City Art Reader 17: Refining the plan

14th Jun 2019

Another arts strategy, another call for feedback.

Cantabrians have until 17 June – that’s next Monday – to send in our thoughts on the new Toi Ōtautahi Christchurch Arts draft strategy – you can see it here.

The 24-page document is light on specifics but rich in affirmation. The arts and wider creative sector, it says, have a role in improving our wellbeing and sense of identity, bringing life to the city, attracting visitors, recognising mana whenua values and boosting the economy. The recent terror attacks too, it says, have “thrown a spotlight on the need to make sure our diverse ethnic communities are not isolated.”

How it will deliver this is unclear. It proposes the establishment of a new Joint Leadership Group supported by a new Arts Office but the focus of this document seems to be more aspirational than practical.

The need for some kind of new strategy has been brewing since the earthquakes. In 2011a seven-member Arts Voice committee was elected at a Creative New Zealand facilitated meeting to represent the arts community and put together a vision and strategy for the arts.This included representatives from then CPIT (now Ara), SCAPE, the Christchurch Arts Festival, the Free Theatre, the Court Theatre, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Southern Opera and the Christchurch School of Music. The following year, in 2012, the Christchurch Arts Audience Development Project (CAADP) was set up with the aim of creating a platform for all of the city’s arts organisations to better engage with their audiences in the new post-earthquake environment.

“We all felt, after the past few years, that it was important that we sat down around a table and played our part in creating a positive future for the arts in our city”, said CAADP spokesperson Jane Leighs from SCAPE Public Art at the time. “We’re all working with changing situations, uncertain venues and limited budgets.” The CAADP commissioned research from UK based arts and cultural strategists Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. It found while most residents had resumed some cultural activity since the earthquake and new cultural audiences were emerging, levels of engagement had fallen below the national average.

In 2014/15, Creative New Zealand invested $3.7 million in Canterbury including funding for individual arts projects and arts organisations as well as $400,000 for community arts through the Creative Communities Scheme. The following year the Christchurch City Council announced it would review and update its 2001 Arts Policy and Strategy. Creative New Zealand applauded the move but was concerned that the council’s capital programme include no mention of arts or culture facilities apart from libraries. But plans for a new strategy pushed on.

A steering group was formed in March 2018, including representatives from the Council, CNZ, the Rātā Foundation, ChristchurchNZ, mana whenua, the University of Canterbury, Ara Institute, the Arts Centre and Word Christchurch. This group then formed a Working Party, led by an independent chair with members from CoCA, the CSO, the Court Theatre, Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, RAD Collective and the Arts Centre. Workshops were held, asking attendees to describe why arts are important to them and to Christchurch, and the CCC ran an on-line portal for feedback, closing on September 10, 2018.

This led to the current draft strategy. While the meetings, groups and acronymed drivers of the strategy might seem wearying, there is sound research here. The strategy references the excellent 2016 research prepared by Life in Vacant Spaces Charitable Trust for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. In reviewing research on post-disaster resilience, the report, called Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Culture Initiatives in Christchurch (and on the Ministry of Culture and Heritage website) provides valuable reading. It shows how arts and culture can help preserve and/or reinvent social memory and contribute to post-disaster resilience and urban identity. It also highlights the importance of a collaborative and all-inclusive arts infrastructure, that enables both small-scale experimental initiatives and larger traditional and institutional programmes, performing very different but important functions within the overall arts ecology. It called for the inclusion of arts and culture initiatives in the official recovery process in Christchurch and the provision of appropriate venues to enable “the prosperous and sustainable development of the arts and culture sector.”

Prosperity might be stretching it a bit. The current draft strategy is unique, it says, in being “a new kind of partnership strategy”, developed collaboratively with the arts sector and “major funding agencies”. While the Council will continue to play a leading role supporting the sector, “there is recognition that collaboration is needed to deliver on our aspirations.” This could be done, it says, by increasing investment, establishing new exchange, residency and mentoring opportunities and commissioning yet another study to benchmark the value of the arts to the wellbeing in the city. The resulting shift of focus “will likely impact (on) existing resourcing and allocation through traditional funders. We will need to explore new ways of funding or achieving outcomes and develop new arts and creativity programmes and look to increase investment over time.”

The council is aware of the public desire for the strategy to include “tangible, actionable activity” and not just “sit on the shelf”. Although the new Arts Strategy document contains a large amount of idea taglines, there is still a lot of focussing to be done. From here a proposed Joint Leadership Group (JLG) is to be established to “implement and monitor delivery of the strategy”. A new Arts Office is also to be established to aid the JLG to create an “Action Plan”. The specifics of who, what, when and how are still to be decided.

The council now wants feedback, on the guiding principles and themes and action areas specifically. But there is also an opportunity for general comments – for your views on how we can enact an arts structure that is truly inclusive, supportive, more widely representative and forward-thinking.