A Draft Strategy for Arts and Creativity in Ōtautahi Christchurch 2019–2024.

Mā te pohewa mā te auaha hoki, ka whakapuaki ngā kura e huna ana.
With imagination and creativity a hidden jewel can be revealed.

This whakataukī (proverb) refers to the Ngāi Tahu relationship with pounamu, a unique treasure of the South Island. To the untrained eye, the exterior of the pounamu looks like any other stone in the river, but with skillful crafting, a treasure is revealed.

Generations of Māori wore trails across the Southern Alps as they sought this highly prized commodity. It was crafted into fine works of art, used for tools and weaponry, and was a valuable trade item.

The South Island became known as Te Waipounamu - The Waters of Greenstone. Ōtautahi Christchurch and Canterbury became significant trading centres.

Ōtautahi Christchurch is a city founded in a dramatic landscape. From the Pacific Ocean to the braided rivers, from the rugged mountains and glaciers of the Southern Alps to the fertile plains. From the earliest days, this place has shaped the creativity of the people who live here.

Whakatakinga – Introduction and strategy partner statement

Toi Ōtautahi – Christchurch Arts is a first for the arts in New Zealand. It is a new kind of partnership strategy, developed collaboratively with the arts sector and major funding agencies.

The aim of this strategy is to elevate the arts and creativity in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula by harnessing and building on the energy, passion, and innovative spirit of the community. The strategy recognises the impact of significant events in the city and the role the arts and creative sector can play in healing, connecting communities and finding innovative solutions to a range of issues.

This strategy is focused on creating an environment where creative people want to live, work, and produce work. It will be a living document that will evolve as we test ideas and sharpen our focus over time.

The strategy is not just about supporting artists - it is also about bringing wider benefits to the city - improving people’s wellbeing, sense of identity and connectivity, activating and bringing life to the city, attracting visitors and boosting the economy.

1. Ngā whanonga pono - Guiding principles

Workshops, forums, and focus groups brought out four guiding principles. These are ways of thinking and acting that will bring this strategy to life.


We will be bold. We will take risks and foster a culture of innovation.


We will support a diversity of artistic traditions, practitioners and art forms, ensure opportunities to participate are accessible and our processes and decision-making are transparent.


We will back local talent, value the old and the new, encourage and celebrate excellence, and ensure equity of opportunity.


We will seek to work collaboratively, support one another, communicate clearly and challenge respectfully.

2. Moemoeā - Vision

In our vision, Ōtautahi Christchurch is a place where new ideas are tested, and a spirit of collaboration opens new possibilities.

We want Ōtautahi Christchurch to be a leader for arts in wellbeing, drawing on our collective experiences to grow the arts as a tool for community wellbeing, for healing and nurturing.

It’s a place where the creative process itself is valued — where participation in the arts brings its own benefits, and enriches our everyday lives, where the arts are a powerful presence in our city and contribute to the vitality, prosperity and connectivity of our communities.

It’s a place where we value the people and organisations upon which our creative traditions have been built, along with a new generation of talent who are growing Ōtautahi Christchurch’s reputation as a great place to create, explore, and to experience the arts. You can read more about our creative roots(external link)

It’s a place where there is support for local artists and this support provides new employment opportunities in the creative sector, boosts the local economy, and creates a more vibrant city to live in or to visit.  This will attract international talent and open new opportunities for artistic exchange.

In this vision, we will continue to foster unique and meaningful creative interventions in the city by building the Treaty relationship.

3. Why arts and creativity matter to Ōtautahi

The arts are central to our city’s identity, wellbeing and spirit of creative exploration. The arts provide benefits for us as individuals, as communities and as a city.

In 2017 Creative New Zealand research found(external link) 72% of Christchurch residents believe the arts have a vital role to play in rebuilding their city for the future.

Arts are central to our identity

  • We tell our diverse stories through the arts - they are essential to communicating identity, history and culture.
  • The arts define us. They express our values and reflect our diversity.
  • Arts in public places and temporary activations on vacant sites have captured attention nationally and internationally.
  • Ōtautahi Christchurch has a long history of bold exploration. Creativity is central to the idea of exploration as a way to push against the status quo and into new territory.
  • The arts inspire and challenge us with new ways of thinking.
  • Art provides visitors to our city with unique and memorable experiences.

Arts sustain our wellbeing

  • Arts can bring joy and provide humour and entertainment.
  • Arts help people cope with adversity and be more resilient in the face of a disaster.
  • The arts help us find balance and connect our head to our heart and soul, and connect us to our tīpuna and cultural traditions.
  • Through the act of creation, people and communities grow in confidence, confront challenges and express themselves.
  • The arts play a key role connecting diverse people and communities and provide opportunities to learn.

Arts and creativity underpin innovation and boost the economy

  • Arts and creative activity enlivens spaces, making the city more dynamic for residents and more attractive to visitors.
  • Creative cities attract creative and innovative talent, business and industry.
  • The arts encourage collaboration between public and private organisations.
  • The arts are a platform for deepening relationships with Ngāi Tahu.

4. Rū whenua - Upheaval and renewal

The arts have proven their ability to renew, revitalise, heal and connect our communities. Our city has built a reputation for its creative responses to urban regeneration and mental and social wellbeing.

The earthquakes disrupted all aspects of life in the city. The 2019 terror attacks disrupted our city emotionally. Both these events require healing and rebuilding, in which the arts can play a role.

After the quakes, approximately 80% of the central city was destroyed or significantly damaged, including many of the city’s galleries, performing arts venues, and older, more affordable studios and apartments. The damage to buildings paled in significance to the loss of life, injury and ongoing effect on people’s wellbeing. However, we are a city which has demonstrated resilience and willingness to come together in difficult times.

Innovative and collaborative response

The earthquakes forced the arts sector to adapt quickly. A more collaborative spirit emerged. The sector worked together to make things happen. If the old environment was sometimes viewed as elitist, mono-cultural and siloed, in the new environment cooperation trumped competition.

New, fleet-footed funds emerged along with an increased risk appetite for supporting new projects and new organisations. Conversations were fostered around the planning of future infrastructure, spaces, and programmes. New leaders rose from within the sector and wider community and invited new ways of thinking about place and identity.

This environment was conducive to creative activity, and the energy of the creative environment was palpable to local practitioners as well as those who travelled to the city to be part of our unfolding story.

Many established organisations took the opportunity to reimagine themselves and establish new programmes and collaborative initiatives. The arts were brought to the people. Outdoor shows and the innovative use of spaces introduced the arts to new audiences and reinvigorated people’s appetite for creative experiences.

Arts for recovery

The emotional and psychological impact of the earthquakes(external link) for residents has been well documented.  It’s expected that the 2019 terror attacks will also have a large impact. Between 2011 and 2018 a 93% increase in demand for mental health services for children and young people was reported in Christchurch. 

The events of March 15, 2019 have reinforced the need for artistic responses that build social cohesion. The arts are a key mechanism for connecting, healing and revitalising our communities, and bringing diverse cultural aspirations and traditions to the fore.

The role of arts in the city’s recovery has received international attention and raised greater awareness of the value of arts and creativity in Christchurch.

New cultural opportunities emerge

In the past Christchurch did not equally honour all our stories and our communities. We need to make sure there is space for all of the diverse voices of our city to be heard.

The rebuild allowed opportunities for mana whenua and Māori narratives and motifs to be incorporated into the built environment. Matapopore Charitable Trust was established to work with the Crown and Council to ensure Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Ngāi Tahu values, aspirations and narratives were realised through significant recovery projects. Poetry, film, performance and sculpture have all been commissioned for the public realm on an unprecedented scale.

The Christchurch terror attacks have thrown a spotlight on the need to make sure our diverse ethnic communities are not isolated.  As a country we are giving voice to kotahitanga (unity), and seeking to ensure our home is free from racism and cultural intolerance. Ōtautahi is a place where our differences can be a cause for celebration.

The arts and creative sector can give make visible diverse stories and bring people together. 

Harnessing this energy to move forward

This strategy seeks to reposition the arts and creativity in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula. The opportunity is to capture the energy and passion of the community to become known as New Zealand’s best city to create, explore and experience art; that Ōtautahi Christchurch is a great place to live.

5. Pou arahi - Key themes for development

During workshops and focus groups, the arts sector and wider community defined the key issues and opportunities for the arts in Ōtautahi (See Appendix 1).

The Pou Arahi (strategy pillars) and Ngā Tukunga Iho (desired outcomes) were developed from these themes. The strategy pillars are designed to stimulate a response – what do they mean to us individually and as a city, and how can we work together to achieve our desired outcomes for the sector and wider community?

The four pillars are:

  • Tuakiri Identity
  • Hauora Wellbeing
  • Auaha Creativity
  • Kōkiri Leadership

Tuakiri Identity (T)

Supporting artists across all disciplines will help to tell the story of who we are - as individuals, as communities, and as a city.

Public arts are important for connecting place and identity. Ōtautahi Christchurch has a rich public arts tradition including sculptural work, literature, design, and street art. Public arts can form an important part of community development projects, urban and suburban regeneration, and placemaking.

The arts have played an active role in shaping a new identity for the city. Whether activating vacant sites or creating large scale murals, practicing traditional crafts or working at the cutting edge of technology, all are exploring new ways to connect with people and with communities.

The rebuild has enabled new opportunities for Ngāi Tahu and Papatipu Rūnaka narratives to be woven into the built environment, recognising their unique relationship to this place.

Our Heritage, Our Taonga is expressed, recorded and shared in many ways – through the visual and performing arts, through literature and poetry, events, design and by using a variety of media and technology. 
Draft Heritage Strategy(external link)

We want to build upon our heritage and to share more stories of arrival and access diverse cultural narratives through a variety of arts and crafts practice and events.

Hauora Wellbeing (H)

Finding more ways to use arts to connect people and bridge social and cultural divides, to enable recovery, and to develop resilience in communities.

Improving wellbeing and nurturing creative thinkers is important to the sector and community. This strategy seeks to improve opportunities for everyone, including children and young people, to initiate, participate in, and contribute to the creative life of the city.

The arts can enable socially connected communities, facilitate positive relationships, build confidence, develop skills, and reduce social exclusion.

Local arts organisations deliver health and wellbeing programmes which engage children, teenagers, and adults across cultures.

Restoration and healing after the earthquakes was also a strong theme, with a number of participants mentioning the choir as having reduced their anxiety and stress and helped them adjust to the distress and disruption in their lives.
Rockers of Ages Evaluation Summary.(external link)

In the UK, a programme which prescribed arts as a treatmen(external link)t saw a 27 percent reduction in hospital admissions and a £216 per patient reduction in National Health Service costs.

There is ample evidence of the role arts play in building social cohesion across cultural divides.

Because of their compelling vitality, arts practices constellate spaces of social cohesion and emphasise belonging, even in the midst of upheaval.
Changing our Worlds: Arts as Transformative Practice edited by Michelle LeBaron, Janis Sarra, p.46, Sun Press, 2018.

Promoting a more holistic view of the benefits of the arts may open new funding opportunities from a wider set of stakeholders. Government agencies, schools and education providers, the health sector, and the wider business and philanthropic community could be brought on board to assist with new initiatives.

Auaha Creativity (A)

Growing our thriving arts and creative sector will benefit the city and the local economy.

The words “creativity” and “innovation” are often used interchangeably. To have adaptable, innovative, and technologically savvy communities we need to foster creative and enquiring minds.

Becoming known as an artist friendly city – one that truly values artists and their essential role in the creative process and life of the city - will attract and retain creative talent. This talent fuels innovation and creates an edgy and desirable city.

We can do a better job of promoting Ōtautahi Christchurch as a great place for artists to live and create - comparatively low cost of living, easy travel, good social, cultural and financial support structures, great arts and design schools, a strong commercial sector, local and national patrons, a broad spectrum of arts institutions and an engaged audience.

Creative festivals and events are a great way to activate the central city.  They give residents and visitors a reason to explore and reconnect with the city. They also help arts to engage with a broader audience, and introduce new ideas to the city.

Kōkiri Leadership (K)

Strong and collaborative leadership for the arts in Ōtautahi is crucial for creating an environment where artists can thrive and the sector can grow.

This strategy has been co-created and is intended to be co-owned by the sector, tertiary, arts funding agencies, and local government. This means that the city’s arts strategy is no longer solely adopted and implemented by the Council. While the Council will continue to play a leading role supporting the sector, there is recognition that collaboration is needed to deliver on our aspirations.

Developing champions for the arts across the city is crucial to ensuring cross-sector engagement and to integrating the arts into all aspects of life. Arts champions could facilitate and strengthen connections to the commercial and private sector.

Funding agencies can demonstrate their leadership and support for this strategy by collaborating to improve processes and develop new ways of funding and growing their own investment over time.

The arts community is eager for bold leadership.  This will expand our connections and create opportunities for exchange - including residencies and mentoring opportunities.

A creative approach is needed towards partnerships, to teaching and to funding, as well as addressing issues that impede growth of the arts and creative sector.

6. Ngā hohenga - Strategic action areas

The goal of this strategy is to create the best environment for people to create, explore and experience the arts.  To achieve our vision of Ōtautahi Christchurch being a place where creative exploration defines who we are, and where arts activate the city, we need Ōtautahi Christchurch to be seen as the best place in Aotearoa to live and be creative.

Five Strategic Action Areas will move us towards the desired outcomes of each of the strategy pillars.

These actions will make a tangible difference in the next five years, and build a solid foundation for future creative opportunities. The actions require involvement from a range of organisations. Many will require organisations to work in partnership.

Our focus is on enabling and celebrating the local: sharing of diverse local stories; supporting local makers; enabling access to diverse arts experiences.  Collaboration and partnerships will be the hallmarks of strong and innovative leadership and the strategy guiding principles underpin delivery.

We believe a strong local arts scene with engaged audiences will attract national and international artists to Ōtautahi Christchurch, where excellence will be fostered and valued.

Strategic Action Areas

The relationship to the Pou Arahi - Strategy Pillars is indicated with the first letter of the reo descriptor i.e. T (Tuakiri Identity), H (Hauora Wellbeing), A (Auaha Creativity) and K (Kōkiri Leadership).

Under each area, a number of potential key actions are set out. Specific actions will be firmed up following the adoption and/or endorsement of this strategy and confirmation of the structures to enable delivery.

1. Resource –through collaboration, strategy partners seek to support new ways of funding the arts, and to ensure transparency and clarity of processes for accessing funds and resources so that the arts and artists thrive. Key actions look like this:

  • Increasing investment in the arts and creativity over time (K, A)
  • Establish a range of exchange, residency and mentoring opportunities (A, K, T, H)
  • Commission a study to benchmark the value of the arts to well-being in Ōtautahi Christchurch-social, cultural, economic, and environmental (K)

2. Create and Encounter - support opportunities to create and to experience the arts across a range of places and spaces so that a diversity of art forms and of cultures are visible, ideas can be tested and shared, and the city and region is activated. Key actions look like this:

  • Ensure that there is access to a range of affordable and interesting spaces to develop and present work (A, H)
  • Increase opportunities to present a range of arts forms through exhibitions, events and festivals (T, A, H)
  • Collaboratively develop a public arts plan-including sculpture, street art, integrated artworks and placemaking- to further enhance our city and regions identity (T, K, H)

3. Inclusion –increase opportunities to initiate, lead, and to participate in the arts, and support a range of wellbeing programmes so that our communities are connected and resilient ( See Appendix 2). Key actions look like this:

  • Ensure there are opportunities for celebrating difference and diversity-where our communities connect with each other (T, H, K, A)
  • Collaborate to advance arts and health programmes (H)
  • Ensure opportunities for children and youth arts experiences and education (H)
  • Support lifelong learning opportunities in the arts (H, K)
  • Celebrate our heritage, arts leadership and connections with Te Moana-nui-a-Kiva -the Pacific (T, K)

4. Ngā Toi Māori - cultivate opportunities for ngā toi Māori to develop and be presented so that Māori culture is visible and celebrated by the community. Key actions look like this:

  • Support Māori artists to initiate projects which enable development of their arts (T, K)
  • Ensure that the Treaty relationship is honoured and better understood (K, T)
  • Ensure greater access to all forms of Māori arts for audiences, students, and makers (T, H, A)
  • Through partnerships, grow and strengthen networks and opportunities locally and regionally (T, K)

5. Connection - improve promotion of the arts, and enhance connections between artists, organisations and opportunities so that there is better understanding of the role of the arts and artists, collaboration is enabled and there is opportunity to explore a diversity of art forms. Key actions could include:

  • Improve existing communication and information sharing platforms (T, K, A)
  • Collaboratively develop a strategy to promote the arts and creative activity (K, A)
  • Increase opportunities for gathering and networking throughout the arts and creative sector (T, H, K)

Our story of creative exploration is one of constant evolution, so additional actions will be required as current needs are met and new opportunities arise.

7. Ā muri ake nei - Looking ahead

Joint Leadership Group

A Joint Leadership Group (JLG) will be established to implement and monitor delivery of the strategy. Strong joint leadership will leverage diverse strengths and give weight to the strategy.

We are aware this is a new way of working and we won’t always get things right the first time, but we pledge to do our best for artists and the city.

Through the JLG, the key strategy partners- Council, Creative New Zealand, Rātā, ChristchurchNZ together with mana whenua, the tertiary sector and representatives from the arts sector, will share responsibility for ensuring implementation of the strategy.

Arts Office

Management and administrative support to the JLG will be made available through an Arts Office, which will be established as part of this strategy. A priority task for this office will be to develop, produce and publish an agreed Action Plan with the JLG.

Ngā Rawa - resourcing the strategy

We are committed to looking at how current resources can be prioritised and more effectively used to achieve our collective creative ambitions. Organisations which endorse the strategy will need to indicate through their own plans how they can contribute to implementation.

A shift of focus will likely impact existing resourcing and allocation through traditional funders. We will need to explore new ways of funding or achieving outcomes and develop new arts and creativity programmes and look to increase investment over time.

This strategy has been developed to move the city towards its goal of being known as the best place in New Zealand to live and create, and to explore and experience art over the next five years.  At that point, it will be reviewed by the JLG, and updated to ensure it continues to deliver for the sector, for communities, and for the whole city.

The JLG will be committed to updating and engaging the sector throughout the implementation process. This will ensure

Appendix 1 – Summary of engagement

Following arts sector advocacy it was determined that a partnered approach could be taken to lead and drive sector and community engagement in the development of a tactical strategy for the arts and creativity in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

A Steering Group was formed in March 2018 with that group convening a Working Party in May of 2018. A Christchurch City Council (Council) Project Team undertook research, support for communication and facilitation, and drafting of the strategy.

Membership of the Steering Group was largely determined by relative potential to influence implementation and included Council, CNZ, Rātā Foundation (Rātā), ChristchurchNZ, mana whenua, University of Canterbury, Ara Institute, Arts Centre and sector representation through Word Christchurch.

The Working Party was led by an independent chair with members from CoCA, the CSO, the Court Theatre, Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, RAD Collective, and the Arts Centre. Initial membership was determined by the Steering Group seeking to create a group that represented art forms, spaces and younger creatives.

Content of the strategy evolved from workshops, written submissions and open forums. An on-line portal hosted on the Council website opened on July 9 and closed on September 10, 2018.

Eight workshops were held between July 19 and August 9 a in the central city, New Brighton and Akaroa. These included a ‘young creative’ session hosted by RAD Collective and the XCHC, and a mana whenua forum at Rehua Marae.

Participants were asked why the arts matter to Christchurch, what about the arts would have made the headlines ten years ago, what they might say today, and what headlines they would like to see in 2028. Participants  also looked at what were the enablers and obstacles in relation to funding and processes, spaces and places, resources, partnerships, communication (telling our arts stories) and  people.

Over 200 individuals and organisations attended workshops and provided written submissions during this first phase of engagement. Emerging themes were identified at this time and formed the basis of further questioning on-line and at an Open Forum on August 11. Further sector initiated forums were held on August 21 (hosted by Brown Bread Ltd) and August 25 (hosted by The Corner Shop).

In reviewing the key reasons why the sector thought that the arts mattered to Ōtautahi Christchurch alongside the 2028 aspirations and discussion around enablers and handbrakes, four themes were initially identified through the workshops.

1. The arts are central to telling our stories, to connecting us to our past and to this place.

A sample of what was said:

  • Mana whenua are supported to lead development of city wide events celebrating Matariki and te reo Māori
  • Public Arts and Street Arts are supported through a percent for arts
  • Public arts are planned with connection to place and to people across the city
  • Clear process to accessing to natural resources for creative projects
  • Increased opportunities for Māori arts to be exhibited and performed
  • Raise the profile local artists and arts programmes and successes-more critical engagement
  • Explore significant events, milestones, local history and celebrate through events and festivals
  • Commission local artists to produce and create

2. The arts underpin a creative and innovative city.

A sample of what was said:

  • Integrate the arts within local and regional economic development strategies
  • Interdisciplinary exchange between art forms and creative practice supported
  • Dedicated arts fund which could involve sector representation in decision making
  • Increased platforms for contemporary practice and emerging artists (across creative disciplines) supporting career opportunities (younger artists see opportunity here)
  • Explore hosting and accommodation options e.g. Arts [Air] BnB
  • Exchanges and residences explored and developed
  • Funders increase appetite for risk taking – support innovative propositions
  • Mentoring (tuākana/tēina) programmes and apprenticeships are developed

3. The arts bring life to our city.

A sample of what was said:

  • Legal walls created
  • Databases-sharing information about skills and things – time banking and resource exchange
  • Arts trails art parks sculpture festival explored
  • Develop events including art fairs or markets and more festivals including street art, devised theatre and pacific arts
  • Arts organisations collaborate to develop audiences e.g. Blind Ticketing programmes
  • Develop venues for performance and exhibition and affordable studios for artists across disciplines including risk share models
  • Support for variety of networking opportunities across the city
  • Investigate options to extend rates relief to businesses supporting the arts and artists

4. The arts make a real difference in people’s everyday lives.

A sample of what was said:

  • Arts Prescription programme investigated
  • Arts therapy funded as a key rehabilitative and restorative health tool
  • Arts Gyms explored at a range of community facilities
  • Support events which enable participation e.g. open mic, spaces with rotating experiences
  • Advocating for greater emphasis on art in schools
  • Cultural Counsellors-referrals to arts programmes and spaces

These four themes shaped further questions as we sought to understand what key areas of focus looked like for the sector and what implementation might look like.

The Open Forum was an opportunity for more in-depth conversations. Participants were able to drop in and review some of what had come through the various workshops and to respond to questions of implementation - what could you do and what should agencies do?

The rationale for these questions was twofold. Firstly, calls were made for the strategy to do more than sit on the shelf and to result in tangible, actionable activity. Secondly, there was need to further understand better those things that were a priority for the sector and community.

Many of those participating in discussions leading to the development of this strategy lamented the diminishing opportunities (most post-earthquake funds had ceased to operate by the close of the 2017/18 financial year) and were concerned by a return to business as usual-an environment viewed as elite, mono-cultural and dominated by siloes.

Resilience and the arts has formed part of the discussion in developing this strategy. There was interest in UNESCO Cities of Arts(external link), where we would be recognised for creative sector resilience. The UNESCO programme has seven categories which a city might be designated under, for instance City of Literature, City of Film, as well as Crafts and Folk Art, Music, Gastronomy, Media Arts and Design. There was no indication from the sector as to which creative genre we would want to hang our hat on. However, the programme does seek to prominently position creativity in the development of cites and approaches to modern challenges and planning and so would support sector ambitions for arts and creativity.

Christchurch is a member of the 100 Resilient Cities programme initiated and supported by the Rockefeller Institute. There is potential to connect the arts firmly to the discussion about our collective future and responsibilities vis-a-vis the physical environment and climate change in particular. The role of the arts sector in mental health and resilience is understood and strongly supported by the sector and through this strategy.

Appendix 2 – Arts and wellbeing

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage(external link) undertook a literature review in May 2016:

“The objective of the literature review was to gather and assess existing research on the impacts arts and culture activity has had on cultural, social, health and economic wellbeing….”

Evaluation of local projects has been undertaken by the Canterbury District Health Board (The Muse(external link)) and by Ihi Consultants (Ōtautahi Creative Spaces(external link)) both of which provide useful insights about the delivery and experience of arts in health programmes. 

There are numerous international research papers available, including: