Toi Ora Artists

At Toi Ora, a person becomes an artist the moment they walk through the door, regardless of their experience level. Our tutors and staff will help you get what you need to grow in your artistic endeavours and your wellbeing journey.

Art is a way we can connect with ourselves, express deeper meaning, and lift our wellbeing. Check out some of our artists’ stories and their experiences at Toi Ora.

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Years of Toi Ora

Bunny by Lauren Bryant


Lauren Bryant

If you are looking for a boost of warmth and positivity, connect with Lauren Bryant at the Toi Ora studio.  She joined Toi Ora as an artist in 2022 in the Paint the Sky and printmaking classes.

During the Summer holiday, Toi Ora sends art packs for wellbeing to our artists to help bridge the time between Christmas and the start of Term 1. Lauren diligently completed not only the weekly art pack challenge for the three weeks, but completed all the creative options offered for each week.

In her time so far at Toi Ora, Lauren has developed a niche in sketching and printmaking images of different animals. She does gorgeous paintings as well.

You may have seen her series of animals on display in our most recent Printmaking Exhibition at the Toi Ora gallery.  In fact, when one of her pieces sold in the Printmaking Exhibition, Lauren donated the proceeds of the sale to sponsor an art pack for wellbeing for cyclone victims in Piha and Karekare. Keep an eye out for more of her works.


Deelnoor Ahmed

Deelnoor Ahmed aka Das Black Starr joined Toi Ora in 2023 and she has made strides in her creative practice.Video of Das' performance“I am a singer-songwriter and go by the stage name “Das Black Starr”.  You’ll find me on social media like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube sharing my music journey.  My songs come from my personal experiences with trauma and relationships.  I want to help empower others through my music. I get my inspiration from artists like Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones and Adele.  I am very passionate about performing songs live and since being at Toi Ora it has given me the drive to get back on stage.  I am looking forward to recording my new original songs with Andrew in music recording class.”Das isn’t just a talented musician, she is also visual artist.  “I am mostly a self-taught painter and sketcher.  I love to experiment with new mediums. I always look forward to Mira’s class when it comes to doing something new.  It has made me more confident as an artist.  In a short amount of time at Toi Ora, I have gained a lot of insight into my own works.  Mira is a wonderful mentor and I can’t wait to learn more in her classes.”Check out the video of her recent performance at Toi Ora.

Deelnoor Ahmed
Magpies by Deelnoor Ahmed
Lance with his sculpture
Lance Setefano
Clay sculpting reference


Lance Setephano

Ten year’s ago, Lance Setephano joined Toi Ora to work on sculptures during open studio. After some years away, to our delight, Lance has recently rejoined the programme. You may recognise his incredible work above entitled “Ta Moko” (material: Clay) from the Mental Health Awareness Exhibition.

Here’s a little bit of Lance’s story in his own words. “My name is Lance I was born in Invercargill. My father is of Irish and Scottish descent, and my mother is of Cook Island decent, when I was born I was adopted into another family.

I like coming to Toi Ora because it allows me to focus solely on my art, in an involvement that is supportive, I can be creative and the staffs are great.

This particular artwork was the first piece I’d done in 3 years. Toi Ora was good in helping with supplies so there was really no limit to what I wanted to create because the piece was so big in scale.

I knew I had to come in every day if I wanted to see the end result, which did for one whole term approximately 9 weeks. I think I missed one day. But I basically eat, slept, and breathed the work. I think it was for me a great personal achievement.

I’ve used clay before, so it is quite familiar to me. I started art when I was about 10 years old when I drew a picture of the 4 square man, I’ve painted and done bone carvings and sculptures for about the last 30 years or so being creative helps me to stay grounded. It is something I love, it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

We hope that Lance’s journey inspires you to keep at it and commit to your artistic endeavours. Keep an eye out for more stunning works to come from this skilled sculptor.


Andrew Blythe

Andrew Blythe received the Lifetime Achievement award at the 25th Anniversary Celebration. This award commemorates his 25 years of attending and engaging with the arts for wellbeing at Toi Ora.It also celebrates his commitment to craft, consistent practice, and artistic contributions.Andrew‘s works are included in 5 collections around the world:

  • Chartwell Collection at Auckland Art Gallery Toi Tamaki, NZ
  • James Wallace Arts Trust
  • MADMusée, Liege, BELGIUM
  • Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, Miami, USA
  • Creative Growth Center, San Francisco, USA

His art has been featured in dozens of exhibitions globally and around Aotearoa as well.Congratulations, Andrew on this well deserved recognition.

Andrew Blythe
Andrew Blythe Art
Kay Shibuya
Kay Shibuya Art

Kay Shibuya


Ko Fuji te Maunga,
Ko Enoshima te Moana
Ko Kay Shibuya toku ingoa.

Kay is one of our valued artists who has a particular talent for Printmaking and Painting. Despite having no prior artistic background, after having major surgery and being house bound Kay found solace and was able to tap into her creative potential and use art as a means of coping, healing, and self-discovery.

Kay has now been at Toi Ora for 8 years and has explored Printmaking and Painting extensively whilst she has been here. Immersing herself in Te Ao Maori by learning and practicing Rongoa Maori (Traditional Māori Medicine) has served as the main inspiration for her work.

Each Mandala is made up of rākau (trees) that have healing properties, kawakawa, kowhai, mamaku. Without realising Kay painted in a Reiki sign in the foundation of the painting below, the connection between Japanese and Māori culture resonates deeply in her work. Learning the Maramataka (Moon phases) strengthened her connection to her roots and the circular format that is reinforced by Kay speaks to the Sun on the Japanese flag and the Moon of the Maramataka both constants Universally.

“For me my work is all about Nature, my work is connected to spirituality. Total Balance of the Mind, body and spirit. That is my message.”


Ben Stewart

Ben Stewart has been a Toi Ora artist since 2017. One of the things Ben appreciates most about Toi Ora is it provides a dedicated place and time to focus on his art work. And he has completed incredible works over the past 6+ years.

Ben initially enrolled in classes to “rediscover” his interest in painting but has explored a variety of mediums including mosaic and linocut. In addition, he has contributed works to a number of exhibitions at Toi Ora over the years.

In an exciting progression of his artistic journey, this year Ben is stepping up to volunteer as a Gallery Hand, helping to display others artworks in various Toi Ora exhibitions.

Ben Stewart
Ben Stewart - Cabin in the Woods
Ben Stewart - Thorn Rose

Support Toi Ora artists

At Toi Ora, we refer to each person as an artist the moment they walk in the door. Today, you can make a difference for Toi Ora Artists. They are the heroes in their own story and each piece of art completed represents a moment on their wellbeing and artistic journey. Pick up some incredible original artwork or donate to help Toi Ora support more people.