
“My partner and I run the space, and we really like secondhand clothing. We had accumulated quite a collection over the years, and so we went through our lovely things, and wanted to share those, and keep recycling the clothes. We also have some local designers who have put some of their garments in.”
Those pieces are from all over the country, including the upcoming label HAMS from Tāmaki Makaurau and designer Paige Jansen from Ōtautahi. Dung Beetle is an awesome addition to the many op shops located in New Lynn, and Courtney seems thrilled with the prospect of becoming part of local “thrifting routes”.
Social media also helped to snowball the process of showcasing local artists in the space, Courtney explains. “We started an Instagram, and had people share it, and recommend us to their friends. It’s nice to host artists who don’t have massive platforms or don’t showcase their stuff anywhere else. It feels so good having community art.”
The shop doubles as an events space too, with funding coming from Te Poari ā-Rohe o Whau, the Whau Local Board, to showcase work from creatives that live within the suburbs of New Lynn, Green Bay, Kelston, Rosebank, Avondale, New Windsor and Blockhouse Bay. The first event in the space, a small poetry evening with readings from Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty, was held in early February, under Red Light restrictions. Courtney is clearly elated about the poetry reading and having local artists in the space.
“We opened up the floor, so anyone who came could read if they wanted to. It was lovely, and so cool that people felt comfortable enough to share. It can be quite a vulnerable thing to do, to share your art, so we felt really privileged to hold the space for those other artists. We were making new friends! It all feels so positive.”
Aiwa and Gemishka approached Dung Beetle after seeing a call out for artists in the Whau Arts area. With the funding from Whau Board, the artists hosted can be paid for their work (not just ‘in exposure’), which is crucial, especially within the current climate of intense restriction.
Aiwa reflects on the experience affectionately, highlighting the welcoming nature of the space.
“The environment was very friendly, supportive, warm, but also really chill and relaxed… It felt like a safe space to share our personal poetry, because our poetry is very much based on our personal experiences of racism, and we’re quite vocal about our experiences as… South and South East Asian women.
It was quite an intimate gathering, in a cosy space, and everyone was really close to each other, which is cool! Sometimes these events can be bigger and more intimidating, but this one felt more casual… We got to talk with everybody, and it felt like [we were] friends afterwards.”
When looking to the future, with Covid restrictions set to ease in a few months, Courtney hopes to go ahead with a wide variety of events and foster more creative people within the space.
“We also want to do film showings and art exhibitions and workshops. It’s really cool to let that community in and give them a space to show their art… It’s still just the beginning, and there are so many more things we can do.”
The highlight, for Courtney, has been the connection they’ve found with locals and friends, and the way that support has helped cultivate a sense of momentum.
“People have been so excited for us and that feels really nice. Everybody has been supportive and wants to be involved. Jazmine and I are artists ourselves, and seeing that brings that passion in.”
It would be a real challenge to pop into Dung Beetle and leave without holding something that feels special, whether that be a piece of secondhand clothing, a book of poetry or a cup of coffee. Upon my departure, I found myself holding a zine and an earnest feeling of fullness. In a time where the arts feel especially precious, Dung Beetle soothes as a site of inspiration and connection. The space is a lovely, timely reminder that there is a community here working hard to nurture art and the people who create it.