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The past 18 months in Aotearoa has seen a series of news stories nationwide about the financial challenges galleries and arts organisations are increasingly facing in delivering their services.  This has encompassed addressing the state of facilities, the storage of works and delivery of public programmes.    Dominating the news nationally throughout March and April has been The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora and its loud standoff with the Christchurch City Council and the lack of response to the disappearance of the Art Centre Trust’s annual funding, (from 1975 to 2023), for The Arts Centre’s activities and operation. 

 Gifted to the city by the University of Canterbury in 1974, following its move from its Worcester Boulevard site to Ilam, its former central city location and buildings under the terms of its deed are now demarcated as a ‘facility for cultural and educational groups’.  Established in December 1974, the Arts Centre Trust within two years of its occupation saw it tenanting more than 60 arts-related organisations and 60 individual tenants in residence as a centre for all aspects of the arts.  

In 2024 The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora is locally, nationally and internationally renowned as a unique heritage site and, as it publicly notes, a ‘hub for diverse creative expression in the heart of Ōtautahi Christchurch’.   As such it is a “must see” attraction for residents and visitors.  Indeed, research from Museums Aotearoa in 2024 maintains that 35 percent of all international tourists will visit approximately four museums and/or galleries over their entire trip, meaning that approximately 17.5 million people visit museums and galleries annually in Aotearoa.    As such it would appear reasonable to assume that regional authorities would make the most of such visitor numbers to their cities and towns, yet the Christchurch City Council seem less than seriously interested its history, heritage and the vitality of its strong and pervasive arts infrastructure.  

Recently interviewed by Stuff, the Arts Centre’s director, Philip Aldridge reminded the City Council that their annual funding has been consistent for the past 49 years since it opened, emphasising that ‘central to its importance locally, nationally and internationally is its unique 29 historical buildings, being the largest collection of heritage buildings in Aotearoa.  Without a public subsidy it's impossible to run a large arts organisation particularly one teeming with activity.  It is a massive tourism centre with 980,000 people [visiting] per annum.  This is part of Christchurch, this is a part of our defining character, there's nothing else in the country like this – in fact there's not many places in the world like this.’ 

Also worthy of note is the Arts Centre’s close and long-standing relationship with its neighbouring galleries and museums, reaching from COCA Toi Moroki at 66 Gloucester Street (currently  hosting Canterbury Museum), to a network of surrounding galleries that include The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, Objectspace at 65 Cambridge Terrace and Tūranga Library, 60 Cathedral Square.  Adding to this network is also the Arts Centre’s Rutherfords’ Den, The Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities, The Central Art Gallery, Maxine Burney Art Studio/Gallery, Pūmanawa, (a space for hire to artists, Revival Exhibition, (documenting The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora restoration), The Physics Room, Absolution and Te Whare Tapere.    Collectively, they are part of a wider network of more than 30 galleries/museums in Ōtautahi.  

Chair of The Christchurch Arts Centre Trust Murray Dickinson has publicly commented further, (see:, on the Arts Centre as a heritage site, highlighting the significant restoration undertaken post-quake, 2011 to fully restore 20 of its 22 damaged Category 1 stone buildings. He noted: ‘The Arts Centre ran a massive post-earthquake restoration fundraising campaign, raising $38 million to supplement the $168m insurance payout so it could fully restore the Category 1 stone buildings, building back better.  The Arts Centre is alive and well… let’s keep it that way.’



IMAGE:  The first Asian Arts Festival in Christchurch, 6 May 2023. The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora.   Photograph courtesy of Roy Lu 

Building Back Better- The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora

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