An arty energy is a hard thing to describe. However, everyone knows it when they feel it, and there are certain places on the planet that carry a lot of this mysterious and creative magnetism.

These are places where artists have historically flocked, whether for the ineffable atmosphere, the presence of other artists or the cheap rent. Leonard Cohen’s Hydra in Greece was one. San Francisco was another. And, of course, there’s Lyttelton.

The port city, wrapped around the interior of a volcanic crater and separated from Christchurch by a tunnel, is, as local poet Ciaran Fox puts it, infested with artistic types.

Writer Joe Bennett is one of many artists, writers and creatives who call Christchurch's port city of Lyttelton home.

Provided / Stuff

Writer Joe Bennett is one of many artists, writers and creatives who call Christchurch’s port city of Lyttelton home.

“Throw a stone in the air at Lyttelton and it will fall on a creative person.” And he’s right, you only have to look at the list of accomplished and emerging artists to stand out.

READ MORE:
* Port of call: the best way to enjoy the unusual corners and spectacular landscapes of Lyttelton
* The “legend of Lyttelton” remembered by Bill Hammond for his “tremendous” contribution to New Zealand art
* The heart of a city: film When A City Rises directed “by us, for us and about us”

Lyttelton is (and has been) the home of musicians like Marlon Williams, Delaney Davidson, Adam McGrath, Aldous Harding, Ben Woods, Phoebe Woods, Carmel Courtney and Al Park – to name a few.

It has been home to writers like Ben Brown, Joe Bennett, and Gary McCormick, as well as visual artists like Bill Hammond, Laurence Aberhart, and Jason Grieg.

Painter Asher Newbery remembers Lyttelton as being "rough" but full of artists when he grew up.

Frank Movie / Stuff

Painter Asher Newbery remembers Lyttelton as “rough” but full of artists when he was growing up.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – the city is home to painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, ceramists, sculptors and creatives from every imaginable discipline.

In this story, Frank Film explores what attracts them and keeps them close.

First, as potter Grace Uivel points out, Lyttelton is an interesting geological place.

“We’re inside the crater of a volcano,” she tells Frank Film from her joint studio, Ata Ceramics, on the main street.

The steep sides of this volcano, stacked with houses, all lead to the singular main street and below, the echoing and functioning port.

There are cafes and music venues everywhere you look. And then, of course, there’s that feeling in the air.

Saxophonist Carmel Courtney says the mood and "feel" of Lyttelton attracts people who might not fit in elsewhere, resulting in many clusters.

Frank Movie / Stuff

Saxophonist Carmel Courtney says the vibe and “feel” of Lyttelton attracts people who might not have fit in elsewhere, resulting in numerous groupings.

Ceramic artist and longtime local Cheryl Lucas, who has a major exhibition coming up at the Christchurch Art Gallery, says you get a bit of a vacation feeling when you walk through the tunnel. “It always feels good here,” she says.

So what is it? Writer Ben Brown believes that the port is what gives the city its character.

“It’s an egalitarian place and I think that’s a union philosophy,” says Ben, who has called Lyttelton home for 20 years. “It’s a border, it’s an international gateway, so you have to rub shoulders with diversity.”

Saxophonist Carmel Courtney says that while visual artists have always talked about Lyttelton’s hue, for her as a musician, it’s the “feel”. “You never want to not feel like an artist,” says Carmel.

It was this feeling (and low house prices) that brought musician Al Park here in 1978.

“I remember walking down Voelas Road with Bill Hammond…and Bill said to me, ‘I’ve found my place.’ And I was like, “I’ve found my place too,” Al says, and remembers buying his house for $3,000.

Bill Hammond in his studio in Lyttelton, photographed by photographer Robin Morrison in 1991.

Robin Morrison / Stuff

Bill Hammond in his studio in Lyttelton, photographed by photographer Robin Morrison in 1991.

It was then. According to Al, Lyttelton was at the time considered by all who lived on the other side of the tunnel to be dark, poor and rough.

Artist Asher Newbury grew up in Lyttelton and remembers it being quite difficult as a child, but full of artists. His entire line of siblings are also artists, actors, poets, and playwrights, and he credits that to their surroundings.

“Growing up in the 90s, there were artists working all around us, and besides, it’s like living in a painting,” says Asher.

There seems to be a unanimous response from most local artists – it’s the community that gives Lyttelton its magic.

As potter Grace Uilart says, she came to Lyttelton and immediately felt at home.

Potter Grace Uivel moved to Lyttelton after working in a "shed" in Christchurch, and says she intends to live in the port city for the rest of her life.

Frank Movie / Stuff

Potter Grace Uivel moved to Lyttelton after working in a “shed” in Christchurch, and says she intends to live in the port city for the rest of her life.

Asher points out that with much of the city in the shade during the winter, people are forced to congregate. “Everyone has to come to the main street to get their vitamin D. It creates community,” he says.

This sense of community, according to Al, only grew stronger after the 2011 earthquakes.

Along with many other Lyttelton musicians, he helped form The Harbor Union, a musical collective originally created to raise funds in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

While there is, as musician Ben Woods describes, a romanticism today associated with the Lyttelton name, the true sense of community is evident – even to city dwellers.

Unfortunately, like Hydra, San Francisco and Berlin, Lyttelton is starting to feel the effects of gentrification. House prices and rents are rising, forcing Asher and her young family to move to Palmerston North.

But, as Asher says, they will return. It seems once you fall in love with Lyttelton, it’s hard to stay away. This film is an ode to a beloved city of artists – watch it in full here.

Previous

Dream low maintenance backyard with pool and deck created on a challenging site

Next

CA site assigned for MDJA near the MRC: Dist. Minister

Check Also