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Oamaru artist Donna Demente.

As part of a nationwide campaign to save New Zealand’s music venues, Donna Demente is trying to raise $15,000 to ensure the Grainstore Gallery’s survival as a live music venue and art gallery. Rebecca Ryan finds out more.

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery is not only special to Oamaru – it is unlike anything else in New Zealand.

An art gallery by day, it is often transformed into an intimate live music venue by night and musicians from around the country, and the world, now ask for the opportunity to perform there.

Demente opened the Grainstore Gallery in Oamaru’s Victorian precinct in 2002.

While it is predominantly a place for her to create and sell art, music has always been part of the Gallery’s offering – The Clean played at the official opening, and their performance was livestreamed on national radio.

Awareness of the “acoustically delicious” Grainstore Gallery as a live music venue really started to spread through music circles after Delaney Davidson made it one of his six stops on a New Zealand tour five years ago.

Since then, Demente has hosted a lot of big name New Zealand musicians – mostly of the folk, dream pop, alt country and classical genres – and created a loyal following of local music lovers.

The Grainstore Gallery is a modest space, with room for an audience of only 50 people.

Often, it has attracted artists who could sell out venues 10 times the size – Anika Moa, Hollie Smith, Nadia Reid, Lawrence Arabia, Tami Neilson and Marlon Williams have all performed there in recent years.

“We’ve never actually gone out and sought musicians; they’ve all found us by word of mouth, which I really love,” Demente said.

Oamaru was conveniently placed between Christchurch and Dunedin, and musicians liked having a quieter night between two big gigs, she said.

“They can have a wee break in their tour and still make some money,” she said.

Demente does not make any money from hosting live music performances – all proceeds go directly to the acts.

“I love music and I can’t live without it,” she said.

“And I love being part of that community. It’s a richness that isn’t about money, it’s really nice to be part of that whole culture.”

Through hosting gigs at the gallery, Demente established a relationship with singer/songwriter Reb Fountain and Banished Music’s Reuben Bonner, who have launched nationwide initiative named Save Our Venues, bringing New Zealand’s live music venue owners together to crowdfund to save not just their venues, but their industry.

The Grainstore Gallery has been nominated for the campaign, and Demente is now trying to raise $15,000 to help the Oamaru gallery survive through the dark times to come and enhance the musical projects on offer.

So far, she has raised more than $10,000, but to receive anything above that, she needs to hit the $15,000 target in the next 20 days.

“With the tourism industry’s downturn, revenue from gallery sales is under threat.

“We would also like to expand our reach to include livestreaming of shows, recording and a songwriters-in-residence programme,” she said.

“It’s really just a way to show what we can do with an oily rag, with people’s expenses being covered.”

Oamaru had an attractive offering for a songwriters-in-residence programme, she said.

Accommodation would be provided for the artists, they could take some time out to enjoy the town and write songs, record music at Sublime Studio in the Waitaki Valley and perform at the Grainstore Gallery, she said.

“The thing I love about this whole project … is this really aesthetic component that’s different to most places.

“This beautiful town, these beautiful buildings, this beautiful house you can stay in, this beautiful gallery you can perform in and this beautiful studio you can record in.

“To me, that’s our point of difference. That’s what we’ve got to offer that’s going to be attractive to people.”

She also planned to start livestreaming performances at the Grainstore Gallery, so more people could experience what was on offer.

Demente hoped the gallery had a “good shot” of reaching its $15,000 goal, and she encouraged people to give what they could.

“You could give $1 if you wanted to, and that’s how we’re going to get there – loads of people giving small amounts,” she said.

To encourage donations, she is doing weekly giveaways of art, with people getting an entry for every $10 donated.

Normally, Demente closes the gallery in winter because it gets so cold.

This year, she has decided to crank up the heaters and keep the doors open, promoting and hosting more live music to keep the momentum going.

“People are just going to have to dress warm,” she said.

The future is starting to looking brighter, with gigs lined up at the gallery from June 20, when The Broken Heartbreakers are scheduled to perform their first post-lockdown show.

“They’ve got a whole new line-up … it’s going to be great,” she said.

New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley, Christchurch band Your Indigo, and Julia Deans and Finn Andrews, who had to postpone their performances during lockdown, were also set to perform in the coming months.

If you want to keep up-to-date with the latest gigs at the Grainstore Gallery, you can subscribe to a mailing list by emailing donnademente@hotmail.com.