Three-day party celebrates reopening of The Arts Centre

Tiny Ruins

ToiToi Opera

Toi Toi Opera

A Baby Called Sovereignty

A Baby Called Sovereignty

The Tony Chestnut and Richard Rhythm Comedy-Thon

The Tony Chestnut & Richard Rhythm Comedy-Thon

Th Orchard Dreamers

th’Orchard Dreamers Reprise

Three-day party celebrates reopening of The Arts Centre

Imagine a glorious riot of people and performers mingling in The Arts Centre in Christchurch before parading through the former Univerity of Canterbury precinct to the North Quad.

That will be the scene on the opening night of Off Centre, a three-day festival on March 3-5 of music, comedy, theatre, food and entertainment that will take over The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora and celebrate its restoration.

The free event begins at 6pm. Performers will give a taste of what is to come over the weekend before leading the parade to North Quad. Spoiler alert: for those who join the parade, expect some surprises along the way.

What follows opening night is a two-day programme jam-packed with more than 50 events from over 250 artists. There’s kids’ activities, street performance, circus, spoken word, theatre, dance, and contemporary and classical music. New venues will be launched, including the intimate 40-seat Cloisters Studio.

The Arts Centre’s food and retail offerings will get a boost both days with a special festival mākete from 10.30am to 4.30pm.

Want to join in? There are workshops where you can learn to juggle, write poetry or improve your sketching. Most events are free and family-friendly.

Highlights of the programme include:

  • Tiny Ruins: multi-award-winning Hollie Fullbrook and her indie-folk band will perform in The Arts Centre’s Great Hall.
  • Toi Toi Opera: operatic scenes for everyone to enjoy.
  • th’Orchard Dreamers Reprise: story-telling in song featuring Mark Vanilau, Solomon Smith and th’Orchard crew.
  • The Tony Chestnut & Richard Rhythm Comedy-Thon: Brynley Stent, Rutene Spooner and friends bring us a night of top-notch comedy.
  • A Baby Called Sovereignty: a journey with local wāhine through indigenous sound, movement, text, and visual arts, led by Juanita Hepi.
  • The Revolver Club: two rapid-fire cabaret evenings with Shay Horay and the team.

For nostalgia fans, Lumière Cinemas is bringing back late-night screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for two nights only.

Off Centre celebrates the end of the huge post-quake restoration project and the welcoming back to the precinct of those to whom it belongs – the people of Christchurch and its visitors. It’s been a massive project for the charity to tackle and would not have been possible without the insurance payout on the earthquake damage.

Arts Centre Director Philip Aldridge couldn’t be more chuffed. “The people of Christchurch have saved their Arts Centre not once but twice. First they saved the buildings from demolition in the 1970s after the university moved out. Now, after the earthquakes, people have contributed money, attended events, and lent their support to the heritage restoration. Off Centre is a chance to celebrate what we’ve achieved together.”

Artistic Director Chris Archer says they didn’t manage to get everyone they wanted for the festival “but we got pretty close to it”. He is particularly excited about the opening event – “a real feast for the visual and auditory senses” – and also Tiny Ruins, of whom he’s a big fan.

The Arts Centre is the largest collection of Category 1 heritage buildings in New Zealand. The whole precinct suffered extensive damage during Christchurch’s earthquakes. Of its 22 Gothic Revival buildings, 20 have now been restored. The former Engineering School buildings, where The Court Theatre operated for 35 years, have been mothballed for now. The former Student Union, original home of the Dux de Lux, is a Category 2 building, so work on that won’t begin until all the Category 1 buildings have been restored.

Philip loves the history of the buildings and the memories they hold. “The heritage flagstones have been worn down by the footfall of generations who have come here to learn, sing, dance, play music, listen to bands, eat and drink, watch movies, fall in and out of love, and even get married. We’re conscious of our history but not weighed down by it; we’re enabling people today to create new memories here.”

Chris’s own memories of The Arts Centre are like those of so many Ōtautahi Christchurch residents –
“The weekend market, the food trucks, music lessons, attending events in the Great Hall and Court Theatre, Buskers and Pacific Arts festivals, Annie’s, graduation, craft shops, and of course playing in bands and hearing bands like Hamster at the Dux.”

If you want to further explore the story of The Arts Centre’s restoration, check out the fascinating Rauora/Revival exhibition in the former Boys High building.

Even before Off Centre kicks off, Chris and his team are working on future events, including the Matariki festival in July and Sculpture Festival in October. There’s also a national dance symposium in April, regular lunchtime concerts, Arts on Tour shows, the creative residence programme and opportunities to work with artists on joint ventures.

Expectations are building ahead of the opening mid-year of a dedicated space for Māori artists. There’s also a regular programme planned of comedy, cabaret, drag, circus, burlesque, indie music and contemporary dance in the Gymnasium, which used to be the Academy Theatre, then was home for Free Theatre and most recently the Backstage Social Club.

* There are 88 events in the Off Centre programme. 60 events are free; others range from pay-what-you-can to $60 per person.

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