Tuesday 22 November 2011

Post-Earthquake Part 2 - Jeweller's Stories

'Primordial Series' by Deanna Gracie
As Christmas draws closer, the year can't be over soon enough for some Christchurch residents, including some craft business owners, who are increasingly reporting that there is little to look forward to and that intervention is needed if they are to survive. Craft Aotearoa recognises the strain craft business owners are under, and we continue to do all we can to raise awareness of their predicament with the relevant authorities, working hard behind the scenes to get on their radar. This isn't easy however, as the craft sector is not widely understood, even within the wider arts community.

The reality is that these craft business owners (usually sole traders) are caught in the double whammy of being too small to have the bargaining clout enjoyed by larger businesses, and yet as profit-driven creative enterprises (whose successes and failures are funded entirely from their own pocket as opposed to public funding) they are driven by a different economic model to some other arts sectors. The economics are simple. Without access to space in which to showcase new work to the public, sales have diminished and some that Craft Aotearoa has spoken to are reporting no sales in the past three months - particularly worrying given this is usually a busy period in the lead up to Christmas. There is a very real possibility that some of these craft businesses will cease to exist in 2012, unable to absorb successive financial and insurance hits. Which begs the question - what can we all do to help them, because they are sure working as hard as they can to help themselves.

Craft Aotearoa has been primarily focused on conversing with property owners, the wider arts community, and the relevant authorities to identify possible space and to develop projects that can support craft business owners to 'get back on their feet.' We're in the process of presenting some options to those in the craft sector on 7th December. It's an open invite meeting - if you would like to come along email jenna-lea.philpott@craftaotearoa.org.nz for more information.

In part two of our Post-Earthquake series, we feature the stories of designer jewellery makers, Deanna Gracie, and Deb Fallowfield, both of whom show their work nationally. Both are now working from homes that were significantly damaged in the 22 February and 13 June earthquakes this year.

Deanna Gracie

Where were you based before the 22 February earthquake?  
Due to structural damage the lease was terminated at our upstairs jewellery gallery, ConneXion, at The Arts Centre after the 4th September earthquake in 2010. I spent the next five months project managing and having a large part to play in the design of a brand new, purpose built space downstairs in a prime location at The Arts Centre. The gallery was operating extremely well, even though we had only been open for two and a half weeks before the earthquake hit on February 22nd. Although the gallery itself wasn't damaged, public access to the building was going to be extremely difficult, so we were forced to terminate our lease and bang went our dream gallery!

Where do you create new work now?
I design and create new work from my 'orange zoned' home studio in Southshore, East Christchurch.

Deanna Gracie
What disadvantages did the earthquake present you?
I lost a lot of my own personal money due to the refit of the new gallery space and I am left with nowhere to exhibit and sell my work on a permanent basis. Galleries in Christchurch are few and far between and there are a lot of displaced artists all vying for the same exhibition spaces. I am just one small voice feeling very lost amongst a larger group of displaced artists. The earthquake has left the city without a cultural heart - there is no creative gathering place like we used to have at The Arts Centre and within the cultural precinct itself. We see fewer visitors to Christchurch both from overseas and New Zealand so we have also lost a large and changing market of customers.

Coping with the constant barrage of earthquakes, house damage, despair, loss and grief has had a huge impact on my work. The loss of confidence has been very debilitating and I battle daily to stay positive in order to keep my creative energy flowing.

What opportunities (if any) have become available since?

As a direct result of the earthquake, I have participated in two exhibitions since February. 'A gathering' from 10th August - 1st September at the atrium at CPIT and 'Art Opportunity 1' - a mixed media exhibition at The George Hotel 27th - 29th May.

Where can people view and buy your work?
Studio visits are available by appointment to view and purchase my work. I also sell my work online. This year I will also have work in the 'Art Opportunity 2' exhibition of ceramic, glass and jewellery at The George Hotel on the 16th, 17th 18th December.

Deb Fallowfield

Where were you based before the 22 February earthquake?
In my own brand new studio in Lichfield Street, near Poplar Lane. The studio had a fantastic fit out after the September 4th 2010 earthquake, and I was looking at signage and reopening to the public in time to capitalise on the new tram stop out front. After September, the city was really quiet but things had started to pick up in February and I was well on track to establishing a funky jewellery studio such as Christchurch had not seen with 'Banksy' style artwork out front too.

Inside Deb Fallowfield's Lichfield Street Studi
On Feb 22nd itself, I was flat out. I had ten customers booked to see me that afternoon when I got a phonecall at 12:15pm that day from Dog Control and I had to rush home as fast as possible (about four blocks from the city centre). That is the reason why I was not in my studio when the earthquake hit and I feel incredibly lucky! There were gas leaks from my building and fellow tenants were sick as a result. After the earthquake hit, I ran back in to town to find my son who attended Unlimited High School in Cashel Mall. Blind panic gripped me and I saw things I did not wish to see. My son had been evacuated to Latimer Square because of the smoke in the city, and triage had been set up in Latimer Square. I saw the CTV building go down....it was horrific. I couldn't get anywhere near my Lichfield Street studio because of the gas leak. I was extremely worried about my stock being stolen, and because the power was down, there was no alarm system. In the middle of the night, my husband went into town and spoke with a police officer and before the cordon was established at dawn, he managed to get into my studio and quickly gather my stock. This was while after shocks were continuing too. Other business owners have since told me how lucky I was to retrieve my stock, as many have had items go missing in the days that followed.

In terms of my tools, I was not so lucky. All my tools were in my studio so I couldn't make new work, or fulfill the orders I had, and as there was no indication of if, or when I would be able to get into my studio, I simply had to purchase new tools. Then two months later, I was informed that I had a wheelie bin and 15 minutes to retrieve what I wanted. It wasn't enough time or space to retrieve everything but it was something. My business insurance company have refused to pay me out for the purchase of my tools. 

I would say there is some solace in knowing others have experienced this and understand, even if we have all had slightly different experiences. It is a feeling of commanility and the sights we saw that day and what we have lived with since.... it is too difficult to describe. Actually my husband made a video and it is on You Tube. He called it Ground Zero in Christchurch. 

Where do you create new work now?
From one half of my bedroom! It is not ideal. I am rather cramped, and my extractor fan is a health and safety risk as it feeds out the sliding door and then winds directly in front of the back door entrance. It was freezing cold in winter because I had to have the extractor fan going and that meant the sliding door had to be open! My house had a lot of liquefaction. In one of the aftershocks, I saw the road rise and fall in front of me and that sparked all the liquefaction that followed. We're on the EQC 'journey' now. We've been advised that the damage could range between $10,000 and $150,000. Until EQC give us the actual damage price, our own insurer won't come and assess the damage. It is a wooden villa, needs total repilling, has sunk on the south side, and yet it is nothing compared to some people's homes. I am not sure where I am going to create new work when the house eventually gets fixed though. We'll have to cross that bridge when it happens. In the meantime there is no 'go forward.' It all comes back to EQC making a decision and who knows when that will be.

Deb's signature ring designs
What disadvantages did the earthquake present you?
The loss of my dream! I had always dreamed of having my own boutique studio and shop and had worked hard all my life to bring this about and then I finally made it happen and the earthquakes took that dream away from me. I feel gutted. And now I am battling my business insurer as well.....that's the other disadvantage. Tiredness. Trying to keep on top of all the legal stuff as well is tiring on top of trying to run a business and create new work. My studio is still standing and is one of the last buildings still up in Lichfield Street BUT I can't access it. The building owner took off to Waiheke Island shortly after 22 February and all us tenants have been left to fend for ourselves. My studio is in the fall zone of the Hotel Grand Chancellor so I will not be able to reopen my studio for a long time. I don't even know if I want to go back yet - my husband is nervous about that, but again, we'll face that bridge when we get to it.

Of course, the single biggest disadvantage caused by both September 4th and February 22nd earthquaks has been the loss of income. My customer base has shrunk as a lot of people have left town permanently. Wedding rings make up a big percentage of my business as well as sales to tourists. Without saying too much, my sales overall for 2011 have shrunk considerably and that has made things tough.

Another disadvantage is subsequent lack of availability of space and how costly the rental prices are for space that remains. I made enquiries o a couple of places, but the prices are way beyond what I could afford in a normal trading year let alone at present. I simply can't take financial risks at this point in time.

What opportunities (if any) have become available since?

I travelled to Wellington in July for the Hands Up event put on by the Wellington Business Association to support Christchurch business owners. Wellingtonians have been amazingly supportive. Unfortunately, it cost me more to attend the event then what I made in sales. Jewellery is perceived as a luxury item and NZ has had a stagnant economy this year which I think has effected everyone. Apart from that, there have been no other opportunities. The jewellery craft galleries around the country have an opportunity to support Christchurch jewellers like myself - that is, to provide space to show new work made by people in Christchurch . I remain hopeful they will be forthcoming with offers.

Where can people view and buy your work?
I have a fantastic website and I welcome facebook enquiries. In fact, there are lots of high quality photos of my work on facebook too. Also, my work is shown locally in Hapa in the new Restart Cashel Mall as well as nationally (eg. Kina in New Plymouth) and internationally (eg. Courtesy of the Artist, in the Strand Arcade in Sydney). A full list of stockists is on my website. I am also more than happy to show people my work at my home 'studio' by prior arrangement.

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