Art gallery struggles with recovering central Christchurch

Christchurch Art Gallery on Easter Monday.
DAVID WALKER/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch Art Gallery on Easter Monday.

Christchurch Art Gallery visitor numbers are about a third lower than pre-quake levels as the attraction struggles with the recovering city centre.

The gallery attracted 317,000 visitors in 2016 after reopening in December 2015 following nearly five years of closure, compared to 468,000 in 2009 and 527,000 in 2010.

Monthly visitor numbers for 2016 are about a third lower on average than the same month during 2009 and 2010. 

Christchurch Art Gallery Director Jenny Harper.
SUPPLIED

Christchurch Art Gallery Director Jenny Harper.

Gallery director Jenny Harper said visitor numbers were boosted in 2010 by an exhibition by artist Ron Mueck. The show broke visitor records, bringing 135,000 people to the gallery.

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"Our numbers went up hugely with Ron Mueck, but now we've got all the challenges of the central city – roadworks, the bus stop is further away from us, there is no inner city shuttle and some people are reluctant to come back into the city centre."

Visitors check out exhibits at Christchurch Art Gallery on Easter Monday.
DAVID WALKER/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitors check out exhibits at Christchurch Art Gallery on Easter Monday.

But she said the gallery had attracted about 442,000 visitors since reopening, which is higher than the local population.

"We have all of this swirling around us, but we've managed to attract that many people in 16 months."

"I think it's amazing when you think of the state of the city."

The Christchurch Art Gallery the day before its reopening in December 2015.
Stacy Squires

The Christchurch Art Gallery the day before its reopening in December 2015.

She said it could take a long time to recover.

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"Newcastle [in New South Wales, Australia] had an earthquake in 1989 and it took ten years to restore their gallery numbers. We have to be realistic about our current situation and about the flux our city is in. We don't have 9000 people walking up and down Worcester Boulevard like we used to. We are still a work in progress.

"I think it will bounce back. The numbers are good. They were stupendous and they have dropped back a bit."

Contractors work into the evening on the surrounds of the Christchurch Art Gallery to get it ready for reopening in ...
Stacy Squires

Contractors work into the evening on the surrounds of the Christchurch Art Gallery to get it ready for reopening in December 2015.

Some nearby businesses were also suffering from a drop in foot traffic, while others had experienced an increase. 

The Villas Dining and Coffee House co-owner Ben Dunkin​ said foot traffic had dropped in the past year and he attributed that to the number of roading projects in the area, which had increased congestion and reduced the number of car parks available.

He said Christchurch people were not prepared to put up with waiting in traffic and the inconvenience of not being able to find a park.

The Christchurch Art Gallery opened its door to the public after extensive repairs in December 2015.
KIRK HARGREAVES

The Christchurch Art Gallery opened its door to the public after extensive repairs in December 2015.

"I think that locals are actively discouraged from coming to town."

Thousands of office workers were expected to move back into the city this year, and Dunkin said that would increase foot traffic for his Montreal St business but only 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. 

Fiddlesticks Restaurant and Bar co-owner Shaun Halliwell said the business, across the street from the gallery, had experienced a great summer and if anything, foot traffic was increasing.

He said a lot of people were gravitating toward the Arts Centre, which was slowly reopening as repairs were completed. 

The gallery may also struggle to attract blockbuster art shows to the city due to budget cuts and higher insurance costs, Harper said.

"Getting a major blockbuster show of international art would be beyond our means at present without making a special business case."

"It is more expensive to insure, freight costs and operating costs have gone up, and in the meantime we have taken quite strong operating budget cuts, along with other council units."

Harper said shows like The Body Laid Bare, a collection of artworks from Britain's Tate collection currently running at the Auckland Art Gallery, would be good for Christchurch.

But she said the five years of closure since the 2011 earthquakes meant they couldn't commit to the long term planning required for major exhibitions.

"Five years closed is a remarkably long time. It stopped our momentum and it will take time to get back on the exhibition circuit."

"With every major incident like this it take time to recover and, along with the city. We are taking time to get back where we were."

 

 - Stuff

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