$2m in private donations help bring music students back to Christchurch Arts Centre


$2m in private donations help bring music students back to Christchurch Arts Centre
  1. $2m in private donations help bring music students back to Christchurch Arts Centre
    stuff.co.nz
    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…
    Education & Family

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.

University of Canterburys new old building at the Arts Centre. Supplied

University of Canterbury's new old building at the Arts Centre.

"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."

READ MORE: * Homecoming for University of Canterbury * Hundreds of students will use Arts Centre * Uni's master plan to create a 'little city' * Arts Centre rebuild humming along

A recital roo has acoustically-designed wall paneling funded by Creative New Zealand. Joseph Johnson

A recital roo has acoustically-designed wall paneling funded by Creative New Zealand.

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.

David and Leigh Teece were substantial donors to the restoration of the Old Chemistry building in the Arts Centre. Joseph Johnson

David and Leigh Teece were substantial donors to the restoration of the Old Chemistry building in the Arts Centre.

The group successfully argued the proposed 16-metre high building would harm the area's heritage values.

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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.

College of Arts deputy pro vice-chancellor professor Paul Millar in the schools attic level lecture space. Joseph Johnson

College of Arts deputy pro vice-chancellor professor Paul Millar in the school's attic level lecture space.

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.

Students paint in one of the old University of Canterbury buildings. The university was sited at the Arts Centre for ... The Press

Students paint in one of the old University of Canterbury buildings. The university was sited at the Arts Centre for more than 100 years, moving to Ilam in 1975.

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."

Graduands of 1977 gather at the old university site before their march to the Christchurch Town Hall. The Press

Graduands of 1977 gather at the old university site before their march to the Christchurch Town Hall.

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, includi…