Editorial: Bravo, art back in city's heart

ARTIST'S IMPRESSION: The planned design for the Music Centre of Christchurch, which will include a 350-seat concert hall.
ARTIST'S IMPRESSION: The planned design for the Music Centre of Christchurch, which will include a 350-seat concert hall.

The news that the Music Centre of Christchurch has committed itself to building a new facility in the Performing Arts Centre is a wonderful development in the creation of a vibrant new cultural centre for the heart of Christchurch.

Like many other of the performance and cultural organisations that made up the thriving arts community of the city, the music centre lost its former premises near the Catholic cathedral in the February earthquake and has been without its own premises ever since.

Using money from its insurance settlement, it has now decided to build a new $12.5 million Wilkie and Bruce- designed facility, complete with a 350-seat concert hall, in the performing arts precinct. The announcement yesterday makes it the first new entity to commit to the arts precinct and has put the potentially stalled precinct well on track.

It will join the Isaac Theatre Royal, whose extensive $40m rebuild and restoration is now almost complete, with an opening planned for November 17 and a calendar of shows already scheduled before Christmas. The Theatre Royal led the way in its early commitment to rebuilding the arts in Christchurch. It not only settled its substantial insurance claim quickly, it also embarked on a vigorous and far-flung fund- raising campaign, helped considerably by the English star Sir Ian McKellen. It still needs a few million dollars more but it is within sight of not having to go into debt. The music centre, too, needs more money for its project but believes the sum it requires is within reach.

However, the two other major potential tenants at the arts precinct have not yet committed themselves.

One of them, the Court Theatre, is doing well in its post- earthquake premises in Addington. It is negotiating with the Christchurch City Council, which is providing $30m to the precinct, over the facilities it requires before it commits itself. The other, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, is being tempted by an offer of assistance from Ngai Tahu Holdings to build a 1200-seat concert facility at Wigram. Both are vital components of the arts precinct. Both should bite the bullet and commit themselves to it.

The precinct has had a bumpy history. It evolved out of a public consultation to become one of the major projects of the Blueprint. It was potentially compromised by the city council's decision to rebuild the Town Hall, which sharply reduced the amount the council could spend on it. Two months ago, the Government stopped the purchases of land that will be its contribution to the project, citing the alleged failure of the council to keep to its side of the deal.

The council's commitment to the Town Hall seems to be set, but Prime Minister John Key, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Mayor Lianne Dalziel were yesterday at pains to emphasise that the project was back on track. It is heartening news. Cultural life was and will be at the heart of Christchurch. The arts precinct is an exciting and tangible embodiment of its renewal at the heart of the rebuilt Christchurch.

The Press