$2m in private donations help bring music students back to Christchurch Arts Centre (Video)
An earthquake rebuild and an outpouring of public support has allowed the University of Canterbury to return to the central city Arts Centre 40 years after it departed. Adele Redmond reports.
Classics student Natalie Looyer already feels more connected to Christchurch's city centre.
As one of the first at the new University of Canterbury (UC) Arts Centre campus, she's in prime position to benefit from galleries and museums nearby, and only a 15-minute bike ride from Ilam.
"The Ilam campus has such a huge focus on science and engineering facilities right now," she says.
"We're extremely thankful for the love and effort that's been poured into our beautiful new space for some departments that may be smaller, but are equally rich in value."
This week the university officially opened a classics and music school in its historic home, transferring up to 400 students into the building its chemistry department occupied more than 40 years ago.
The multi-million restoration of the Old Chemistry building features 26 pianos, an acoustically-designed recital room, soundproof studios, a 50-person attic lecture space, and the prestigious James Logie Memorial Collection, housed in the new Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.
Returning student life to central Christchurch has been a long and uncertain process for the university after a 2009 bid for an Arts Centre music school was defeated.
The group successfully argued the proposed 16-metre high building would harm the area's heritage values.
However, the eventual combination of the school's 1910 facade and modern interiors has won the approval of students and staff, among other Christchurch personalities.
Head of performance music professor Mark Menzies says the facility is "unbelievable" compared to the "tomb-like" music building at Ilam, while former Christchurch mayor and long-time music school proponent Bob Parker was pleased to see a space for "young creative people" established in the city.
Even former opponent Dux de Lux owner Richard Sinke, who led the Save Our Arts Centre campaign, says "the idea of students coming back into town is wonderful".
Eight years ago the university hoped to return to its historic home, unveiling plans for a $24.3m Sir Miles Warren-designed music centre at the heritage Arts Centre complex.
However, a storm of protest ensued and resource consent was refused by commissioners who deemed the new building was "dominant and detract" from the Arts Centre's historic buildings.
The music school retreated to its Ilam campus, despite another proposal to use The Press building.
"That project didn't come to fruition but we still believed we could contribute to the city," UC vice-chancellor Rod Carr says.
"We let the dust all fall from that – and then the earthquake came along."
The decimation of Christchurch's CBD opened a door for UC to be part of the Arts Centre's estimated $290m rebuild. The University Council was willing to commit some capital, but not enough to get a new music school off the ground.
So when distinguished alumnus US professor David Teece and wife Leigh Teece offered a sizeable donation to Christchurch's recovery, Carr had just the project in mind.
A student and assistant lecturer at UC before it moved to Ilam, Teece says the idea of returning the university and its treasured Logie Collection to town was "especially appealing".
"Bringing back classical antiquities into the city centre in a way that provided students access and opportunities for teaching, it resonated symbolically as well as practically.
"I see this as an anchor for the city because it's a piece of the past that's been preserved."
In total, 214 people donated $2m to a University of Canterbury Foundation fundraising campaign for the Chemistry building's refurbishment.
College of Arts deputy pro-vice chancellor professor Paul Millar says the new campus' proximity to the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch Art Gallery, and the Christchurch symphony and youth orchestras provided opportunities to strengthen the cultural precinct as it regenerates.
Millar hopes the school will become "a magnet" for arts courses and activities. It has been given priority timetabling so students "gain rather than lose" from being 5 kilometres from the Ilam campus, or potentially having to travel between the two.
"People will come from all over the world for engineering or science; a College of Arts tends to serve its community. We're trying to be community facing," he says.
"When we were looking at what to put in here we felt arts would do better in the central city. It's an opportunity to contribute to the rebuild and give people a sense of what happens at the university."
UC's students, staff and contractors already contribute $1.27 billion, 3.8 per cent of the region's gross domestic product, every year and moving back to the Arts Centre could mean further growth.
Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan says "putting a university in the middle of a city fosters a huge amount of business".
"The reality is you [will] end up with more cultural and social life because you have an extra 400 students bringing spending that would have happened elsewhere."
Graduates who study in town are more likely to seek jobs there, creating a "virtuous cycle" of activity that will help make Christchurch a more vibrant, attractive place.
Universities worldwide, including Victoria and Auckland universities, have cottoned on to the benefits of city centre campuses but Whelan, who worked for UC during the 2010 music school debate, says space and finances limit its options.
"If the earthquake had flattened the university, the university would have loved to go back into town but you can't just let go of three-quarters of your infrastructure."
Beyond an ICT school in the innovation precinct, Carr says future expansion into Christchurch's CBD is largely out of reach for UC as it undertakes a $2b, 30-year redevelopment of its Ilam base.
He was pleased, however, to bring the Logie artefacts, described by historians as the best small classical collection in the southern hemisphere, out of the sixth floor of a university tower into the public eye.
Teece Museum curator Terri Elder says the 370-piece collection of Roman, Greek and Egyptian artefacts, donated to the university in 1957 by James Logie's wife classics tutor Marian Steven, is a "fantastic" teaching resource for all.
"There have been so many involved with the collection who have a passion and enthusiasm for it and now we have the forum to share that more widely."
Its rarest item, the Logie Cup, is one of only two in existence – the other is in Paris' Louvre Museum – but Elder says a small plate is one of her favourite pieces.
"There are two little figures painted on that, a man and a woman together. Marian Steven used to joke that it was her and James.
"The tales these artefacts are telling, they get reinvented over time and we each take them on and interpret them in our own way."
The public can visit the new Teece Museum for the first time on Saturday May 20, from 11am.
The Teeces, who visit Christchurch a few times a year, say the arts inspire imagination the city will need as it regrows.
They hope the collection at their namesake museum can keep that perspective front of mind.
"It should be a reminder that greatness doesn't last forever, that we can't take our civilisation for granted."