PASSIONATE: Jen Crawford oversaw the restoration of the Arts Centre buildings during her time as trust board chairwoman.
PHOTO: GEOFF SLOAN
Jen Crawford is retiring as chairwoman of the Arts Centre Trust Board this month. Bridget Rutherford spoke to her about the tough task of restoring the centre’s earthquake-damaged buildings, her love for ski racing and growing up on an historic Southland farm
Can you tell me why and when you joined the Arts Centre Trust Board?
I joined in May 2010, so just a few short months before the first Canterbury earthquake. I’ve always had a strong interest in heritage. I wanted the opportunity to play a role in the governance level, in what was a very special place, and still is.
What has been one of the most challenging parts of your role as chairwoman?
Probably over the journey of rebuilding relationships with our stakeholders and our community, particularly as we were all recovering from the earthquakes at the same time.
Can you please expand on that process?
The Arts Centre is an active charitable trust, set up in the 1970s and objects of the trust have been tinkered with over the years. We saw an opportunity to cement objects of the trust in statute so that means it will always be an Arts Centre and the objects can only be changed by parliament which gives it a bit of certainty. It also gave us a chance to update and modernise the way in which the board operates. It took several years of discussions and then it had to go through parliament. It was put in place in the middle of 2015.
In the aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake, did you think the restoration of the Arts Centre buildings could be done?
Yes. The board resolved in a few short weeks we would restore the site as far as we were able to. At that point we were yet to resolve our insurance position and we didn’t know how much time and money it would take. It’s never been a question in our mind. It was a brave call but that’s what we’re there to do.
Why have you decided to leave the board?
It’s coming up seven years next May and I really believe when you’re in governance your job is to add value and to try and leave the organisation better than when you started. We’ve achieved some huge milestones, we’ve passed half way of the restorations. On Friday we opened the i-SITE Visitor Centre, which was my last official duty. We had John Key open it, turns out it was his last official duty as Prime Minister. It seemed kind of appropriate. It was also a personal decision to spend more time with my husband Andy and my two children Lucy and Edward. They are nine and 11.
How does it feel to see businesses and eateries opening in the restored buildings?
It’s an emotional experience and very satisfying. I’ve seen the tears in people’s eyes when they’ve come into the Great Hall for the first time.
Speaking of the Great Hall, would seeing that restored be one of the highlights of your time on the board?
It probably was, we saw it at its worst. We really had to get back to basics to get it restored. We invested a huge amount of funding into it so you couldn’t see signs it had been restored, but to improve it at the same time.
Why did you become a lawyer – was it something you always wanted to do?
No, I fell into law at Otago University. I’ve always had a strong interest in history and I thought about being a diplomat or a ski bum – just being out on the mountains, but I thought I better get a job. I did the law degree and thought I better use it, and 20 years later I’m still practising, who would’ve thought?
And did you grow up in Christchurch?
No, I’m originally from a Southland farming family. It was a century farm, so held by the same family for more than a century. It’s called Kanadale, at Mataura, near Gore. I first moved to Christchurch in 1999. I thought I could be in court in the morning, go skiing in the afternoon and go for a surf afterwards. I also lived on an orchard in Central Otago growing up as well.
So you’re a surfer and a skier?
Well I’m not very good at surfing, my family and I were in Central America on a surfing holiday last Christmas. I’m more into the snow. I’ve been ski racing for a long time, but just social. I do the masters at Mt Hutt Ski Area, and take part in the annual corporate ski day, lawyers vs accountants. It’s highly competitive.
Who wins each year?
Always the lawyers!
Where did you learn to ski?
In central Otago I grew up with skiing. My husband and I have done a lot of skiing, snowboarding and nordic skiing. He actually proposed when we were Nordic skiing in Norway on Christmas Eve. I’d like to say he got down on one ski, but he didn’t go that far. He got me at a weak moment, the bells were ringing in the churches and we were out Nordic skiing. I vowed I’d never get married (laughs) he snuck up on me with that.
Where’s your favourite place to ski?
I go to Mt Hutt to race, but I’m originally a Coronet Peak girl. We did spend a season in Whistler (British Columbia), so I am quite fond of it there.
Anything else you like to do in your spare time?
We love to travel. I enjoy diving as well, but mainly just hanging out with the kids and husband. We live out in Courtenay, and we have motorbikes that we ride. But we also have a house in Burnside.
You got a Kiwibank local Hero Award, can you tell me what that was for?
I was very surprised to get that because there were a lot of unsung heroes and I didn’t feel worthy. I think it was for my role with the Arts Centre stuff but I do a bit of mentoring of young professionals, and supporting women aspiring to lead.
And how did you make the NZ Lawyer ‘Hot List’?
I think I’m the only lawyer who has done it twice. And there was the Women of Influence Awards last year. But I think those were both for the Arts Centre work. I don’t get paid for it but it’s a privilege to do. My firm Anderson Lloyd has been really good to me in allowing me to do this other role.
How long have you been a partner there?
Coming up nine years, out of 20 odd-years of practice. I was overseas in London practising and Anderson Lloyd has a strong reputation in environmental and project consenting work so that was really attractive to me.
I see you also have a role with Regenerate Christchurch. How did that come about?
I’m on the board, I was interviewed for the role and appointed by the city council. It was a great opportunity as we move to local leadership. Christchurch has an amazing future and is a vibrant place, it’s a privilege to be part of that. We want to put the community at the centre of what we’re doing.
And lastly, for a Southlander you don’t roll your R’s!
I usually only roll them when I’ve had a few Speights. But I’ll be seeing my family over Christmas so watch this space.