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Gallerist’s latest adventures build on busy backstory

Flagstaff Team

Cary Cochrane has lived all over, and embraced the opportunities wherever she’s landed. She tells Helen Vause about the road to owning galleries and running a major art show.

Picture this… Flagstaff Gallery owner Cary Cochrane has a satellite operation in Mangonui and runs the annual Art in the Park at Eden Park

Timing and a touch of serendipity brought Cary Cochrane and Devonport’s Flagstaff Gallery together seven years ago. British-born Cochrane and her family had experienced a colourful list of postings in many countries when her husband Doug’s employer suggested their next stop should be to far-away Auckland, New Zealand. When the Cochranes arrived in 2014, they found Devonport through their own explorations, and despite the exhortations of a relocation agent who pumped for the other side of the bridge, they fell for the seaside village and bought themselves a villa with a view.

That was the family home and Doug’s work sorted for the near future at least, but there was also room for the Cochranes to take on a creative project in this country.

The Flagstaff Gallery, which they bought in 2016, fitted the bill.

While her husband had taken them on many missions in foreign markets for the UK-based supermarket giant Tesco, Cary Cochrane had pursued a passion for the arts and found ways to put together small creative projects as she and her (now adult) children, Angus and Hattie, found new lives in foreign cities.

Before careers set the family on the move, Cochrane had been a social worker in London.

Going to live in Budapest, Hungary, for four years, she figured would be an adventure, and she took the same attitude, plus small children, to the next Tesco posting in Izmir, Turkey.

In the three years they were in Izmir she decided she needed her own gig outside the family home. She established a little English-language bookshop plus creative and social hub, with a full-time artist and a potter integrated into the quirky mix.

“The timing was right and there were plenty of English-speaking people around Izmir who welcomed it. It worked really well for everyone at the time and it integrated us into the local community very quickly,” recalls Cochrane. “On Friday evenings, I ran a storytime session and the local kids came along and joined us, often in their pyjamas. It was a lot of fun for all of us.”

She says getting to live in different countries and cultures was an amazing experience for the family.

“There are so many opportunities to do and to learn new things. And of course, the adventure is what you want to make of it really.”

On their travels the Cochranes also collected art works associated with the different countries – pieces that now surround them at home in Devonport.

Their next moves were to Shanghai for a year, then Beijing for a couple of years, followed by Tokyo.

In 2010, aged 42, Cochrane loved the adventure of living in Japan, and wondered how she might occupy herself there.

But her next challenge turned out to be quite different from those that went before. She found she had ovarian cancer, so instead of setting up a new creative project, she headed back to London for an extended period of challenging tough treatment.

After the family came back to the UK together, she went through six rounds of chemotherapy over eight months.

Even for a high-energy, very positive woman, Cochrane says it was a difficult time. She tackled it, she chuckles, in the way she knew best – by getting busy and gathering a crowd.

“I’m not the sort to turn inward. And if there was ever a time I needed to get up and get out there and get going – when I was able to – that period of my life was it.”

So, treatment and the struggle of it not-withstanding, Cochrane threw herself into campaigns for early detection and greater awareness of ovarian cancer.

London was the perfect place for generating activity and public ‘noise’ for the campaign, and Cochrane had the confidence and personality for media and public promotion. She also had an extensive network of expat connections to call on.

In the retelling of her cancer journey, it’s obvious she succeeded in her dark days in still creating many happy memories, working with others as the public face of the disease.

She laughs at the memory of being part of big walkathons, joining crowds of supporters in teal-coloured knickers bearing tiny pink stars: “They were our colours.”

“I’m not the sort to turn inward. And if there was ever a time I needed to get up and get out there and get going – when I was able to – that period of my life was it.”

Cary Cochrane

When she was ready to move on again, Cochrane was able to take part in some of the Great Wall marathon in China, before opting for a quieter life back home in the UK. She and her family moved to a very old farmhouse in the Cotswolds in 2012. In 2014, refreshed, and with two teenagers to move across the world, she was headed to Auckland where Doug’s next career move was into the New Zealand supermarket business.

This year is the Flagstaff Gallery’s 30th anniversary, so in mid-December an exhibition will celebrate the milestone, with 90 artists who have been associated with the gallery invited to exhibit. The local artists among them are expected to include Janet Mazenier, Rachel Rush, Jenni Stringleman, Michael Anderson and Anna Victoria.

“It’s an exciting time and there will be something for everyone,” says Cochrane.

The exhibition comes not long after the third successful year of her art show extravaganza at Eden Park in September – Art in the Park.

Not one to miss a chance, Cochrane tells of seeing a good idea in the making the day Eden Park CEO Nick Sautner walked into her gallery.

He asked about that great big shiny blue doggy in the window. Was he available for a big walk? Sautner wanted to know? He wanted to bring the community into Eden Park for a public dog walk and saw the great blue canine as a potential drawcard.

For her part, Cochrane saw the moment to run with an idea she’d nursed for a while of having a giant art sale hosted at Eden Park over one big weekend. The first Art in the Park was subsequently held in 2021.

This year, the event attracted 12,000 people over the weekend – which was down on attendance over the previous two years. “The lockdowns led to a frenzy of art buying,” says Cochrane. “People were at home staring at blank walls and couldn’t spend their travel budgets. It was the perfect mix for art sales. But no one would be surprised to hear that sales have slowed down this year. This has not been an easy time for anyone.”

Along with the Art in the Park and the Flagstaff Gallery, Cochrane’s attention has recently been drawn north.

Doug has taken off the corporate suit and bought the Kaitaia Pak’n Save supermarket. The couple have an olive grove flourishing in Northland and they now have a little satellite Flagstaff Gallery on the beautiful Mangonui waterfront.

This has meant regular trips north to Mangonui with her faithful pugs Scrappy and Bonnie.

“It’s another new adventure in the mix for us, and I’m loving it,” she says.

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