Christchurch, aka ‘Shaky Town’, has not been getting the best press lately. Often all that makes it into the news is doom and gloom to do with EQC and earthquake damage, but there are all sorts of creative seeds being sown all over the city, often where you’d least expect to find them. Gapfiller is a community project that aims to ‘temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city’ and has seen artists and innovators take to the streets in an effort to turn empty sites into sights and experiences for the local community.
The first I knew of this project was when a whole lot of milk bottle flowers started decorating the mesh fences around vacant sites. Then there was the cycle powered cinema, which took the site of a demolished bike shop and put the power back in the legs of the people, quite literally. The public was invited to bring a bicycle and pedal on a specially built stand to power a dyno and project cycle related movies onto the wall of an adjacent building. With a very limited season, people were queuing up to have a spin, and the picnic blankets invited those who just wanted to watch to do so, enjoying the spectacle with people from their local community.
Participation has been a big thing with many of the Gapfiller projects, and the way they are set up encourages interaction with others. The Dance-O-Mat is a case in point – insert $2 into an old converted washing machine, plug in your music device and voila, 30 minutes of DJ-ing on the purpose built dance floor ensues. While most people may be inclined to decline the offer of joining in at 2pm on a weekday, the installation was open 24/7, and there are always people who can’t resist a good boogey on their way past. For those who simply don’t dance, the mini golf hole next door provided a welcome alternative.
At the centre of the Gapfiller project is the Pallet Pavilion, a venue built entirely out of blue packing pallets. Over the past summer it’s played host to performances for the busking festival, music jams, vintage markets, scrabble nights and much more. This weekend I was very excited to hear that the pavilion has secured funding for another season, thanks to the generosity of the very people who use it and appreciate what it stands for. That’s right, $82,000 in crowd funding is not bad, and it also shows how much impact a grass roots project can have on a community. I’m proud to be able to say that my name’s on one of those pallets, and that 879 other people felt the same way as me about the importance of this creative hub in the midst of a transitional city.
Gapfiller makes that transition into a positive, celebratory experience. As well as the interactive activities, there are the poems, the interactive chalkboard projects and the transient murals that pop up to make an empty lot into an attraction and help to replace the lost landmarks of the city. These just-round-the-corner surprises are like little gifts to each day, and little by little they are creating a new layer of myths and cultural heritage for places that now only exist in memory. For someone who moved to Canterbury after the earthquakes and doesn’t share those memories or the ghost map of the city, this is a very exciting way to orientate myself, focusing in on the flowers amongst the rubble. The seeds have been planted, and the projects that have bloomed over the past two summers are sure to make the ground more fertile for even bigger dreams to take root come next spring.
For a map of the current Gapfiller projects and to find out more, visit http://www.gapfiller.org.nz/