Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Culture Initiatives in Christchurch – a Literature Review

Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Cult…
01 May 2016
Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Cult…
01 May 2016

Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Culture Initiatives in Christchurch – a Literature Review, was prepared by Life in Vacant Spaces Charitable Trust for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

The objective of the literature review was to gather and assess existing research on the impacts arts and culture activity has had on cultural, social, health and economic wellbeing in the community in the Christchurch region following the earthquakes in 2010/2011.  The review includes the key findings of each study and the robustness of the methodology used; a summary of the findings from the literature, and recommendations on potential areas for further study. 

The review’s authors note that any omissions or biases in this review are unintentional. They are interested in hearing of any relevant studies that were conducted/published prior to December 2015 that may have been missed.


The objective of this literature review is to assess existing research that has evaluated postdisaster creative and artistic programmes in Christchurch with respect to how they have impacted social, cultural, health and economic wellbeing in the community. The scope includes post-disaster activities of long-standing organisations, as well as newly created post-quake organisations and initiatives. The collection of materials looked at for this literature review comprises scholarly articles, conference proceedings, independent publications, wellbeing surveys, impact assessments and some uninterpreted raw data.

Key Results

1. There have been perceived physical and mental health benefits for those participating in Christchurch’s post-disaster artistic and creative initiatives: Numerous studies in this literature review argue that Christchurch’s post-disaster artistic and creative initiatives – both traditional art forms and ones that are more experimental and hard to classify – have provided participants and initiators with physical and mental health benefits. Traditional forms of art (for example participation in a choir or dance group) were primarily found to provide participants with mental health benefits such as reduction of stress and increased self-confidence. The more experimental projects that featured in the research (such as urban regeneration projects created by Gap Filler) were found to have fostered a sense of social cohesion and community empowerment. (See especially Susan Bidwell; Canterbury Wellbeing Index; Candice J. Egan; Shermine Kwok; Andrew Mowlah; Louise Thornley et al.; Andreas Wesener; and Elizabeth Wilson.)

2. Arts and culture can help preserve and/or reinvent social memory, which contributes to post-disaster resilience and urban identity: Several studies in the literature review have found that the loss of social memory – of urban landscapes, of architectural heritage and of previous community involvement and engagement in the city – has serious detrimental effects to the wellbeing of community members. They find that arts and culture can be key tools in preserving, recovering and creating new social memory, with positive impacts on community members’ abilities to be resilient and appropriately engage and participate in the emerging post-disaster city. (See especially Thea Brejzek; Kevin Fisher; Zita Joyce [ADA Mesh Cities]; The Press; Simon Swaffield; Christopher Thomson; and Geoff A. Wilson.)

3. Having a collaborative and all-inclusive arts infrastructure is important for full recovery: A variety of authors argue for the importance of having the appropriate resources and infrastructure to support a collective arts ecology. According to certain studies, a healthy arts infrastructure is one that enables both small-scale experimental initiatives and larger traditional and institutional programmes to co-exist and collaborate, performing very different functions within the overall arts ecology. The authors explain how a healthy arts infrastructure can strengthen the social, cultural and economic life of Christchurch, and involve the widest range of participants. (See especially Melanie Oliver; Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management; George Parker; The Press; and Elke Weesjes.)

4. Community groups often played vital roles in their neighbourhood’s resilience and wellbeing: Several studies argue that despite a lack of efficient support and responses from official recovery authorities, community groups and members were able to takeinitiative and create innovative forms of leadership and local governance to provide necessary services and amenities in their communities immediately after the earthquakes. Studies argue that in addition to the natural disaster, some “man-made disasters” – including certain political decisions from recovery authorities – have hindered a smooth recovery process. The result was that many community-led initiatives not only replaced official recovery authorities in the provision of services and amenities, but also contributed to social connectedness and mental and physical wellbeing. Arts and culture organisations often did not directly feature in these findings, though it can sometimes be inferred that arts and culture contributes to overall community social capital and therefore to this ability for communities to be resilient. (See especially Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management; Roy Montgomery; Simon Swaffield; Louise Thornley et al.; and Suzanne Vallance.)

5. The presence of pre-existing community infrastructure contributes to stronger postdisaster community resilience: The majority of the studies regarding community resilience argued that the presence of pre-disaster community infrastructure, such as active community groups and local governance models, significantly facilitates postdisaster community resilience. The existence of these kinds of structures allows for efficient grassroots responses that are essential for post-disaster recovery and resilience. Again, the benefits of neighbourhood arts and culture initiatives are more inferred than explicit in these studies. (See especially Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management; Louise Thornley et al.; Suzanne Vallance; Elizabeth Wilson; and Geoff Wilson.)

6. Many individuals and cultural organisations have been eager to contribute to the emerging urban identity of post-disaster Christchurch: The post-disaster resilience of Cantabrians has come largely in the form of citizens finding ways to contribute to the emerging landscape and identity of Christchurch. Numerous individuals contributed through community service and volunteering; creating community organisations; initiating entrepreneurial projects; and contributing to public consultation forums, among other innovative and resilient responses. Arts and culture initiatives feature prominently as some of the primary ways citizens felt able to participate in the creation of a new city identity. Studies in this literature review argue that these post-disaster approaches have become a part of the new urban identity of Christchurch, and that Christchurch is now seen as an exemplary ‘transitional city’. (See especially Alberto Amore; Thea Brejzek; Blair French; Shermine Kwok; Susanne Ledanff; Simon Swaffield; and Silvia Tavares et al.)

7. Traditional arts organisations have demonstrated adaptive capacities and resilient efforts: Despite a lack of resources, loss of venues and personal traumatic experiences among staff, long-standing artistic and creative organisations displayed countless examples of adaptation and resilience. Authors in this literature review explain how musical organisations, art galleries, dance companies and orchestras continued to perform and produce events in alternative venues with fewer resources and staff – often experiencing benefits due to enforced co-location or collaboration. While this in itself does not prove their wider benefits to the community, it does indicate that arts and culture organisations may be among the most versatile and adaptable after disaster, and that communities with a strong arts and culture sector may be more resilient. (See especially Alberto Amore; Candice J. Egan; Zita Joyce [Radio Quake]; Sharon Mazer; Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management; David Sell; The Press; Suzanne Vallance; and Elizabeth Wilson.)

8. Arts and culture initiatives should be included in the official recovery process in Christchurch: Several studies in this literature review argue that the government’s Christchurch Central Recovery Plan does not adequately provide support or facilities for a multitude of arts organisations. The authors criticise the plan for only valuing traditional and well-entrenched arts and performance spaces, while alternative art forms are not recognised or accommodated by the proposed venues and precincts in the official plans. The studies also argue that the perspectives of the arts community would provide innovative approaches for the official rebuild planning processes: that rebuilding a city is an inherently creative process that would benefit from the perspective of artists and others who are proficient and experienced at trying new things. (See especially Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority; Melanie Oliver; George Parker; The Press; and Louise Thornley et al.)

9. The provision of appropriate venues is vital for the prosperous and sustainable development of the arts and culture sector: A few of the studies in this literature review discuss the importance of planning for a range of appropriate venues that cater to various artistic and creative institutions, events and programmes. The authors explain the need of many organisations to relocate venues, and the impact this had on the production and performance of certain activities. To properly provide the services and activities of their initiatives, many organisations need venues and spaces with quitespecific amenities and capacities. (See especially Craig Cooper; Andrew Moore; Morris Hargreaves McIntyre; Melanie Oliver; and Elizabeth Wilson.)

10. There is a perception that artistic and creative initiatives are impractical or superfluous in a post-disaster context: While many residents were grateful for, engaged in and benefited from post-disaster arts and culture activities, some residents and authorities doubt the value, importance or necessity of these initiatives. Several studies present the public opinion that focus should be on more important services and amenities and that arts and culture should be de-prioritised post-disaster. Not everyone supported the allocation of public taxes towards creative temporary urban regeneration projects and other artistic and creative activities. Generally the researchers who presented this public opinion did not agree with it – but see it as an obstacle for a thriving arts and culture sector post-disaster. (See Especially Morris Hargreaves McIntyre; Louise Thornley et al.; and Andreas Wesener.)

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018