"If we’re serious about creating an exciting city with a difference, to move away from the monoculture of before, then we need to invest in diversity."
Some thoughts presented at a Christchurch arts forum this week. The speakers were asked to provide a three-minute response to the question: "what makes an art-full city?":
I made a list. We need a plan – a well-researched plan towards an exciting, progressive city. We need a thorough mapping of what is, what could be and what is required to bridge the two. Most importantly this plan should shift the onus from quantity (door-clickers and bums-on-seats) to a vision of quality – encouraging the pushing of boundaries and risk-taking. This comprehensive, adaptive plan will present a new vision for the arts as the primary driver of the city’s new identity. It needs to be in place for the council's Long-Term-Plan next year. It’s not only this city that needs it – Timaru, Ashburton, Methven, Hanmer, Waipara and Kaikoura know now, more than ever, we need Christchurch to be a humming, distinctive gateway to the region. And this needs to start with the most distinctive gateway in the city – the Arts Centre! It seems crazy that after all the work and cost of its extraordinary restoration, the Arts Centre appears to languish behind the Performing Arts Precinct (PAP) and even the Metro Sports as a priority arts project. The most distinctive place in the city needs to be supported to facilitate the kind of activity that can differentiate the city. This means investing in workshops and studios where a diversity of artists can create AND present new work. As part of the investment in fostering local artists to thrive, there needs to be a rethink of festivals around this activity – that is, festivals based around local talent, thereby moving away from the old provincial model of buying in expensive national and international acts. This means multiple projects could be developed over longer periods of time, around different themes/provocations. And if based around inspirational sites such as the Arts Centre, they can be multi-sited (including unconventional spaces in-between brought to life through light, sound and interaction) and integrated with markets and hospitality. A year-long calendar of events spreading out from creative engine-rooms such as the Arts Centre, along Worcester Boulevard to the river, to the park, to the Square and beyond. Artist residencies can attract excellent artists to come and work WITH local artists and organizations towards new work that engages with the time and place. If the merging of the CDC (Canterbury Development Corporation), Canterbury Tourism and Council Events is about making this “an edgy city with a difference”, then the council needs to understand that such a vibe doesn’t just materialize out of thin air. There needs to be a wider-ranging strategy put in place that has at its core the fostering of (investment in) local artists. The PAP, as currently proposed, does NOT help at all in this regard, especially if the plan is to build a new black box theatre for presentation and move the Court from its current successful site and build it, not one, but two new theatres. Both ideas mean that interdisciplinary arts organisations such as Free Theatre and The Auricle will continue to struggle for survival – and wonderful projects such as this (The Black Rider) simply will not happen. If we’re serious about creating an exciting city with a difference, to move away from the monoculture of before, then we need to invest in diversity.
And this is my picture.