Time to scrap the arts precinct plan

The arts might rest on creative imagination but when it comes to Christchurch's proposed performing arts precinct, the time has arrived to face hard realities.

With still no sign of any resolution on what exactly this cultural grandstand will contain or even represent, the scheme should be scrapped and the arts allowed to grow organically throughout the city rather than being conveniently crammed into an urban planner's dream of a cultural hub.

Even the most ardent supporter of the project must now concede that the idea has not only lost momentum - it has lost credibility.

Last month's revelation that the Government - which appears to have taken over the project from the Christchurch City Council for reasons unexplained - is lobbying cinema operators for an on-site art- house cinema appeared to reveal a mood of increasing desperation and unreality.

Not only would such a development place pressure on what is a confined site, it fails to recognise that when the neighbouring Isaac Theatre Royal reopens next month, it will contain state of the art cinema facilities.

Two film theatres within yards of each other? Oh please.

With no firm indications about The Court Theatre's possible return to the precinct and criticisms about the proposed rentals in the music building, the performing arts precinct in its existing form is flopping around the stage like an ageing ballerina attempting a final performance of The Dying Swan.

The Government should recognise this and convene a formal multi-party discussion with the city's arts organisations - amateur and professional - to chart a new way forward. A radical re-think might salvage something from the mess but I fear that it's too late. The city council seemed disinterested or unwilling - or both - to become involved while central government hubris refuses to recognise that the precinct scheme was hastily conceived and flawed from the very beginning.

In the wider world, the concept of a centralised cultural and artistic area has been replaced by recognition that in an urban context, it's better to allow the arts to grow organically.

In Europe performance and exhibition spaces are allowed to evolve alongside the major arts hubs to provide a mesh of cultural experiences. A single performing arts precinct has become outdated. Much better to let the various cultural organisations - new and old - flow freely throughout the city.

Surely it's a mark of a mature and intelligent society when this happens.

The Press