3 May 2024

Christchurch City Council will likely fund cash-strapped Arts Centre

5:48 am on 3 May 2024
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, JANUARY 21, 2020: Teece museum at Christchurch, New Zealand

Photo: 123RF

Christchurch City Councillors say they are listening to the public and have every intention of funding the cash-strapped Arts Centre, despite it being left out of the draft Long Term Plan.

Residents got to have their say at a hearing on the plan on Thursday.

The Arts Centre representatives were also there pleading for the $1.8m a year they said it needs from the council to stay open.

Mary McCammon showed up at the hearing dressed as a pirate, one of the many costumes she has worn over the years while performing at the Arts Centre.

"It's a place of real diversity, and that's what's so important to me, is that artists of all stamps can come there - that's where the magic happens. That's where people meet and connect and creativity is sparked," she told councillors.

"Often these things are free, or at a low cost and they're available to the city."

Andrew Eadon-Jones said it was also a business hub.

The massage shop he has with his wife got its start in an Arts Centre pop up four years ago, and now employed six people.

"After a reasonably good year, we moved to a larger shop in the Arts Centre. It's a great place to work and the Arts Centre community is wonderful. I can't thank the Arts Centre enough for the opportunity it gave us to let us grow our business," he said.

The Arts Centre Trust had asked for almost $2m a year in funding but a financial report done by Deloitte said it could survive on $900,000 for the next two years.

It was already making do with the bare minimum, director Philip Aldridge said.

"We believe we have to spend something to do that, but not a lot, to be the thriving, creative hub that the Act (Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Act 2015) specifies," he said.

"We'd never want to achieve that by not paying the artists, the musicians and creatives as suggested in the Deloitte report. Did the accountants suggest giving their services for free?"

Mary McCammon delivering her submission to Christchurch City Council on the Arts Centre in a pirate costume.

Mary McCammon delivering her submission to Christchurch City Council on the Arts Centre in a pirate costume. Photo: Screenshot / Christchurch City Council

Creative funding was not the problem - the Arts Centre applied for project grants for exhibitions or events, and if it didn't get it, they didn't happen, Aldridge said.

The problem was the cost of running the arts hub.

"We're not a museum, which has statutory funding from councils...We're not an art gallery, we're not a performing arts company - we're a bit of everything.

"We're not eligible for funding from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage or Heritage New Zealand itself, who only fund their own buildings...there's no other source for us," he said.

Aldridge also refuted claims by Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger that the Arts Centre was "threatening to make the council take over".

"It's actually the opposite of what we want. We're simply asking the council to keep funding the Arts Centre to save us from insolvency, otherwise the Arts Centre Trust will go out of existence and require a new owner.

"It's not a threat, it's just the way it is, unfortunately."

restoration of the historic Christchurch arts centre

Photo: Moda Fotographica

New ownership would require a High Court judgement, and the Arts Centre would have to pay the legal fees from its cash reserves, which would then have to be paid back, Aldridge said.

The City Council was currently proposing a 13 percent rates rise.

Councillor Aaron Keown told the Arts Centre board chair Murray Dickinson that residents were telling him the hike was more than they could afford.

"Where does the money for you guys come from?" Keown asked.

"That's not a question that I can answer."

"You don't see other things around the city that you go 'you know what, the Arts Centre is more important than that'?"

"No. No, look we completely accept that the council is juggling a range of requests. How you balance your budget - I'm unaware what else you're juggling, unfortunately, so I can't give you an answer," Dickinson replied.

The council had been given a very clear message at hearing, Mauger said.

"There's no doubt - every submission says everyone loves the Arts Centre. We've just got to look at the way it's operating," he said.

Spreydon Ward councillor Melanie Coker went a step further but still shied away from an outright funding commitment.

"We probably will fund it and we already are anyway, it's just about finding the right amount," she said.

Now the council had to work out how it will balance the increasing demands on its budget, ahead of the final Long Term Plan announcement in June.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs