It’s almost 13 years since the devastating earthquake of 22 February 2011, which forced 70 percent of the Ōtautahi Christchurch CBD to be demolished.
While the rebuild has been a slow and often difficult process in visions meeting reality, there is also much to celebrate in the city taking up the opportunity, through art and design, to remake it as a place for all.
Local hapū Ngāi Tūāhuriri of Ngāi Tahu have been on a parallel journey to make their story, reo and identity more visible, working as partners in the public redesign of the city’s urban spaces with public art and design consideration of their values. Their presence is now visible throughout the CBD.
The quakes also strengthened grassroots urban design, art and environmental movements, whose impact remains.
Meanwhile, the city’s major cultural institutions are currently celebrating their connection and renewal as part of a Toi Ōtautahi Year of the Arts 2023 programme. They include the restored 140- year-old historic Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, which in October, opened Altiora – a venue for circus and ‘alternative cross-genre performing arts’ in its gymnasium - and in September Te Whare Tapere, a space run by Māori artists for Māori artists.
Work also continues in the establishment of a Performing Arts Precinct, an anchor project of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. It currently includes the Isaac Theatre Royal and The Piano, a new music venue that opened in 2016.
Due to open there next year is the long awaited new three-storey home for The Court Theatre, which bills itself as New Zealand’s largest theatre company. Plans for the precinct have been the subject of heated debate and the council this year has been dealing with submissions for the use of a remaining vacant space within it. There are also plans for a facility for the Christchurch School of Music.
Culture 101 spoke to a panel about the cultural renewal of the CBD. Michael Bell is the director and founder of Little Andromeda Theatre, a key independent space now running in Oxford Terrace but originally pitched for the performing arts precinct. Little Andromeda recently received funding for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage cultural sector regeneration fund.
Steph Walker is executive director of Word Christchurch Festival and was formerly General Manager of the Christchurch Arts Festival, at the time of the Canterbury quakes. She has been the Auckland Arts Festival’s Head of Programming, and spent six years in Australia working with Sydney and Adelaide Festivals, as well as time working as Executive Director at Performance Space, Sydney.
Kiri Jarden (Ngāi Tahu, Rangitāne) is a principal arts advisor at Christchurch City Council leading a small team responsible for delivery of Toi Ōtautahi, the city arts strategy, and chair of Paemanu the Ngāi Tahu contemporary visual arts trust.