In a recent letter to The Press, National MP Nicky Wagner crowed that Christchurch’s arts are alive and well. She cited two examples = The Arts & Industry SCAPE Biennial and The Christchurch Arts Festival … coming soon to a suburb near you.
If their history is anything to go by, the well-funded Biennial and the Festival will both be importing the great majority of art and artists featured in their (international, Lol) events. There will, no doubt, be an invited token-local or two but they’ll be veritable (and properly grateful) populist skunks at what are, for the most part, elitist garden parties.
Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of public and private cultural-dollars siphoned/diverted into Arts & Industry and The Arts Festival will go toward hotel rooms, restaurant meals, flights, freight forwarding and production costs – not to mention fully-salaried (non-artist) bureaucrats.
Consider the carbon footprint of these events and the heavy financial footprint left on the still-shaky back of a region-wide arts budget. A budget better dedicated to retaining the region's art practitioners – artists, some of whom are making a last-ditch attempts to stay in a town that apparently doesn’t care (except in lip-service) whether they do or not. As I’m wont to say, in a late capitalist society – if you really love me then write me a check.
Meanwhile, while festivals and biennials churn - scores of unsalaried local art practitioners will be studio-less or laboring in unheated and unventilated provisional spaces. Many, who’ve come to their senses, will be leaving town for good. Meanwhile, while festivals and biennials $burn$ – unfunded, scrappy and inventive provisional spaces (rooms for exhibition and performance) will continue to pop up around town. And, underwritten solely by sweat equity and the skinny bank balances of their originators they will attract and reward (real art audiences) on any given weekend.
How many worthy home-grown artists and artist-initiated spaces could be funded with the truly-large amounts lavished on so-called arts festivals and biennials? How many regional artists could be studio(ed), exhibited, their work temporarily underwritten by (say) just the printing/publicity budgets of the so-called arts festival and biennial?
With the Christchurch Art Gallery and most dealer galleries in the city shuttered for the foreseeable future it’s abominable to fund, support, import art and artists (from intact art communities elsewhere) plop them haplessly down in the middle of the city-and-arts-wreckage here, and pay them to do their thing in Christchurch while local practitioners struggle to survive and keep working…….on, CO2 producing, beans and lip-service.