Elizabeth moved into her downstairs studio in February. The painter and print maker had been teaching painting full-time at Cashmere High School when a diagnosis of breast cancer changed the landscape. After a year of successful treatment in 2022, an opportunity for a studio came up at Toi Auaha, and she embraced it.
The heritage-listed building at 5 Worcester Boulevard became a community arts venue in December last year as part of the city’s Arts Strategy – Toi Ōtautahi. It is owned by the Christchurch City Council and provides studios for up to 18 artists along with bookable office and meeting spaces.
“You know when things hit the fan and you reassess? I was like, ‘this is my thing, making art is what I need to do! Having this space means I can focus on my art and have other artists around which helps cross-pollination to happen.
“There’s another artist upstairs for example and we’ve just put in a proposal for a show next year. Gallery staff, artists and the wider art world can come into this space so being in that professional environment enables those conversations to happen.
“As an artist you can have long periods of time in-between being paid so the space has been set up in a really supportive way.”
In a sunny, north-facing room upstairs is Nic Low, the author of Uprising and editor of New Zealand Geographic Magazine. He shares it with fellow writer Rachel King. For him, the space offers a perfect mix of solitude and connection after an intensely busy two-year period as director of the WORD Christchurch Festival.
“I wanted to concentrate on writing, and I didn’t want to be sitting in my bedroom or staring out the window at home. I’d spent most of the last two decades in Melbourne and I was craving community and fellow writers and artists.
“It’s that combination of having space to concentrate, shut the door and go into your own work and thoughts but then when you come out to be able go down to the kitchen and find interesting, like-minded, curious people who value the arts and are committed to it.”
Principal Arts Advisor Kiri Jarden says she is pleased with how the facility is developing. There are currently 17-18 artists with studio space and a growing waiting list.
“We’re continuing to develop the shared spaces and fine-tune how the building operates at a practical level. It’s important that our resident artists are able to achieve what they want to here.”
There are outbuildings that may in future become working spaces for sculpture or other ‘messy’ work and a small room off the kitchen that’s been earmarked for soundproofing.
The initiative is cost neutral for Council. Toi Ōtautahi has been supported with funding from Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage for the first three years as the project is established.
Check out the Toi Ōtautahi website and keep up to date with their work here.