Wendy Preston

Wendy Preston has always been a self-starter with the capacity to inspire people and sweep them along with her. Her life of constant creativity, strong role models, and cross-cultural experiences was a natural fit for a project that uses creativity to empower young people with refugee and migrant backgrounds to increase their confidence, self-expression and communication skills.

I’m a 4th generation Aucklander and grew up on the North Shore. My childhood through the 60s was free range and generally screen free. We roamed the bush and the beach. We biked and kayaked.

A network of motivated mothers and women kept a tribe of us kids strongly connected. They made sure we had multiple channels of creativity in our lives.

Our house always had people of varying ages, nationalities and allegiances flowing through. Discussions and arguments ran strong and people stood up for what they fervently believed in.

An alternative education gave me first- hand experience with what it means as a young person to have your voice heard, respected and the empowerment when you are included in important decision making.

By the time I was an adolescent I had a growing awareness of the significant social changes happening around me and that if you wished to be part of social change you needed to be motivated, courageous and confident.

I have had the gift of many creative and visionary individuals flowing through my life – many of them women who role modelled that you reach high and stand strong – even if it’s against the tide of what everyone else regards as normal or even acceptable.

My first absolute passion was dance. By the time I was 12 I knew that I wanted to be a dancer and the world would just have to move over and let me in!

By my teens I was living in Sydney and ended up under the influence of a strong and wilful dance artist named Margaret Barr. She taught me a great deal about being principled, political and at all times to be prepared to go against the grain.

While learning dance in Bali as a 19 year old I discovered the joy of connecting with people from other cultures and backgrounds through creativity – without having a shared verbal language. This was to become a strong thread that would underpin my professional life.

Since 2006 I have been producer and director of Mixit – a community development project based in West Auckland that uses the arts to support youth with refugee and migrant backgrounds to overcome challenges, gain confidence and make friends through creativity.

Parents and communities can place pressures and expectations on teens who are struggling to navigate their own lives in 21st century NZ. Moving forward young people are going to need very different kinds of skill sets than what their parents needed.

Nothing should get in the way of truly empowering young people and helping them gain the essential skills of flexibility, adaptability and thinking outside the square. Through Mixit, I can provide a tangible avenue to really make a difference in people lives and contribute to making our diverse communities more positive with stronger, healthy inter-cultural connections and understanding.

Mentoring young people varies from person to person. This can mean meeting with prospective employers, assisting scholarship applications, hanging out with a family to help iron out tensions, or lots of one-on-one time unpacking life choices and decisions. I also mentor emerging artists and build endless bridges between young people and whatever they need to empower their futures, all while keeping one eye firmly on the path ahead for Mixit to make it sustainable and steady.

There’s constant change full of celebration and joy and it never slows down. It makes me laugh – a lot! It also keeps me connected with the world – through the world coming to Mixit or our small part-time team and me taking it out there.

We charge at the world with a smile, humility and belief in the fundamental good of people, who, when given the right circumstances and support, will thrive.

Help Mixit make a difference in the lives of our newest New Zealanders. Make a regular donation via onepercentcollective.org

As told to Ben Woodward. Image by Tobias Kraus.

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