Our projects

Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata / The People’s Voice

Our projects

Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata /
The People’s Voice

“Our home is tiny… but it’s worth fighting for.” — Katherine

David Cook and Anna Brown
Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata / The People’s Voice
was a socially engaged art project in Wellington culminating in an outdoor lightbox exhibition in February 2023 and newspaper in June 2023. The creative team consisted of thirty tenants from six housing complexes, and an editorial team of Mark Amery (text editor) and Anna Brown (design editor) and David Cook (image editor, photographer, and project manager). The project aimed to raise dialogue about the value of social housing amongst the wider Wellington community and with people in places of power, by representing the voices and creativity of a group of citizens who have been overly spoken for and under-represented in the media.

The participatory process gave individuals and community groups the opportunity to author and shape representations of themselves. The project structure was loosely based on the idea of a newsroom where editorial staff work with a team of citizen writers, illustrators, photographers, poets, and a crossword puzzle maker. Most importantly the project was built on principles of relationality and reciprocity. For the editorial team this meant turning up regularly and repeatedly in community spaces, listening, sharing food, participating in community events, being aware of cultural practices and slowing down. In consultation with community kaitiaki we arranged a series of meetings in three strategically located community rooms, inviting residents to gather and share ideas towards a street exhibition and single edition newspaper.


Our first formal meeting with tenants was outside the Granville Apartments community room on a chilly night in early spring. The kaitiaki invited us to be present at the weekly food redistribution. The event started with a karakia. Forty residents were in attendance, names were called, and people entered the community room to receive parcels of surplus food rescued from local businesses. Very quickly we heard from Ray, angry about the impending closure of their housing estate. Debbie was proud to tell us about the ‘fixery’ – a workshop for tenants to help each other repair household items and make clothing. We were immersed in a round of laughter as Charlene recounted the recent hāngī that went wrong. At other community meetings, we listened to stories about refugee and migrant experiences, creativity, the sharing of resources, and the unfairness of rent structures. 

As much as possible we supported participants to take photographs with their own phones or digital cameras provided by the editors. Faiza Abukar, a Somali-born participant and community leader, created an extended photo-essay of refugee and migrant youth experience in her apartment complex, complementing an article written by her neighbour Fatima Muridi. 


Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata opened as a street exhibition in Courtney Place on eight double-sided lightboxes in early 2023. The lightbox exhibition was opened by representatives of Te Āti Awa and supporting speeches by social housing residents. Food and drinks were served by tenants, with music by experimental band Ssendam Rawkustra, featuring several social housing tenants.

To maximise the impact and reach of the exhibition we redesigned Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata / The People’s Voice as a 28-page tabloid newspaper. By brokering a deal with The Post, the tabloid was inserted in the 26 May 2023 edition, with a distribution of 28,000. The edition came out ten days after a fatal fire at the Loafers Lodge boarding house, heightening debates about New Zealand’s deficit of quality social housing. The project team raised resources to pay seven tenants to distribute 2000 copies of the newspaper on the street. The distribution process opened up space for conversations, widening the discourse about social housing.


Ko Te Reo ō Ngā Tāngata / The People’s Voice aimed to provide a creative counter narrative to the negative media framing in mainstream news of social housing and its inhabitants. The impact for community participants has been an empowering of their creative process and the potential for change. As one participant explains, “The big thing for me was going past that project every day, reading it — it was a human artistic experience. What you see in the lightboxes is more than creativity. It’s manifesting change.” While the impact on decision makers is harder to know, our hope is that the project will have some small but lasting impact on the public imagination regarding the people who live their lives in social housing.