Jessica Halliday on the importance of youth, art and love

FESTA director, Jessica Halliday
Lost Christchurch, a project capturing lost heritage, presented at FESTA 2016 by Danielle Rose Mileo. Image by Erica Austin, Peanut Productions Photography
FESTA 2014's headline event, CityUps. Photo by Peanut Productions Photography
Julia Harvie's 'Nest', performed at FESTA 2016's headline event, Lean Means. Image by Bridget Anderson.
We listened in on Jessica giving advice to her 22 year old self, it’s fascinating.

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Hey, 22-year-old Jess - there you are, kicking around doing your first of two honours degrees - this one’s in art history. You’ve decided to focus on architectural history because you fancy the pants off one of the other students. Turns out that’s one of the most important decisions you make in your life. Forget about the student: your passion for architecture is for life.

You’re going to remain a student for the next eight years, partly because you don’t think you’re ready for anything else (and because you love it). Some of it will be part time, for some of it you’ll travel and live in London while researching your PhD – and oh my god – that time is wonderful!

Pay attention, say yes to and engage in every opportunity you get

Here’s the thing: pay attention, say yes to and engage in every opportunity you get in architecture and the arts. And please, please - stop being afraid of doing and getting things wrong. In a few years you’ll develop this habit of saying you’re a late bloomer, and maybe you are - but you could get there faster and have a lot more fun if you get over your fear of not knowing and of being wrong. Listen to your mother: making mistakes is the fastest and the best way to learn - it’s nothing to be afraid of. This is so clichéd, but it’s true: most people out there fake it til they make it. Most of being an adult is learning on the job.

Persistence matters

Persistence matters too. It’s why you eventually finish that PhD - ability is only part of it - dogged persistence gets you over the line.

It’s not until you finish your PhD that you really feel the fear of not knowing what you’re doing. You’re going to learn how to run a contemporary art gallery on the job, even though the only exhibitions you produce up until that point are group shows on the history of architecture.

Lost Christchurch, a project capturing lost heritage, presented at FESTA 2016 by Danielle Rose Mileo. Image by Erica Austin, Peanut Productions Photography

Listen to artists

You learn to listen to artists, to recognise their expertise - it’s a good lesson and one that will make your life rich in ideas, culture and friendships.

You learn to listen to artists, to recognise their expertise - it’s a good lesson and one that will make your life rich in ideas, culture and friendships. You learn you can work with the people others find difficult - it’s a good skill: cultivate it, and stop being afraid of disagreeing with people. It’ll be a good 10 years before you learn to deal with confrontation and fully trust your own judgement.

But something terrible is going to happen in your life and in the lives of many of your friends and family. You’re going to live through a disaster.  

Julia Harvie's 'Nest', performed at FESTA 2016's headline event, Lean Means. Image by Bridget Anderson.

Loss of place

You know that city that you love as much as you’ll learn to love London - you know - Christchurch? The place where through exploration and research you got to know the buildings like family members, as well as their architects and former glories and gained a depth of knowledge and familiarity of a place that you will treasure and that you are desperate to share with other people?

Eventually, most of it gets torn down and put in a mammoth mound of chewed up timber and masonry. The loss of place is a grief you can barely explain to other people, and one you can’t feel you can justify. Bizarrely enough, despite the awfulness of it, you’ll thrive. You’ll thrive because you discover that the fear of not knowing, of being out of your depth, is irrelevant, because eventually you have no choice but to say yes. Grief, anger and loss demands it. To your peers and friends, you say yes, I can take on the role of running this public architecture festival we just conceived together. Even though you don’t really know the first thing about running a festival. Saying yes leads to FESTA’s inaugural headline event, LUXCITY, a city made from light for one night. A night of transformation on an urban scale that turns grief into joy. It changes everything for you.

You’ll thrive because you discover that the fear of not knowing, of being out of your depth, is irrelevant, because eventually you have no choice but to say yes. 

So, 22-year-old Jess, not knowing exactly how is not a barrier to trying or achieving. By saying yes, you get to observe and learn from every opportunity and everyone you get to work with. Realise that it is this ability to learn that is enough.

Written by Jessica Halliday

Jessica Halliday is the director of FESTA, a public festival of architecture, design and food, which runs in Christchurch over Labour weekend, October 19 - 22.

FESTA 2014's headline event, CityUps. Photo by Peanut Productions Photography

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

11 Oct 2018

The Big Idea Editor

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