Arts festival for every day of the year

Long, bumpy road for city's art plans

CHRISTOPHER MOORE
Last updated 09:42 03/08/2012
Te Puna Ahurea

A NEW FUTURE: The sitting of the proposed Te Puna Ahurea Cultural Centre sharpens the debate over the future of the existing Christchurch Town Hall.

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OPINION: Chris Moore applauds the inclusion of performing arts in the rebuild blueprint but predicts interesting times ahead.

Finally - a glimmer of hope for a battered city.

The rebuild blueprint released by the Government this week might simply be a commercial prospectus to engage the interest of future investors but it is a start, one which holds hope before the city's battered arts community. There's a long, bumpy road ahead but the proposals for the new city reveals a welcome willingness to include the arts as an essential part of the rebuild and our future. We live in interesting times.

Take the proposed performing arts complex. This is not relegated to a nice-to-have file but firmly set down as an essential component of the overall design. It's an ambitious project but one which, when and if it becomes reality, will fill gaps in the city's pre-earthquake cultural map, especially with the provision of 1500 and 500-seat auditoriums.

The inclusion of a new Court Theatre and a home for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra are also far-sighted. Hopefully the facilities will also provide for the smaller cultural players like the Christchurch School of Music and the choirs which have become an essential part of our artistic landscape. They cannot be forgotten.

Experience of international performing arts centres indicates their vital importance for any city community. They are also a chance to "show off" architecturally, allowing architects and designers to flex their creative muscles. Given its position, I hope this will be the case with Christchurch's new cultural and artistic hub. A mundane and utilitarian design will let the city down.

Flair and imagination are the order of the day - and the city's younger architects should be allowed to step up to the stage. The performing arts encompass an eclectic and diverse range of disciplines, most of which require specialist facilities. They cannot simply be dumped into an entertainment colosseum, stirred well and served.

The fascinating question revolves around the Government's concept of a public/private partnership. Who will fund and run a performing arts centre? Will it be a genuine civic facility or a hybrid funded by ratepayers but run by the private sector? Will this be New Zealand's first commercially-sponsored building? Time, and considerable hard talking, will tell.

It's also imperative the city council plays its part in strongly advocating for the arts through its leadership for projects which will put Christchurch back on the local, national and international cultural stage. The council's arts committee's role is pivotal in rebuilding the arts - and its membership and focus must reflect this. It's a big ask, one which could be easily stymied by local politics, but the stakes in terms of Christchurch's standing as a place of artistic and cultural excellence are very high.

Another question is the undetermined future of the existing Town Hall auditorium. The current plans show the Te Puna Ahurea Cultural Centre placed close or actually on the town hall site. Will Sir Miles Warren's landmark survive? The council says yes. Cera hasn't indicated its feelings. Again, a potentially contentious debate looms.

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The city's arts community has already shown its resilience and innovative spirit; it's now time for local and national government to support it by providing the platform on which it can show their skills. This is the time to be bold and brave rather than meek and cautious. Christchurch should experience an arts festival for 365 days of every year.

Meanwhile, the next two years will be crucial. Undoubtedly they will revolve around transitional arts projects. Regardless of what the long-term vision might be there is an opportunity for the arts to work within schemes like Re:Start, Artbox, the Arts Circus. These are the projects which will make a real difference in the city.

It is going to be hard, challenging work but it is achievable. The arts community must accept that it cannot sit back and wait for the big new buildings with all their seats and spaces to be built. Its very survival depends on the here and now.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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