Another day of the Creating Spaces Conference here in Newcastle.
We were treated to a keynote from the most endearing duo, Ryan Reynolds and Coralie Winn. They are adorable, not to mention kick ass on all sorts of levels (new #professionalcrush), I thoroughly enjoyed both the content and their energy as presenters.
The duo were talking about Gap Filler, a moving and inspiring project from the devastated city of Christchurch. This is a city that’s been in a state of emergency, then a city stuck on waiting mode and now a city in recovery. They showed some heart wrenching images of both the initial devastation caused by the earthquakes and then the large ‘gaps’ in their city once the damage started to be cleared away.
Unlike Renew Newcastle and it’s spin offs, Gap Filler is an action based project – what I mean by this is that the project itself is initiating and driving the reactivation of spaces rather than taking on a brokerage role in the way the Renew movement does. You can see why I enjoyed it, yes?
I love Renew and I think it’s an exciting and interesting model, but I’m interested in placemaking and activation as a direct creative myself (in partnership with others) so I was really excited to see the particular dynamic and legacy thus far of Gap Filler.
It’s also interesting to note that neither Coralie or Ryan are originally from NZ, coming from Adelaide and the US respectively, they’ve clearly made Christchurch their home and there is a deep attachment and respect which many in the room today visibly and audibly responded to (there were tears).
Coralie introduced us to the context of Gap Filler’s work by taking us through the earthquakes starting in 2010, although she was quick to point out that there were issues before the earthquakes hit as well – Thanks Westfield Shopping Centre.
After the quake, I lost my job. So I had time – Coralie Winn
Gap Filler is all about filling gaps both literally and metaphorically. The gaps left by demolished buildings and the gaps in urban design, use of public space and the gaps between us as human beings.
It’s bloody terrible to use a highly technical term. (referring to the literal gaps in the city which once were full of buildings and other activity) – Coralie Winn
A public park on private land was one of the first Gap Filler projects. On an empty slate (which housed a building prior to the quakes), the project set up seating, a band space, poets performance and all manner of other fun.
People loved it and wanted more. The exact same thing actually located to a different space. Gap Filler decided to do something different though because they didn’t want to get trapped in other people’s expectations and because the staffing of this particular style of space posed problems.
I won’t list for you all the projects they outlined as you can take your time leisurely exploring their website where they will say it much better than I will anyway. Gap Filler doesn’t just talk to ‘cool artsy stuff’, it talks also to our human need to connect and the power of people and places in healing. An opportunity to invite the local super heroes to dance – like this.
Coralie and Ryan both talked very openly about how exhausting projects of this nature can be, and the fine line between what others expect of Gap Filler and what Gap Filler expects. They also talked about how the act of visibly doing something was so important for their community and how this inspired deeper agency from others around them. This to me echoes many of Marcus Westbury’s points on just starting something, just trying and that failing is A-ok.
Gap Filler has also been working with ‘assisted’ projects as well to support others to make great things happen. They get hundreds of requests a year, it’s nice to be popular but with a small team and limited funding they can only manage so much. They’ve also been working with a number of stakeholders to develop Life In Vacant Spaces, another initiative which aligns more directly with the brokerage style of Renew. I couldn’t find any online links so I’m assuming this is still in the planning stages as their online presence is very solid.
A repeated motif of the Creating Spaces Conference has been the reality that many (if not all) of these amazing projects and activities struggled to fit into existing funding models. Gap Filler is no exception with many of their projects being (initially) largely self funded, although they now have some financial support related to earthquake recovery.
The last and perhaps most important thought I’ll leave you with is this:
We want spaces for producers, not just consumers. Spaces that welcome creators of content. – Coralie Winn
I’m excited about that too. I don’t need a hundred seat theatre, or a climate controlled gallery. I just need time.
Gap Filler reminded me I need to demand that of myself.
And of course, I’d love you to come and play with me.