An opinion piece from Felicity Price ran in the Press last week, putting the case once again for the Council scrapping the Town Hall and spending the money on a performing arts precinct. Price used to be involved with both the Court Theatre and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and documents the hardship that people in the arts in Christchurch are going through.

Right now, our city’s musicians, actors and all the people they rely on for the show to go on, are enduring some pretty appalling conditions. The Council and Cera need to get back together and come up with a solution that doesn’t have our actors and musicians freezing to death for the next five years or more.

Court audiences love the funky, vibrant theatre in Addington, love being able to park for free right outside and have a better view of the stage than at the cramped Arts Centre venue. But they don’t have to build sets wearing battery-heated Antarctic-issue jackets and fingerless gloves, or get headaches from the strip lighting while they either freeze or fry in the poky portacabins out the back where wardrobe, ticket sales and admin are based.*

I’ve bolded that particular sentence, because I think it highlight’s Price’s argument. In her view, it is the responsibility of either the Council or CERA to come up with a scheme to stop actors and musicians from freezing to death. Call me old fashioned, but I thought it would have been the responsibility of the employer to ensure the wellbeing of their employees. As Price mentioned on a number of occasions, arts attendances are higher than they were pre-quake. Huge amounts of money were donated by individuals and businesses to help arts organisations. And yet, calls from these organisations – privately run organisations, I should add – for hand outs from the public continue with a depressing regularity.

If the attendances are up, as boasted about in the article, then surely you should be putting some of that revenue towards improving the wellbeing of your staff, or looking to improve your premises. But instead of taking responsibility, Price suggests that the already cash-strapped Council should be finding money in it’s budget to build facilities for a professional theatre company. While she is claiming that Court technicians are metaphorically freezing to death, the Council is having to debate whether it will put money towards people literally freezing to death. To me, this shows how detached from reality, and hand-out dependant, some of the top-level arts bureaucrats in this city have become post-quake (speaking at Gap Filler event a month or so ago, Jenny Harper suggested people submit to the Long Term Plan, asking them to postpone infrastructure works for another year or two so she could have her art acquisition budget restored.) Artists are notorious for having their heads in the clouds, but you could argue it’s the administrators – not the practitioners – who have taken leave of their senses.

* I am willing to bet that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people working in the building industry in Christchurch right now who suffer similar, if not worse conditions, every time the weather packs it in. But they don’t have PR people extolling their virtues in sympathetic opinion pieces in the Press, so they don’t count.

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