Janet Frame’s desk features in a Victoria University student project

Students contribute to Victoria’s creative legacy

A project at Victoria University of Wellington has students building their creative thinking and research skills while writing stories about the University’s creative legacy.

Writing in their own voices, students have produced stories on topics ranging from Victoria’s art collection, the Classics Museum and Māori taonga (treasures) to ones about items with special significance. These include New Zealand author Janet Frame’s writing desk, Victoria alumni and chemist Alan MacDiarmid’s Nobel Prize medal and works of art that are displayed across the University and in exhibitions at the Adam Art Gallery.

“Victoria encourages creative thinking and enables experimentation, and this project has been an innovative way for us to teach and develop students’ storytelling and research capabilities,” says Dr Conal McCarthy.

“By having students engage with the University’s history, the project has integrated teaching and learning with civic engagement, contributing to Victoria’s role as a globally minded capital city university.”

The stories written by students about unique objects and buildings and the fascinating personalities that have shaped Victoria’s creative legacy will initially be accessed on the STQRY app, a mobile phone app featuring a global story-telling platform. Users find the stories using the in-built map or through pop-ups on their mobile as they pass the location of an object or story.

Master of Architecture student Gemma Winstanley says the project has taught her a lot about writing and storytelling.

“It’s given me a new perspective on how to put together a story—what should be given emphasis and where the most interesting elements are. I learnt that I had to get to the meat of my story quickly and how to put together a story to get the best out of it,” says Gemma.

Bachelor of Arts student Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink learnt how to approach research in new ways.

“I learnt that you have to put yourself out there in order to find the right information and the right interview subjects. Things often worked out better than expected because I had to try things through different avenues,” says Lisa.

The Creative Legacy project is an initiative of Victoria’s Cultivating Creative Capital theme—one of the University’s eight distinctive, multidisciplinary areas of expertise—and aims to showcase and celebrate Victoria’s heritage of imagination and innovation.

There will be around 150 stories in the STQRY app, each providing an account of the history of creative practice, people and places at Victoria.

Featured story: Janet Frame’s desk
In 1966, founder and editor of New Zealand magazine Landfall Charles Brasch gifted the desk he had used for 20 years to Janet Frame. After many adventures, it was gifted to Victoria University and now features on the STQRY app.

Janet Frame (1924–2004) is recognised as one of the greatest writers in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The desk was altered twice while in her custody: to make it more comfortable, she shortened its legs. In 1968, the tenants leasing her home sawed the desk in half, explaining it would not fit in a room with a double bed.

Unfazed by the tenants’ alteration, Janet pushed the pieces together and continued to use it. In 1989, she gave the desk to neighbours in Levin when she moved to Shannon. The neighbours gifted the desk to Victoria in 1996.

A conservation report was commissioned, and some further repairs were made.

The desk now resides in the International Institute for Modern Letters on the Kelburn campus, where it is considered one of New Zealand’s most unusual literary treasures.

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