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Artists raise cash for fire-affected Canterbury

The February blaze in Christchurch's Port Hills saw the community rope together to support families who suffered loss from the fire. But one group of artists are pushing their talent to the next level to support a family in need. 

The Merge exhibition, located in Christchurch The Palms Shopping Centre, is a pop-up art gallery where a few select artists are showcasing their work and donating profits to a family who lost their house in the February blaze.

The exhibition was created by Christchurch student, Courtney Brown, in collaboration with Brighton and Landscape Art Group. The art gallery was created with one purpose: To help a family that lost almost everything.

Brown, Ara's art and design school student, had the original thought to sell her art for charity after taking select paintings to work with her, selling them in the staff room, then donating the proceeds to those affected in the Kaikoura region quake. 

Brown says that the process of curating all the artists into one place was, “pretty hectic”, but after space was offered for the gallery use Brown jumped at the chance.

 “After I was emailed I was saying to my best friend that I wanted to do something for the family… Their house was completely black charred rubble.”

After some contact with the family who was affected Brown decided upon a course of action to help.

Both Brighton Art Group and Landscape Art Group are involved in the Merge exhibition. Although only nine select artists that Brown curated are donating funds towards the family as both the groups are non-profit charitable trusts.

Located in The Palms Shopping Centre in Christchurch, the exhibition is due to run from March 18 until March 31 and holds multiple types of arts from emerging artists all around Christchurch.

The initiative is important to Brown who says there is a huge range of talent within the artists who have agreed to help.

“Helping people is important. This is a good chance to exhibit our work as emerging artists. It is indescribably exciting to be in such a public space where people can come view our work who usually wouldn’t know of our existence.”

Brown has an undeniable talent as she lists off the types of art she has included within the gallery, which to shorten, is mostly all types.

Including herself, there are nine artists that have worked hard to pull the Merge exhibition together. Students Holly Rothera, Mel Hobson, Blake Dixon, Bob Gibbons, Claire Mounsey and non-students Corona Futrell, Dylan Hunter, and Thomas Birchal.

The art available to the public from the nine artists is usually under $100. A small price to pay for an original piece. Brown says the money raised hasn’t reached a level she’d happy with yet but is cautiously optimistic.

“I’d love to raise $2,000, but whatever we get is better than nothing…Hopefully, the funds can go towards vouchers or something nice towards the family.”

Brown says the amount of community support surrounding the initiative has been positive as people come through the mall to admire the work.

“Basically a good three-quarters that have come through the store have said how awesome it is to see art in The Palms. They really like being able to see art in the mall, most are disappointed that it’s only pop-up as they want to be able to come back.”

Holly Rothera, a design student majoring in visual arts, says that although exposure is important for young artists the initiative is an important step in giving back to the community.

“When [Courtney] told me we were fundraising for a family it made me feel like I could really make a difference even if it was just a couple of bucks here and there.”

Rothera whose pieces often revolve around organic abstraction and pop surrealism brings a definite edge to the collections with her favorite piece being one she drew herself of a skull sporting some rather gory details.

The February blaze was devastatingly beautiful as most the photography surrounding the fire and the tall flames quickly became a high demand.

One such popular photo that was taken of the blaze was by photographer, Dylan Hunter, whose work is also featured in the Merge exhibition to help the family.

“I have put in [the exhibit] six different photos," Says Hunter. "one of which was the Christchurch fire photo that I took. [It] was shared all over Facebook and was in high demand for prints, and unsurprisingly that's the photo of mine which was sold shortly after the shop first opened its doors.”

Hunter agrees with Rothera that the exhibit is a good chance for exposure but through that exposure is how a difference can be made.

“It's good to get local upcoming artists work out of the dark to boost the confidence of the youth. The fact that students keep most their work behind closed doors when in reality it can make a difference. Someone may like a piece and then we can donate the money we wouldn't have had to a cause we believe in.”

The fire began as two blazes on the afternoon of February 13: the first one in Lansdowne on Early Valley Rd and a second one that started in a car park near Marleys Hill, off Summit Rd.

Two days later, they had combined into one large inferno, a state of emergency was declared and about 450 houses were evacuated.

11 Christchurch homes were destroyed in the blaze.

In what has been a tough time for Christchurch, Brown says that their work can help communicate to people that support is there and available for people who need it.

“A lot of my work centers around depression awareness. People have come up and thanked me for putting such work in such a public space. It’s a starting point for people who want to be able to talk to their families… The art resonates with people.”

Brown acknowledges that Cantabrians have been through a rough time recently, but says that even though they’re still affected by the trauma, “we are slowly getting better.”

Christchurch people are encouraged by the artists to go down and see the exhibition located in The Palms Shopping Centre, the exhibition will run until the 31 of this month. 

See more of Courtney Browns art here
This story first appeared at The Register.