Counties Manukau police cells come to life with art

The artworks are part of a larger project taking place at the station (supplied)
The artworks are part of a larger project taking place at the station (supplied)

A group of Auckland artists are brightening up what can be a pretty dark place – the Counties Manukau Police Station holding cells.

The pastel green and white concrete walls are being transformed into colourful murals, to help create more positivity for detainees and staff.

"It's not the nicest place to spend the night, so I thought we could do better," says Inspector Tracy Phillips, who came up with the idea.

"It's just about showing that we actually care and the cells are a depressing place if you're looking at those two-tone walls that came from the '70s."

Ten cells are currently being painted by as many artists, who were selected last December by a panel of judges, including Police Minister Judith Collins.

Art teacher Josh McMillan is one of those painting a mural in the cells. The Auckland city design was created by one of his students who was unavailable to paint it, so Mr McMillan stepped in.

"His idea was to be positive and never give up, so just to give something positive for them to think about," he says.

Law student Jade DuPreez is also taking part, and chose to paint a reflection of the outdoors to help detainees feel calm.

"Firstly I thought about how would I feel in this space and what would I actually want to be around, and I suppose something calm.

"It can be quite an anxious time so I was thinking of something that could be a bit more calm, peaceful."

Primary school teacher Lucy Bowen took a similar approach, painting bright pohutukawa leaves on the walls.

"I really like using the soft blues and purples and some bright colours to create a peaceful and calming environment for the people in here," she says.

All the designs were looked at by psychiatrists before they were chosen, to make sure they were suitable for the cells.

Insp Phillips says she would love to see the other 30 cells at Counties Manukau station also painted, and would even like to paint the hallways.

"We're underground here, no natural light, so we've got to kind of import some niceness down here."

She hopes other police stations will also look at brightening up their cells.

The artworks are part of a larger project taking place at the station – police have also set up a library of donated books to give detainees "something constructive to do" while they are being held.