News | 15 April 2022
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Forging new realities

Artist-researchers Raqi Syed and Areito Echeverria know a thing or two about creating new realities, having worked in and around the film industry for decades. To make Wellington a true cultural and creative capital, they propose getting kids into art early and introducing a universal basic income for artists.

Raqi and Areito standing in front of the Wellington harbour.

Raqi and Areito live on one of Wellington’s windswept coastlines. It’s a place that has seen a lot more of these busy souls recently. Despite the easy hop over to the Miramar Creative Centre where they teach visual effects, working from home became a necessity rather than a nice-to-have when the pandemic nudged the capital. 

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, good and bad things came out of it,” Areito reflects. “Turns out you don’t have to be in the office all the time. But it’s made personal relationship-building and communication far more challenging.”

Raqi nods in agreement: “We are far away from Europe and America, so we were already working remotely with people in France when the pandemic happened. We knew how to do that, but we coasted on the relationships we’d made in 2018.”

Alongside their teaching, the couple collaborate on projects – like Minimum Mass, a virtual reality interactive story that made it onto the Tribeca Film Festival line-up in 2020. It’s about a couple who experience miscarriages and believe their children are being born in another dimension. The story draws on some of their own experiences and helped them navigate love and loss in a tangible way. 

Creating a Wellington love story

The couple aren’t born and bred Wellingtonians. But they found their own love story here. Areito first moved to Wellington in 2005 after a long stint away from Aotearoa.

Areito’s eyes soften as he thinks back: “I had been homesick for a good chunk of the time I was away. Coming to Wellington was really cool because I’d never been here before but it was like coming home. Judy Bailey was still on TV so it was familiar.”  

Raqi is a US citizen who happily just claimed her New Zealand citizenship. She arrived from LA in 2008 where she had been working for Disney, and the experience was life-changing. 

“I’d actually never been to the Southern Hemisphere. I came to Wellington because I wanted to be in the place where the best visual effects in the world were made. I came for the visual effects and I stayed for the weirdness.”

Access to art – and to other creatives

As New Zealand recovers its pace after being knocked down by the pandemic, the couple are keen to share their ideas about how to make Wellington a city where artists and creatives can thrive. 

Raqi says it needs to start with young minds: “Young people need access to art education. We have to start super early if we’re going to have any meaningful change in the industry down the line. I think that’s really important. A universal basic income for artists could be a magic paintbrush. That and art education would make Wellington the absolute city of the future when it comes to creativity.”

Areito sees events as a way for everyone to participate in that cultural and creative vibe that Wellington had previously become so well-known for.

“One of the superpowered things about virtual reality is that you can create these visceral shared experiences and the same thing happens in real life when you bring people together – magic happens. It’s community building. I would like to see more of that – more events, arts, culture and science that bring people together to share experiences.”

What place do you think the arts holds in a future Wellington that’s thriving and growing? Let us know by taking our survey on Lets Talk