The New Collective

by Elizabeth Davidson

We explore collaboration in post-quake Christchurch.


In November 2015, TimeZoneOne merged with Cabbage Tree Creative and Fountaine Design. It was the culmination of a journey that started in February 2011, when we left our earthquake-damaged building in the Christchurch CBD.

After a brief exile in the fleshpots of Sockburn, we moved into a shared space with Cabbage Tree and Fountaine on Moorhouse Avenue. It was a temporary solution. We moved on, to a space in New Regent Street a year later. But the seed had been sown. In 2015, we began conversations with Fountaine and Cabbage Tree around future collaboration, and here we are today. But here’s the rub. We would never have merged had it not been for that time we spent sharing a space.

After a brief exile in the fleshpots of Sockburn, we moved into a shared space with Cabbage Tree and Fountaine on Moorhouse Avenue. It was a temporary solution. We moved on, to a space in New Regent Street a year later. But the seed had been sown. In 2015, we began conversations with Fountaine and Cabbage Tree around future collaboration, and here we are today. But here’s the rub. We would never have merged had it not been for that time we spent sharing a space.

Our merger got me thinking about all the other collaborations sparked by shared space in the wake of the quakes. I thought it would be a good time, six years on from the earthquakes that reshaped the culture and the fabric of our city, to collect some of these stories together, and look at how post-quake collaboration has enriched us all.

Creative Hubs

After the February earthquake, CPIT1 welcomed homeless arts organisations to a Creative Hub in their Faculty of Creative Industries. Around 12 arts organisations shared the space, including the Christchurch Arts Festival, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO), the Christchurch City Choir, the Buskers Festival, SCAPE Public Art, and the Body Festival2.Adam Hayward of Hyde Productions, then Director of the Body Festival, looks back: “I remember Jane Gregg and Martin Trusttum at CPIT saying: ‘You’re all displaced. We’ve got space. Why don’t you move in?’

Adam Hayward of Hyde Productions, then Director of the Body Festival, looks back: “I remember Jane Gregg and Martin Trusttum at CPIT saying: ‘You’re all displaced. We’ve got space. Why don’t you move in?’

“We all knew each other, but we hadn’t necessarily worked together before. The City Choir brought their photocopier, and we realised we didn’t all need our own photocopiers. We could share one, and we could share other administrative facilities too. We began to help each other out in other ways.

“Then those conversations around the photocopier became about creative possibilities.”

Director of SCAPE Public Art, Deborah McCormick, also spent time working from the Creative Hub. She tells me about Arts Voice Christchurch, an independent arts advocacy group established to represent the arts community during the earthquake recovery process. “The first meeting was chaired by Creative New Zealand (CNZ), who addressed the arts sector at the Creative Hub. They invited people to be part of a steering committee to identify issues and priorities for the arts in Christchurch.”

“It was pretty nerve-wracking. Our routines, our homes, our work had all broken down and we were being called to speak on behalf of the arts. We held public meetings, ran surveys and canvassed issues. Everyone was hugely supportive. It was an important time of collaboration, and it was helpful to be thinking in an optimistic visionary way when everything was so hard. We presented a submission to the Council’s Draft Central City Plan3, and funnelled the arts sector’s views into the Blueprint4. Not all the views we presented have come through in the plans for the city, but there has been lots of fantastic stuff that has.” Lizzie Meek, Programme Manager of artefacts conservation at Antarctic Heritage Trust and Vice-President of Lyttelton Museum, talks about post-quake collaborations in the museum sector. “The earthquakes made many cultural collections instantly inaccessible. Buildings were unsafe, or out-of-bounds. The Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram suffered comparatively minor damage, and they said, ‘What can we do to help?’ They established the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre on their campus.

“As the collections were gradually salvaged, they were brought to the Recovery Centre to be stored. Around 20 cultural collections used the space free of charge for three years. And those groups who have not yet been able to establish a new permanent home for their collection have been offered a further three years. It was a very generous thing for the Air Force Museum to do, and involved a lot of pro bono work from their team.

“The Recovery Centre also created opportunity for people to share information and ideas. Many smaller collections were staffed by volunteers, and Te Papa’s National Services Te Paerangi5  ran a program of workshops to support these people to store their collections. Professional conservators shared their skills. They showed the volunteers how to pack, label, catalogue, and conserve their collections properly. There was an incredible exchange of knowledge as well as practical support and camaraderie. Collections work can be rather inwardly focused, so this collaboration was special.”

The Air Force Museum’s Director Thérèse Angelo says: “We were in a position that we could help, so we did. The attitude of the Board here made it easy. All our people are wonderful. They said get in, help out, do what you can. I believe our Air Force association helps with that attitude. There’s a strong sense of duty to the community. And the whole management of the Recovery Centre was collaborative. There were all sorts of support, in kind and in cash.

“How do we take those lessons that we learned about collaboration into the future? Recently our Board decided that the time was appropriate to reconsider what we wanted to be in ten years’ time. They looked at our strategic ideas and objectives, and we now have new key principles that we can test our actions against. Collaboration is a central way of doing business for us. We want the museum to be seen as a first choice partner, and our visitors and our community are key stakeholders.

“The mandate has been set for us to act more widely and not just think of our collection, but ask how our work can benefit our sector, or our wider community. It gives us a bigger sphere of operations and a lot more freedom. We can actively partner with smaller organisations. For example, we’re planning a series of workshops with Ellesmere Heritage Park. We want to manage collaborations between the smaller heritage organisations so that people can build their capabilities, through helping themselves and helping each other.

We’re looking at setting up digital links for the community like a Facebook page and hosting regular morning teas. We’re taking responsibility for continuing to foster the community of heritage organisations that came together after the quakes. That’s the legacy that we’d like to have.”

Plenty to Share

Gap Filler’s Coralie Winn tells me: “So much comes from having resources to share. With the Commons6 we have this prime location in the heart of the city, and we’ve been very open about wanting to share that resource.”

“The very first use of the Commons wasn’t by Gap Filler. It was by CPIT, who placed a cob pizza oven on site for FESTA 2012. From that beginning grew the Pallet Pavilion, the food trucks and all the events on the site. Initially; we seeded events by shoulder tapping people, but then the events started to trickle in by themselves. So many events were collaborations. For example, chef Alex Davies used the Commons pizza oven for A Local Food Project. Then, he got involved in helping us creating feasts in the Pallet Pavilion, before collaborating with Liz Phelan on Shop Eight on New Regent Street. He’s now working with many people on other projects like Nostalgia Festival, and a series of pop-up events including Gatherings.”

The Pallet Pavilion was built on the Commons site by volunteers in late 2012 and remained until May 2014. It was itself a striking example of post-quake collaboration with 300+ volunteers and businesses giving around 2,600 hours of their time to build the space. Coralie remembers: “That first summer, a family ran the space with the help of volunteers. There was a wealth of enthusiasm and creativity. People proposed projects. Gap Filler made introductions and supported them. We had events as diverse as the inaugural Smash Palace Annual Bike Show, community protests, Christchurch Holi Festival and lectures for CHCH101, a University of Canterbury course critically examining the concept of community engagement within tertiary studies.

“A common theme was people’s delight at discovering the space. There was a sense of pride that we, as a community, had done this. People wanted to have events there. People even got married there. The space created a sense of pride and ownership. Spaces speak to us subliminally about what’s allowed. Something about the Pavilion said anything is possible. Maybe the temporary nature of the structure freed people.”

The Rise of Collaborative Ecosystems

One of the notable trends in post-quake Christchurch is the rise of shared spaces, where people from different businesses work together.

Catarina Gutierrez, of Ministry of Awesome, which supports early-stage entrepreneurs, tells me: “We’ve followed a co-working model for three years, and we were one of the first places in town to do this. There are around six now. We had around 30 tenants in our original co-working space. It was a conscious selection of people. We wanted a big variety, not just a sector cluster, but anyone and everyone. This leads to more opportunities for collaboration, and it means we don’t have to police potential conflicts of interest.

Our general rule is: don’t be a dick. Co-working is a big part of what we do, and it’s an ongoing part of our vision as far as our physical space goes. Co-working brings our community together in a different way from our events. People are actually working together. It’s not just a business card exchange. People are here, not just because they need space to work, but because they’re open to collaboration. People come to hot desk, introduce themselves to each other, and end up working together.

“Last year we mapped the innovation ecosystem in Christchurch in collaboration with the Canterbury Development Corporation. We documented the support offered to businesses as they move through innovation phases. This initiative brought all these support organisations together, talking about what we do, how we can work together to support businesses, and avoid duplicating services unnecessarily. Everything is changing so quickly in Christchurch. The map isn’t as dynamic as we’d like it to be, but it’s a good start. It’s great to see other organisations mapping their own support networks, for example The Poutama Trust and Ngāi Tahu established Puna Pakihi in 2015 to enable the development and growth of Ngāi Tahu whānau and hapū businesses.”

Shift Culture on St Asaph Street is the new Ministry of Awesome’s Awesome HQ, a co-working space, live testing ground, and showroom for organic workspace solutions created by workspace strategists Haworth by Europlan.

Manager Helen Dennis tells me more. “Technology is driving rapid change in workspaces. We don’t know what the future will look like, so our goal is to futureproof businesses for change by offering agile solutions. We’re committed to sharing knowledge around new ways of working, and building collaborative working communities, and we wanted to immerse ourselves in this way of working. It’s one thing knowing about something. It’s another thing living it. Shared space is not our core business, but it fully reflects the brand values of Europlan and Haworth. That’s partly why we started Shift Culture, because no one else in our sector was doing anything like this. We’ve learned so much about how and why people use a workspace.

When we started the space lots of people wanted an office in Christchurch, but they didn’t want an eight-year lease. The Christchurch commercial real estate market changed overnight from a buyers’ market with lots of short-term leases to a sellers’ market with crazy long leases. Shared spaces allow start-ups to transition from working out of their home office, to hiring another person, or being able to have meetings in a space that gives them credibility.

“There’s science behind what we’re doing. Flexible spaces create a collaborative workplace culture, and more engagement from staff. People want to be here. They want to do more, and they give of themselves more. People’s emotional connection to the space is significant. And things happen quicker. If you’re all in boxes you don’t just walk over and start talking. You email instead and it removes spontaneity.

“We talk to developers about shared facilities. Every single business in a building doesn’t need a boardroom or a kitchen. If you imagine a multi-story building, you have all this wasted space replicated up the building. From a developer’s point of view, what’s more attractive? The traditional model of silo office space with under-utilised facilities, or a vibrant shared space, enabling them to accommodate more businesses, offer their tenants better value, higher quality, shared facilities, and the potential to generate external revenue from leasing the shared facilities. People in Christchurch are open to new ideas. We were forced to change, but some of us have realised that we like change.”

Perhaps the highest profile shared space in Christchurch is the tech sector hub EPIC, established in late 2012. EPIC global coordinator Henry Lane remembers that at the time of the earthquake he was a video game developer for Cerebral Fix. “Things were going pretty well. And then the earthquake happened. Ironically at the time we were working on a project for Homeland Security to educate children about what to do in natural disasters like earthquakes … So we got all the team out of the building, but we lost all our equipment. We had nothing but our reputation. People worked from home. Then our CEO went to the States to talk to our clients and tell them what was going on. He came back with more business. We needed a place to work.

“Callaghan Innovation7 invited us to share their space out by the airport. They said, we’ve got space for about five people if you want it. We squeezed around 30 people into that tiny space. I remember our programmers and artists wearing hard hats as the roof was repaired over their heads. It was interesting, cramped as hell, holes in the walls and heaters under the desks in the middle of winter. But we weren’t the only refugee company out there. We were sharing meeting rooms and facilities with around five other companies, and we started to have conversations and perceive chances for collaboration. We started to see there was an opportunity here. That became the blueprint for EPIC. We thought, let’s do this on a bigger scale.

“The EPIC project is collaborative: businesses and people coming together for something bigger than the individual. A huge amount of the work done on EPIC was pro bono or heavily discounted. We asked, what can you do to help us? Craig Neville Manning, at Google in New York, suggested shared facilities to build the community, and everyone has heard the story about Google’s gift of a coffee machine. They deliberately sent us a proper mechanical machine, so that if you’ve never used it before, you have to ask for help … and there’s another connection made.

“There are around 30 companies here with around 300 employees. And there’s constant cross pollination. The small companies ask for advice, or the larger companies work with the smaller innovators. I remember the CEOs of SLI Systems and Skilitics had a drink together8. Skilitics were planning a move into the US market, thinking about basing themselves in California. So Shaun from SLI asked Glen from Skilitics who they wanted to work with. Glen said Fortune 500 companies, and Shaun asked him where the decision makers from those companies were based. It turns out they’re mostly based in New York.

“So information sharing is another big thing. Other examples of collaboration: game developers Cerebral Fix are working with virtual reality specialists Corvecto to engage Skilitics’ e-learning platform with VR-based learning modules. One EPIC tenant has even attributed 300% growth in revenue to being part of the EPIC ecosystem. Software developers Treshna Enterprises collaborate with web developer Meta Digital on projects, and Callaghan Innovation has supported a number of tenant organisations, from video games for rehabilitation through to digital enhancement of exercise equipment.”

Cross Sector Collaboration

Adam Hayward notes: “There was minimal collaboration between the arts in Christchurch before the quakes. One of the major advantages of the quakes was the loss of traditional spaces for the creative arts. It forced us to look at the creative act first, and not where it was to be performed. A barrier was removed. The first question became: ‘What do I want to do?’ And we started to get collaborations across disciplines, across organisations, and across spaces, like the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s collaboration with dance company Jolt Interactive.

The potential of cross-disciplinary collaborations became even more manifest when the arts became part of the city’s healing process. Body Festival’s partnership with New Zealand Red Cross is an example of such a collaboration being used to boost wellbeing in Christchurch. Red Cross supported the Have a Go dance workshops, and provided transport to people needing it. They still support the Dancing Like the Stars project, which offers free dance classes to primary schools in Christchurch. It’s a fantastic partnership, but I don’t know if it’s something the Red Cross would have embraced so enthusiastically before the quakes. The earthquakes freed us all to consider new possibilities. The traditional rule book was ripped up and thrown out.”

Deborah McCormick believes the business sector has its role to play in the creative regeneration of the city. “If we can get business involved more with the arts, and build relationships between artists and businesses who want to include art in their spaces, this will create growth for the arts and for the city. I see more engagement from businesses post-quake.

“Fanfare by Neil Dawson (2004/15) is a good example of business collaborating with the arts. The sculpture was gifted to Christchurch before the earthquakes and it became SCAPE Public Art’s job to project manage installation. It was the right time post-quake to install such a powerful statement at a gateway to the city, and the strength of the idea of ‘a new gateway for a new Christchurch’ brought businesses on board. Fulton Hogan, Leighs Construction, and Holmes Solutions particularly got behind the project. It was the right project for them at the right time. If the arts sector in Christchurch can recognise the part business has in the picture, and make it easy for them to say yes, then they will come on board. You can make powerful collaborations happen and collaborations between business and the arts are powerful societal statements.”

Adam enthuses about the Christchurch Arts Audience Development Project, a group of arts stakeholders exploring ways to make the arts part of everyday life in Christchurch. “We’re trying to shift the focus from market share to shared market. We don’t say, ‘I want my piece of the pie!’ We can share the pie. So we’re looking at ideas like a Disloyalty Scheme9. We love the idea of cross-institution discounts, so you go to an exhibition at Christchurch Art Gallery and you get a discount to the CSO. Imagine if you went to a Crusaders game and you got a discount for a show at WORD Christchurch. How excellent would that be for those people who love rugby and also love poetry?”

Back in Our Boxes?

So what have we learned as a city? Are we in a bright new age of collaborative working spaces, and cross sector creative pollination? Adam asks some tough questions: “The powers that be regard a lot of these collaborations as transitional. That’s a problem. We haven’t got an arts hub in the new city, and you have to ask, why do we not have collaborative spaces, when they were working so well? Was shared space just a band aid? Do we now have to go back to our silos? It’s all very well having creative collaboration, but pooling resources at the organisational level is crucial. I’m also interested in the concept of having space to fail. The pressure on artists in New Zealand is always to make work. Room to breathe in terms of process is not supported. The earthquakes forced us to breathe. We couldn’t present work, there was nowhere to present, so we had to explore what we really wanted to do. It was time to reflect on process, and time to check on your neighbour.”

Deborah agrees that we need to preserve a collaborative focus: “The steps the arts have taken through this transitional phase have been quite phenomenal. It will be good if we can focus on what was great about the collaborations post-quake, and continue to be collegial. The arts in this city are an interlinked, diverse and complex ecology, and appreciative approaches to information sharing like the Christchurch Arts Audience Development Project are important. It’s important to be seen as speaking as one sector. We can’t afford to compete or be disparate. It’s always tough finding funding and resources and it’s going to be a challenging time with diminishing Creative New Zealand and earthquake-injected funding.  We have a strong group of arts leaders, and there’s so much strength in the model of different voices, knowledge, priorities and experience coming together for robust discussion. But you have to have trust and respect.

Lizzie Meek believes that the Lyttelton Museum’s collaborations have been strengthened by the quakes. “The museum is in transition. We have a completely new focus. Our hope is to build a new museum which could include a partnership with the local information centre, community meeting space, and space for local businesses. We’ve talked to so many people about how we can make the new museum a positive thing for the community, and we’re thinking about how the building will be used by different groups. Prior to the earthquakes there was no strategy or strong drive to connect with the community, it wasn’t an outward looking museum, and it didn’t have to be. But it’s another ball game now. There’s a sense that having a shared space will give another reason for people to visit, and it’s an exciting idea being more of a keystone of the community.”

Thérèse Angelo states: “Now that people are settling back into normality, the intensity of their desire to keep collaboration going isn’t so strong. However, collaboration is an essential principle for us now, as is involvement in our community. This has come from what happened after the quakes. Technology museums, like the Air Force Museum can be considered peripheral, and our geographic location contributes to that. The Recovery Centre partnership was good for us too. We’re now seen as a useful contributor to the Christchurch community. Benefits like that aren’t something we thought about before we got involved in the post-disaster community. Moving forward we’d like to see something that is a legacy of the Recovery Centre, even in a small way.”So what have we learned six years on from those disruptive earthquakes? Not to mindlessly duplicate. To look outward. To ask for help. To help others whenever you can. To be open to collaborations with people you wouldn’t ordinarily work with. To share overheads. To share ideas. To invite conversation. And most of all to celebrate all the amazing people out there working their guts out to make this city of ours a brighter, more beautiful place.

So what have we learned six years on from those disruptive earthquakes? Not to mindlessly duplicate. To look outward. To ask for help. To help others whenever you can. To be open to collaborations with people you wouldn’t ordinarily work with. To share overheads. To share ideas. To invite conversation. And most of all to celebrate all the amazing people out there working their guts out to make this city of ours a brighter, more beautiful place.


1. CPIT, formerly the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, is now the Ara Institute of Canterbury.
2. Ara Institute press release, ‘Arts Companies Move to CPIT’ 19 April 2011.
3. ‘Submission to CCC Draft Central City Plan By Arts Voice’ 16 September 2011.
4. ‘Christchurch Central Recovery Plan Te Mahere ‘Maraka Ōtautahi’ Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), Christchurch City Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
5. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa National Services Te Paerangi program offers access workshops, grants, and best-practice advice to museums and galleries.
6. The Commons at 70 Kilmore Street, Christchurch, is located on what used to be the site of the Crowne Plaza hotel, which was demolished in 2012. The site is now a hub of transitional activity and home to a number of post-quake organisations.
7. Callaghan Innovations is a New Zealand government agency that helps tech businesses succeed through technology and R&D.
8. SLI Systems provides cloud-based search tools for online retailers using the software as a service model. Skilitics provides cloud-based training solutions and learning measurement for businesses.
9. Adam went on to note that the Disloyalty Scheme was not the Christchurch Arts Audience Development Project’s original idea, but a concept that came out of The Big Conversation, an audience and market development conference run by Creative New Zealand.

About the Author

Elizabeth Davidson

Elizabeth Davidson

Director of Content Strategy & GM New Zealand

I’m a strategist and storyteller, helping you focus in on your customers’ dreams and needs to create a marketing strategy and brand story that will connect with them emotionally.