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Where Do You Go? Olivia McLeavey of McLeavey Gallery

By Martyn 19 Sep 2018 • 1 Comments

Olivia Portrait 11
Olivia McLeavey
Photo credit: Russell Kleyn

Olivia McLeavey is the manager of McLeavey Gallery, the legendary Cuba Street art gallery initially established by her father, Peter McLeavey. Olivia took over management of the gallery in 2011, four years before Peter's death at age 79.

Since stepping into the managerial role, Olivia has taken a lifetime of experience around the arts, and skills in marketing and sales in Sydney, London, and Auckland to continue to maintain McLeavey Gallery's leading reputation, while evolving the gallery for the 2010s, and beyond.

This September, McLeavey Gallery is celebrating its 50th birthday with the production of a small publication celebrating the people and artworks that helped make the last half century of success possible.

Martyn had a yarn with Olivia about gallery life and her favourite things about living and working in Wellington.


The coast around Seatoun
The coast around Seatoun

I live in the scruffy part of Seatoun, towards Worser Bay, I love that part of the Wellington coastline, in winter it feels like a Nordic fishing village, and in summer you feel like you are permanently on summer holiday.  

What parts of Wellington do you live and work in, and what are your favourite things about them?

I live in the scruffy part of Seatoun, towards Worser Bay, I love that part of the Wellington coastline, in winter it feels like a Nordic fishing village, and in summer you feel like you are permanently on summer holiday.  I work in Cuba Street, and it's my favorite part of the city, people tend to be independent businesses and often family run, they are friendly and supportive, and I like the atmosphere.  People of all walks of life mix together on the street and in the coffee bars.  Its' also great to see the Cuba Street vibes expanding to Ghuznee street with The Service Depot, Ena, and Mandatory opening in the area, it all adds to the flavor of the place.

You're in a unique position, having managed this amazing gallery since 2011 (and modernised its online presence), but I guess also having grown up with it as well. I'm wondering what your take is on the Wellington arts community (or communities) in 2018?

I think Wellington has always been a city that makes taste when it comes to contemporary art, our curators and galleries punch above their weight and the public are very engaged.  In the last few years Wellington has seen an increase in Artist-Run spaces, Meanwhile and Playstation, also non-traditional gallery spaces for artists to exhibit, like Precinct 35, and new dealer galleries opening up like Millers O'Brien and Hopkinson Mossman. These opportunities for young artists to exhibit their work means is a very vibrant and active arts community here in Wellington.

Millers obrien gallery
Millers O'Brien gallery on Victoria Street

Do you have any favourite memories of the gallery that you'd like to share?

Gosh, I have many, but the thing I like the most is when people come in and share their stories of the Gallery, most often I will get two or three people a week who visited the Gallery as a child or young person, and they are making a pilgrimage back here after years of living away.  Usually, the stories are funny or strange but always memorable!

I work on Cuba Street and it's my favorite part of the city. There's lots of independent businesses that are often family run — it's friendly and supportive and I like the atmosphere. People of all walks of life mix together on the street and in the coffee bars.

Who do you think are some of the younger local artists we should be paying attention to?

I think the gifted teachers of Massey Fine Arts department have produced some really interesting students doing very good work.  Most recently I purchased a work by young Massey graduate, Yvette Velvin; it's a simple but evocative work, you are standing on the beach at night between two flax bushes and looking up at the midnight moon. So much feeling in the work. I framed it and hung it right away - it gives me so much pleasure.

Many great art chats have occurred over coffee on Cuba Street  do you have any favourite spots to go? 

Working on Cuba Street, there are so many great coffee spots nearby. Most mornings I stop in at Raglan Roast on Abel Smith Street or Gipsy Kitchen in Strathmore which is on my way to work, they have a fabulous cherry pie which always tempts me!

And art also often goes hand in hand with a glass of wine; any favourite spots for a drink? 

I like Fortune Favours on Leeds Street as it's close to work and they make the most delicious gin and tonic I have ever tried, with real rosebuds!

fortune favours exterior
Fortune Favours on Leeds Street

Often I catch the East by West ferry to work which delivers me to the heart of the waterfront, I love the walk along the waterfront and all the public sculpture I encounter along the way.  I often feel very proud of the committed Wellingtonians the fought to get this marvelous works installed on the Waterfront for us all to enjoy.

What are your favourite restaurant and takeaway spots around town?

My favorite spot for dinner in Wellington is Ortega Fish Shack — I'm a huge fan of seafood and I just love the atmosphere of the place. Casual, fun and always busy. My local takeaway restaurant is Taste of India in Miramar, after years of living in London and enjoying the curries in Brick Lane this is about as close as it gets! My favorite place for a Sunday lunch has to be Cafe Mirabelle in Carterton.  The interior is what you would call shabby chic, but very artful — just the way the chef writes up the blackboard menu is a work of art. The food is a delicious French homecoming.

What are your favourite public spaces around Wellington?

Often I catch the East by West ferry to work which delivers me to the heart of the waterfront. I love the walk along by the harbour and all the public sculpture I encounter along the way; I often feel very proud of the committed Wellingtonians who fought to get these marvellous works installed on the waterfront for us all to enjoy. I love the Wellington Botanic Garden, it's a respite of peace in the middle of the city, with big bold views.  Also, I have lots of great nostalgic memories of Summer City and VUW Summer Shakespeare there.  

Finally, I always ask this, do you have a favourite section at the Wellington Central Library?

I like looking at the magazines. I grab a stack of World of Interiors or an obscure design or art magazine and just enjoy sitting in the comfortable chairs, flipping through the glossy pages. It always feels quite soothing and I come away feeling always inspired. 

Ortega restaurant
Ortega Fish Shack on Majoribanks Street

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  • Clare Bowden, Mandatory on 30 Sep 2018

    Congratulations O! Wonderful images with these mentions both supplied and described. I love the thought of you arriving by ferry, heading up-town on foot, following some of the rituals of your dear and inspirational late father. I love your work. x

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