By Tim Jones, Librarian, Christchurch Art Gallery.
Between February and August 2011, Christchurch Art Gallery was occupied by other people, first Civil Defence, then Christchurch City Council (including the city planning team), then CERA. By about May we realised we were likely to remain closed for several more months and that our website, which kept promising re-opening exhibitions soon, needed some emergency management of its own.
Among with many projects that we devised to keep our visitors, supporters, sponsors and volunteers connected while our doors were closed was a blog. We had done something similar in 2009 when we closed our permanent collection spaces for three months for a major re-build and we knew from this experience this was a good way of maintaining the curiosity and engagement of our various communities. Of course back then we had a fixed schedule; we knew when we would re-open and what with: a spectacular new exhibition space and a re-thought curation of works from our own collection which we called Brought to Light.
But a post-earthquake blog was uncharted territory: we began by talking about our re-opening, but as the date for this receded (it is now scheduled for “mid-2013”), we found we had to use all our powers of imagination to produce daily copy.
An advantage was having a lot of talented writers on the staff and our management team supported these writers to spend their time in this way. For many of them, writing, short, informal, slightly quirky pieces, with copious use of illustrations, was new territory.
We set up a simple procedure for proof-reading each post before making it live and our site management system allows posts to be scheduled for specific days to co-incide with an event or anniversary we want to note.
On the other hand, we set no rules about what subjects were worth writing about. Predictably the earthquake and its effects on the city is a common theme, from the observations of odd signs, to grander speculations on ruins as an art historical theme.
A powerful photograph was invariably a good start and powerful photographs of buildings being demolished or archival images of lost buildings fondly remembered always did the trick.
Another purpose of the blog was to show the public, who, after all pay our salaries, that we were still doing some useful work even though our doors were closed. So we blogged about our front of house staff making fabric corners for paintings and about tagging the collection with terms from the Getty Art and Architecture thesaurus.
We noted major events in the news such as elections and rugby matches and we offered our condolences on the deaths of various artists, friends and supporters. We mined our archives for stories from the past, and we kept our eyes and ears open for current events. We were usually pretty serious, for example when we documented post-quake conservation work. But sometimes we were very silly, for example when we marked International Beer Day.
Pestering staff for new posts became standard practice for the handful of staff running the blog and we take some pride in educating our colleagues to ‘think blog’ while going about their daily routines. Any visit to another gallery, anything seen round town, any curious juxtaposition of creation and destruction, anything seen or done while on holiday, any news item read, any website visited, all of these can be the raw material for a post and, without much difficulty, our writers imaginatively make links between these and an observation on the power and relevance of the visual arts.
Reviewing posts for this article makes me realise we already have some patterns and a real narrative in our short blogging history. When we began we were earnest and rather verbose, now we seem to be more cynical and our style has sharpened considerably. The blog has its own style: neither press release nor academic article, neither wall label nor news item.
The posts which confidently predicted our re-opening, in July 2011, in October 2011, before the end of 2011, early in 2012 and now sadly in mid-2013 certainly make gloomy reading but they very much reinforce how important this type of instant communication is with our readers.
We hope you’ll visit us often – and regularly – on www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz/blog.
We like comments and we will always respond to questions.
1. Rescue teams assemble. Photo courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery.
2. Helping Out. Photo courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery.
3. International Beer Day. Photo courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery.