Putting Christchurch street art on the map

Watch This Space: Christchurch Street Art is a new interactive map featuring a large selection of stunning urban art.

Once a city celebrated more for its historic buildings and beautiful botanic gardens than a thriving arts scene, post-quake Christchurch has made a name for itself as a world centre for vibrant street art.

As buildings pop up in the ever-evolving urban landscape, walls both new and old come to life with colourful pieces by local and international street artists.  

Several people and projects have played a part in this transformation. One such individual is George Shaw, street art collector and founder of the 2016 Spectrum street art festival – a major exhibition featuring artists from around the world. 

The latest Christchurch resident to join the movement is Lindsay Chan, who recently launched Watch This Space: Christchurch Street Art – an interactive map featuring a large selection of murals, past and present, and even before the 2010/11 earthquakes.

San Francisco native Lindsay first came up with the idea for a street art map whilst on a guided bike ride with social cycling group, Frocks on Bikes. 

“I couldn’t believe how many murals there were– it made me want to spend more time exploring the city centre.” 

When Lindsay asked her guide how she had come across the pieces, it became clear that there wasn’t one central source of information.  

“She had found the information by trawling through various websites, reading newspaper articles etc. I couldn’t believe it since I consider street art to be one of the main attractions in Christchurch’s city centre.”

So Lindsay went home and did her own research. 

“There were sightseeing maps, but they only ever included a few of the most popular murals. There are a handful of websites, but they weren’t the most user-friendly. There are even a few apps out there, but they only include certain artists or artworks.”

And so the idea for Watch This Space was born. As a Geospatial Information Analyst, Lindsay was well-placed to create the map. 

“I spend my days looking at data and putting that into an easy to understand format, into maps. We’re always thinking about how data fits into the bigger picture.” 

In this case, the data was more than 100 murals and the bigger picture was the goal of creating a map for locals and visitors to self-guide around the city’s street art. 

However, to describe Lindsay’s project as just “collecting data” would be untrue to the journey she embarked on to gather the information for Watch this Space.  

“I combed the city, street by street. It quickly became an obsession. I found all kinds of cool characters around town, went to places I wouldn’t normally go to, and started talking to people I would otherwise have no connection to.”

For every mural she came across, she tried to identify the artist, contact them, find out the commission date or decommission date, and figure out the inspiration behind the mural.

This was not always simple. 

There is the piece opposite Beat Street Café on Armagh Street, which according to the café’s barista, was created by an artist who is “beautiful and has long dreads”. Staff and customers chipped in with other facts but no one knew where to find the artist.

Most of her searches have been more fruitful, and some have even been enlightening for the artists themselves. 

When Lindsay contacted Richard Van Der Berg, the painter of a small soccer mural on Colombo Street, it turned out she had discovered his last surviving contribution to the city’s walls. 

A regular painter of murals in the 1990s, he thought his work had all but disappeared from the city’s canvas. 

“Ironically, the earthquake actually uncovered the soccer mural, which had been in a private courtyard, when the buildings behind it were demolished. 

“Richard didn’t know his mural was still up and viewable until I got in touch.”

For Lindsay, her project is continually changing, in the same way as Christchurch’s cityscape. 

“The most challenging part of this project has been keeping the map up to date. New buildings are coming up. Old buildings are coming down. It’s impossible for one person to cover the entire city alone.”

The next stage in the project’s development is therefore to release an app which will not only include recommended routes, but also allow users to update the map with new or decommissioned murals, by taking a photo and hitting an update button. 

She plans to make it a free download as she wants “everyone to be able to use it, access it and enjoy the street art as much as I do.” 

Travel Tips

  • Go down to Colombo Street and check out the street art there, especially the mural bay behind The Embassy.
  • Go mountain biking in the Port Hills. It’s a great way to see the city from above and get a work out at the same time.
  • Bike ride around the city. There are free bikes to use and the stations are scattered all throughout town. 
  • Go to Smash Palace for a beer and burger. It’s a great spot to take in the city on a warm evening.
  • Check out The Ministry of Awesome’s Coffee and Jam each Tuesday at lunchtime at the Epic Building. This is the starting point for people who want to turn their ideas into reality. It’s a great way to see the creative, social entrepreneur, and start-up side of Christchurch. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people here.