More Reminders About Importance of Libraries

I was reading a story about the earthquake that hit Christchurch, NZ ten years ago today which damaged large parts of the city. According to the article there was a significant effort by the local government which collected more than 100,000 ideas from over 10,000 people about how Christchurch should be rebuilt, but those plans and ideas were discarded by the national government of the time. The basic theme of the article is that much of the development which has occurred in the last 10 years hasn’t revitalized Christchurch.

The one place where local input was included in the plan generated by the national government was Tūranga, a library and community space which looks pretty dang awesome. Not only are there cafes and play areas, but there is a lot of focus on indigenous Maori culture and art as well as a digital wall depicting Christchurch’s features, history and stories. It is easy to see why the facility is well-regarded by residents.

Before I took a deeper look at the library in Christchurch, I was immediately reminded of the State Library of Queensland in Australia which Nina Simon had spoken about in a TED talk about 4 years ago. I summarized her story in a blog post at the time.

…State Library of Queensland which built a gorgeous new white building and then invited aboriginal elders in to help them design an indigenous knowledge center. The elders noted that for them, knowledge wasn’t shared through books, but rather through music, dance and storytelling in a setting that wasn’t so sterile looking, most importantly around a fire. The librarians, true to their intent renovated a space for music, dance and storytelling and infused it with color. And they built a firepit (away from the flammable archives, of course).

Part of the reason I checked out the floor plan of the library in Christchurch is because I wanted to see if they had included anything like a fire pit at their library. It doesn’t appear that there is, but there are plenty of other facilities and equipment for sharing ideas and stories.

By the way, if you want to see pictures of the fire pit area in Queensland, they are on the library’s webpage. Scroll down to “Story Circle” heading. It almost doesn’t look like it is outside, but I found some YouTube videos of events and while it is nicely enclosed there is definitely a lot fresh air flow through the space.

The lesson here may be not to give libraries short shrift in the economizing that may come now or as we emerge from Covid restrictions because they are important community spaces.

One specifically arts related thing I wanted to note was the significant role the article said it played in helping people transition post-earthquake in Christchurch:

If you don’t live in New Zealand and you read about Christchurch in those years, most likely it was about the creative, guerrilla projects that popped up in the immediate aftermath of the quakes. Temporary site activations—Gap Fillers—brought life back to the empty gravel lots with music, performance, art, and community participation. These were almost spontaneous events, a community responding to challenging times however it could. They represented the best of the city, and inspired residents and visitors to believe that the new Christchurch that grew from the rubble of the old could be eclectic, engaging, and exciting.

 

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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