Kaiapoi leading arts boom in North Canterbury

Attracting 24,000 visitors through its doors in its first month, Art on the Quay is Kaiapoi’s new public art gallery. It opened in January this year and is housed within the town’s new library in the Ruataniwha Kaiapoi Civic Centre in Williams Street. In August, the library and gallery will be complemented by the Kaiapoi Museum, reopening in the same complex.

Art on the Quay is one of two galleries supported by the Waimakariri District Council. The Chamber Gallery in Rangiora opened in 1997 and has served as the model for the co-location of Art on the Quay with the library.

Deputy Chairperson for the Waimakariri Community Arts Council, Jackie Watson, has been involved with the establishment of both galleries, as well as promoting the arts in North Canterbury for more than 25 years.

Watson notes, with some pleasure, that taking the proposal for Art on the Quay to the Waimakariri councillors and securing their support was a straightforward task.

“The Chamber Gallery in Rangiora was already a successful model, receiving increasing support from library visitors who initially may have not been enthused. It has built audiences for the visual arts in Rangiora, so it represented a positive relationship and outcome for the Council. It was easy to gain their support by transferring this model to Kaiapoi. The Council also offered to consult with myself and the Arts Council, seeking advice on equipment and the gallery design. Consultation has taken place throughout the project, right up to the opening.”

Watson’s appreciation of a district council actively supportive of the arts is rare. Too often, there seems to be a divide between arts enthusiasts and rate payers. Look no further than the debate over Whangarei residents’ objections to the Hundertwasser Art Centre or the questions often raised in New Plymouth about the relevance of the Govett Brewster Art Gallery’s contemporary programme to the lives of the locals.

Yet, it is not just the good communication between the Waimakariri Council and the Arts Council that singles Art on the Quay out. Watson’s management of the gallery is centred on actively fostering public engagement.

“Exhibitions aim to encourage as much interaction with the public as possible,” she says. “Earlier this year, a group exhibition of favourite artworks in local residents’ collections, featuring artworks by Bill Hammond and Nigel Brown, also gave the public a chance to vote for their favourite paintings. Thousands took the opportunity to cast their vote.”

The current exhibition, Art Expo Revisited, is similarly strong in its emphasis upon the community, paying tribute to the new gallery’s origins.

“Ten years ago, Elaine Armstrong, a local artist, wanted a public gallery in Kaiapoi. Although the idea did not gain traction, it was agreed that an exhibition for local artists would be organised. Out of that came the Art Expo in 2005. Interest in the inaugural event came from more than 100 artists throughout the Waimakariri. We discovered how many artists were out there in North Canterbury and every year since, the Expo receives an average of 30% new submissions from artists who have not previously exhibited with us.”

Guest artists from the past 10 years have been invited to Art Expo Revisited. Highlights include Mary Kelleher, a Northland textile artist and former Christchurch resident whose wall-relief, The Mill is Kaiapoi, traces the town’s history.

“Kelleher starts with the pre-European history, the Woollen Mills as a centre for the town’s industries, and the earthquakes of September 2010. It concludes with the new Civic Centre.”

The Mill is Kaiapoi is also interactive – textile doors and windows can be opened to reveal objects and lenses offering views of photographs and newspaper clippings.

Another guest artist, Mark Lander, exhibits two hand-made paper works, Wreath for the Transitional Cathedral and the impressive, Flowerscape. Both confirm that over the past 30 years Lander has fine-tuned his ability to, not only reveal the beauty of the natural world, but also his reputation as one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets as a contemporary painter.

The opening of the Kaiapoi Museum on August 15 will further strengthen the Civic Centre’s partners’ relationship and provide an important element of renewal for Kaiapoi. The original Museum housed in the Kaiapoi Historic Court House was demolished within any consultation seven days after September 4, 2010 earthquakes. Its reopening in the town centre represents some level of reparation and the promise of revitalisation.

Has the population shift to North Canterbury been important to the arts in the district?

“Of course it has. The new gallery would not have been possible without the September earthquake. Kaiapoi is a unique settlement. It is an historical town with a river and that continues to shape it as a place to meet. The prospect for the library, gallery and museum is also about interaction.”

Posted in Blog, Local Artists news, News Media.

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