Christchurch’s Arts Centre - A Remarkable Restoration


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A year before the 2011 earthquake Christchurch’s historic Arts Centre upped its insurance cover by $90M. A decision that would ultimately save the largest collection of heritage buildings in New Zealand.

Philip Aldridge has been in his chief executive role for one year but he knows Christchurch’s Arts Centre intimately.

In a newly-released documentary from Frank Film, Aldridge reveals how he was on site on 22nd February, 2011 when the earthquake hit. Then, he was in charge of the Court Theatre. leading rehearsals for ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep.’

The play never made it to the stage; with the entire Arts Centre fenced off for months while engineers and insurers assessed the damage to the collection of 23 heritage buildings - the largest grouping in the country.

In a fortuitous decision, insurance cover for the complex was increased in 2010 - from around $30M to $120M and, according to Aldridge “that saved the Arts Centre.”

In total, across three separate earthquake claims, an insurance settlement of $163M was reached and by 2012 the restoration project had begun.

“It’s the biggest project of its type in the world,” says Aldridge, and is set to take a decade to complete, albeit with a current funding shortfall of $35M. That means the fenced off buildings along Worcester Street will remain an eyesore for some time yet.

Philip Aldridge admits his role now is a juxtaposition - juggling a mammoth $290M project while managing an arts organisation through financially difficult times in the inner city.

“It's a challenge in a city where rents are difficult, hospitality is a challenge, retail a big challenge so we face the same issues as the rest of the city.”

Aldridge adds  “that’s part of our constitution, we’re here to provide facilities for the arts and for the public, that’s why we exist, it’s not economic.”

Anchor tenants are key, one being the University of Canterbury which has moved some classes into the buildings it originally occupied in the late 19th century.

A 33-room boutique hotel is planned for the physics and biology block, and the Lumiere Cinema - a two theatre offering operated by local cinema identity Nick Paris - is set to open in the next few weeks.

With Aldridge as tour guide, Frank Film gains entry to the refurbished creative suites for artists-in-residence. Their most recent resident, Bic Runga, will perform at a fundraising concert in the Great Hall in July.

Attention is turning to pulling more punters through the heritage doors, especially tourists.

“We get a lot of tourists,” says Aldridge. “We’re bad at turning that into money to support the site and that’s something we’re actively working on.”