Out of the Rubble

The Arts Centre is the heart and soul of Christchurch’s creative scene. Its buildings are under threat of being demolished.
The Christchurch Arts Centre has been forced to evict its tenants and lay off more than half its staff.
Photo by Kip Brook, Word of Mouth Media.
A tough year lies ahead for the creative art scene in Christchurch, reports Kip Brook.


The fallen columns, broken masonry and stone blocks around the Christchurch Arts Centre are symbolic of the widespread devastation to the creative arts scene in Canterbury.

Kip Brook reports from Christchurch for The Big Idea on the current reality, including a strong desire to re-open and start again.

* * *

Christchurch will never be the same again. Sadly the rebuild of Christchurch may see the end for so many grand old buildings which have been badly damaged or deemed too far gone to salvage, following the 12.51pm February 22 earthquake.

The Arts Centre is the heart and soul of Christchurch’s creative scene. Its buildings are under threat of being demolished. Every building in the complex was red-stickered after last month's earthquake. Damage is extensive. Restoration will be expensive (more than $100 million) and will probably take years.

The wider arts world has taken a pounding from the earthquake. Damage or access has affected the following galleries: Brooke Gifford, COCA, Ng Gallery, The Look Gallery, The Arthouse, Alexis Fine Arts, The Physics Room and The Salamander. But many others are closed permanently or for some time. A number of paintings have been lost to the bulldozers due to their location in the red zone.

The Arts Centre and its rentable exhibition space along with numerous artist studios – at least 30 inner city galleries & studios – are also closed for business. Merivale Fine Arts has re-opened . The flagship Christchurch Art Gallery is the base for the emergency operations centre for hundreds of emergency workers and is closed until further notice.

Gallery director Jenny Harper told The Big Idea she believes the arts will play a strong role in the recovery of Christchurch. "In a now badly-damaged vicinity, with many Victorian Gothic heritage and some later buildings in the centre of the city severely affected, the gallery has stood as an expression of recovery and revival, of a culture of renewal at the heart of the city."

The Christchurch Arts Centre has been forced to evict its tenants and lay off more than half its staff.

The tenants, including the Dux de Lux, the Court Theatre and Untouched World, have been told they may not be able to return for up to four years. The Court Theatre’s show Scared Scriptless has been relocated to the university and at Hagley Theatre Company.

The Bryce Gallery in Riccarton has been yellow carded (waiting an engineer’s report) remains closed. Timing would not be worse as they were turning the top floor into The Artists’ Loft where they were about to offer two lots of public exhibition space, eight artist studios for a painting school. The quake has severely impacted on these plans.

Southern Ballet is looking for new premises in northwest Christchurch or south of the city centre.

The Christchurch Arts Festival Trust does not have access to their premises. The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s office was damaged by the earthquake.

The Latin Fire Dance Studio, now combined with Salsa Fusion Dance Studio, inside the four avenues will reopen with a big opening party on April 18.

The Isaac Theatre Royal will be closed until the end of May. CBD cordons are expected to be in place and the city off limits to the public for months. The Mill Theatre, the Repertory Theatre and the Caledonian Theatre will be coming down.

The Repertory Theatre is going ahead with their Hamlet production in May. But director Robert Gilbert has taken the place in the production of his son Jaime Robert McDowell Gilbert, 22, who died in the earthquake on February 22. Robert feels that in memory of Jaime the production should carry on. Robert takes over the role of Laertes for Jaime. At Jaime’s funeral a week after the earthquake, Robert sung a moving farewell waiata to his son.

Jaime’s grandfather Robert McDowell, has had to pay rent on his studio on the corner of Tuam and Barbadoes St since February 22 but like others, has not been able to get near his studio in the CBD because it is cordoned off. Some of his art works were damaged – one painting with a hole right through it – and he has missed out on tuition fees.

The big annual Linwood College art auction at Turners will go ahead, but no date yet.

Another artist, Lisa Wisse, says the impact of both September and February earthquakes had deeply affected artists. "To be surrounded by a violently broken city, dust and damage everywhere is inhibiting my natural expression. Fortunately art lovers are able to keep up with our latest work through our websites."

However, the spirit of Christchurch and the desire to re-open and start again is strong even though the city we knew is no longer here.

  • This article was commissioned by The Big Idea. The author, Kip Brook, is a former UK-Europe Bureau Chief media correspondent. Now living in Merivale, Christchurch, he is involved in promoting local artists and community organisations through his company Word of Mouth Media NZ.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

31 Mar 2011

The Big Idea Editor

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