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First Thursdays are like late night shopping, but good. Community-focussed arts events, they bring people to a neighbourhood or precinct to wander, absorb, participate, witness and feast until bedtime. First Thursdays have become calendar fixtures in many cities around the world.
On October Second, the first golden evening of spring 2014, hundreds of people came to Sydenham to take part in Christchurch’s first First Thursday. At 6:30, Gaby Montejo took the stage at the Honey Pot cafe ahead of the Lady Poets. The photograph beside his item in the First Thursdays publicity flyer had shown him re-imagined as Conchita Wurst. No one knew what he was going to do, but those present who knew Montejo and his art knew that it could be anything.
What he did was sit down and introduce himself.
‘But this is not about me,’ he said. ‘It’s about you. Especially you, Audrey Baldwin.’
A stunned Baldwin made her way to the stage and took her place beside Montejo. He shared his perceptions of her with the crowd – non-judgemental, gutsy and willing, collaborative, positive, a machine of excitement – and then bestowed upon her a magnificent, garish, one-metre-tall trophy. Baldwin looked delighted. The audience applauded, cheered and laughed.
‘I was no good at sports,’ Baldwin said. ‘I never thought I’d get a trophy like this.’ She spoke with eloquence and brevity, thanking those who have supported her, always and recently. She stroked her trophy. ‘I’ll find a space for this.’
What was Montejo up to here? He explained that his eight years in Christchurch had been a time of great change, and he meant the obvious, yes, the earthquakes and all that, but what he wanted us to notice that evening was the energy happening in the creative arts, and who had come forward to spearhead creative actions and events in post-quake Christchurch.
‘People like Audrey Baldwin,’ he said, ‘and also people like Jessica Halliday.’
Jessica Halliday – responsible, energetic, respectful, thoughtful, a gastronomist – claimed her trophy and said, Academy-Awards style, that she just wanted to thank God. And Gaby, for giving her not just a trophy but this platform to say she’s got one of the best jobs in Christchurch.
Montejo’s next trophy went to Melanie Oliver – playful, fair to diversity, honest, optimistic, participant and driver – who was not present to accept it. Hopefully, she has it by now.
Chloe Geoghegan – enthusiastic, caring, hardworking, tenacious, her humour enlightens – was down in Dunedin ‘busy mothering another city,’ Her trophy was accepted with feeling and just a touch of mystifying snark by a man who identified himself only as Ted.
Coralie Winn – energetic, professional, adventurous, empathetic, motherly – was also not present, but her partner Ryan shot a video of Montejo’s admiration and acknowledgement for her to watch later. Ryan accepted Winn’s trophy on her behalf, saying. ‘You have no idea how much she loves trophies.’ He declined to speak further because, ‘I speak for her way too often as it is.’
Towards the end of his performance, Montejo acknowledged these trophies were a bit cheesy and generic. ‘They were all I could afford,’ he said. ‘I swear if I could get you what you deserve it would be spectacular.’ He explained that he had grown tired of waiting for someone of higher authority than Gaby Montejo to honour these people and their accomplishments.
‘And so, by the power invested in me as an art consumer and art participant, I deem these excellent, high achieving people (who just happen to be women) The Founding Art Mothers of New Christchurch.’
Montejo’s piece was part ode to the exceptional strengths, talents and efforts of these five women, part plea that they be recognised, part challenge to the old boys to think what it means to be a mother and maybe decide that it’s time to move over and make way for the new girls. It was one citizen giving back some of the love five people had poured into his city.
‘All who live here should know these art drivers,’ he said, and no one who witnessed this performance that evening could disagree with him. If you don’t know the five Founding Art Mothers of New Christchurch, change that. Seek them out. Look them up. Each one has some kind of web presence. (Gaby Montejo does, too. But this is not about him.)