Christchurch arts institution to temporarily close

The Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA) is a dynamic, important Christchurch institution. A charitable trust, it began as the Canterbury Society of Arts in the early 1880s before adopting its current name fifteen years ago. The devastating earthquake of Feb 22 means COCA has little choice but to temporarily close.
Located in the Cultural Precinct in close proximity to the Christchurch City Art Gallery, the precinct’s foot traffic and general support has been integral to COCA. Sadly much of the Cultural Precinct is now very badly damaged. “We face years of rebuilding as a city before we can again operate in a normal environment,” COCA’s Board of Trustees say.

The Centre of Contemporary Art offered many art activities to Cantabrians: art project spaces, childrens’ education centre, venue for events, and has acted as a dealer gallery. The earthquake came at the moment COCA had just instigated the beginning of a new plan for the gallery. The intention up until the 22 Feb was to return to the ‘original objectives’ of the founding members and focus on its core business, which is the facilitation of contemporary art. The Board of Trustees was beginning to action their plan for re-focusing the gallery on its core activity of exhibiting contemporary art by appointing a dedicated Curator supported by a Business Manager.

The aim of the new plan was—and remains— to present the highest calibre of stimulating and relevant exhibitions that resources permit. (The dealer aspect of the gallery compromised this and was to be deleted in favor of a broader more encompassing exhibition programme.) The aim was—and remains— to be the most innovative, responsive and publicly engaged contemporary art gallery in New Zealand.

The quake of 22 Feb has dramatically shifted the city centre and shifted economic priorities. The plan is not feasible at this time, and it is clearly obvious that it may not be for several years.

While the gallery enjoys the security of being the freehold owner of a purpose-built gallery, there was already a dramatic lull in art sales due to the national and global economic recession. This would be exacerbated by the Christchurch earthquake. “To continue to operate as before is not an economically viable solution. Reliance on sales is just not an option when audience access is in doubt and to “rally on as usual” would inevitably result in crippling debt and asset loss,” COCA’s Board of Trustees add.

It would be difficult to seek sponsorship and support for the arts post the quake when the Christchurch City Council and businesses are rightly occupied with re-establishing the city’s basic infrastructure. To protect the Centre of Contemporary Art’s assets at this extraordinary, unprecedented time the Board sees no alternative but to close the gallery, and rent the space for a period of approximately two years. During this time the gallery’s permanent collection is kindly being housed by Wigram Airforce Museum.

There is no doubt of the artistic support in the community, but the business community is not going to be able to give the level of support that it would have before 22 Feb. The trustees are committed to re-opening the gallery. The plan is to establish a strong financial position and to re-open with the revised vision when possible.

“We appreciate Te Papa National Services Te Paerangi, Christchurch Art Gallery and Akaroa Museums’ help with moving our precious artworks out. If Christchurch is to both retain and attract people it must offer an intellectual environment that is stimulating, provocative, beautiful, and fun; and it must have venues and institutions where artists can present their work. The Centre of Contemporary Art has a significant part to play in Christchurch’s re-build,” COCA’s Board of Trustees conclude.

For more information, please contact COCA Trustee Julia Morison on 0275 888819