Artists abandon city

19:54, Jul 08 2014
Artist Rob Hood
LOVE OF LANDSCAPES: Artist Rob Hood with children Henry and Claudia in the room where he works.

The Christchurch arts community has been hit hard by the earthquakes with a quarter of the city's artists leaving since 2006, new figures show.

The loss of cheap studio space in the earthquakes and a lack of exhibition space has prompted many Christchurch artists to leave the city.

In 2006, Christchurch had 306 people who identified themselves as visual arts and crafts professionals in the census, but in 2013 that figure had fallen about 24 per cent to 234.

Chambers241 gallery founder Warren Feeney said many artists had moved to Australia, Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland.

"Dunedin is more affordable and Wellington has always had a dynamic arts scene," he said. "It is disappointing, but not surprising."

Before the earthquakes, High St, Manchester St and Cathedral Square were full of cheap studio space in former commercial buildings, he said. The Government Life building in Cathedral Square, for example, was let cheaply as studio space for artists.


"The lack of studio space is critical. There was a really significant loss of studio space.

"Many are now working from home or have found space in the suburbs."

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology faculty manager Martin Trusttum helped establish the transitional ArtBox gallery. He said older artists had fled Christchurch, but younger artists were moving here.

"It seems to be divided on demographic lines. The older artists in their 60s have left.

"They don't want to deal with all the issues here," he said. "But on the other hand it is attracting a lot of young emerging artists from the world over. They have embraced all the possibilities Christchurch has to offer."

He said it was essential that artists returned to the city centre.

"There is a great value in helping support art and locate artists in the CBD. It makes for a vibrant city centre.

"It is much harder to activate spaces without that. There is a lot of value in that."

Creative New Zealand (CNZ) senior adviser for the Canterbury earthquake response, Chris Herbert, said the arts community was recovering.

"I think there is more of a sense of replacement coming back into the mix. It takes time to resolve insurance matters on a lot of property. It feels like it is returning a little bit and people can start to think about new studio space. A few new hubs have started to open."

CNZ established an emergency response grant soon after the earthquakes that distributes about $500,000 a year to help artists. The average grant was about $6000 in the first year and helped many artists find new studio space.

"The money went a long way. We were able to give the market a helping hand."



Christchurch artist Rob Hood talks about why he stayed in his home town:

I lost my studio in the earthquake. It was on Lichfield St above a vintage car shop.

It was almost derelict. The roof leaked, but it was super cheap. It was about $20 a week for a reasonably big space.

All that cheap space has gone. All those nice old buildings have been bulldozed.

I haven't bothered to find studio space. It is not affordable when you have a family to support.

I have a garage and a spare room. I can function without a studio. If I was going to move to further my practice as an artist I would have left Christchurch before the earthquakes.

For those who it is just about their practice as an artist, they left Christchurch pretty quickly.

There are a lot of artists that have stuck around. You find ways to make it work.

I stay here because it is a good place to raise a family and I love the South Island. I love the landscapes.

It is about family. I think the South Island is a fantastic place to live. I would struggle in a place like Auckland. It would drive me barmy. I am not a big city person.

We can drive to Arthur's Pass in a couple of hours and we have the Banks Peninsula on our doorstep.

We are blessed really.

The Press