Conflict of interest on Mainstreet

Kasey Beckett, 14, and Maddi Bowen, 17, admire one of the last pieces of artwork Bernard Dobbie will doing at his old haunt outside the Phoenix Carpark. Photo: Chris Callinan.

“They wanted to clear the deck. They didn’t want clutter and I was clutter apparently.”

So he’s gone from his spot, the spot he has commanded for three hours every summer day for the last two years.

Bernard Dobbie, painter, sketcher, cartoonist, caricaturist and fixture in the main street of Mount Maunganui, is now persona non grata.

“It seems they want people to see the statue,” says Bernard. That’s the silver statue of the surfer on the deck. “They see the statue as important and they don’t want clutter.”

And they, the Mount Mainstreet business association, don’t want Bernard. “Three genres of artists requested to be on the deck,” says Mainstreet manager Ingrid Fleming. “Hair braiders, air brush tattooists and Bernard. So I took it to the board and it said ‘No’ to them all.”

“I have been a bit of an institution there outside the Mount Mainstreet office,” says Bernard. “And I have drawn hundreds of people.”

As soon as the cruise liners and tourists slipped in for the summer Bernard started painting, sketching, cartooning. “But I was more than that,” says Bernard. He was the unofficial, self-appointed local information centre, a point of contact for tourists. He was providing a service. “I would have people asking where the free Wifi was, where the bus stop or toilet was, where the taxi or beach was or how to get back to the boat. And I could tell them.”

All the information was online. “But there are a lot of older people who want talk to another person. Do you know what I mean?”

What grinds the business association is people popping up with their products and goods and creating an income by selling on an exclusive retail strip, with no overheads and nothing being paid back to Mount Mainstreet, which attracts the tourists in the first place.

“Businesses pay very good rates to be here on Mount Mainstreet and so we have to be careful as an incorporated organisation to protect the livelihoods of our members,” says Ingrid.

But Bernard doesn’t see himself as an income stream. “It’s more trickle finance. I’m an artist and make just enough to keep me in materials. I would be better off washing dishes.”

Bernard says it was just a nice experience. “I have local knowledge because I’m a local artist and it’s my town.”

His town, but not his Mainstreet. Bernard had taken up position under the awning outside the Mount Mainstreet office on the deck with the blessing of Peter Melgren.

“He was encouraging the arts in Mount Mainstreet,” says Bernard. But when the previous Mainstreet manager died suddenly last year, Bernard’s unwritten arrangement died with him.

“I have a fall-back position at the Cruise Deck.” It’s a shopping precinct off the main street.” Outside Creating Waves art gallery by the giant anchor.

“That’s a great alternative,” says Ingrid. “I am sure he will enjoy it.”

Bernard isn’t quite as buoyed. “Doesn’t have the same pedestrian flow, doesn’t have the same outlook. I can’t see the Mount for my paintings.” He’s not ungrateful, just disappointed.

But he’ll be there when the first cruise liner of the season arrives next week.

He thought he had an answer to his problem by applying for a busker’s licence. “But because someone was paying me for a caricature it was a transaction, whereas someone giving a coin to a musician is a donation.” And he can’t sell artwork apart from what he creates on the spot. Because then he would be competing with the galleries.

“So I was working with one hand tied behind my back anyway.”

But when the 77,000 tonne Sun Princess slips into town shortly after 7am this Sunday, October 9, the artist will be poised over his easel at Cruise Deck, and not the deck.

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