Gallery director repelled army during quakes

BASE: Former Mayor Bob Parker at the civil defence headquarters, which was set up following the February 22, 2011 earthquake. PHOTO: John Collie

Even the army couldn’t break Blair Jackson’s artistic passion on the night of the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

But it’s a story the new art gallery director has never spoken of publicly.

“It’s not something I’ve told anybody, but I think it appears in Bob Parker’s book,” he said.

Mr Jackson, who was deputy director of the Christchurch Art Gallery at the time, said he fielded a late night call from the Civil Defence controller the night of the quake.

“I was at home with my family, in that same state of shock or concern that everyone was feeling,” he said.

He was told the army wanted to clear artworks from an exhibition space so it could be turned into more offices.

“The Civil Defence team and army were using the foyer as a base but they needed more room.”

Instead of letting the army storm in, he refused and organised a team of gallery staff to take the paintings down for safe storage early in the morning.

The gallery spaces had been put into lockdown after the shaking to protect the art, a lot of which was borrowed, he said.

“At that time all of the doors were locked, security staff had locked down all our gallery spaces. A lot of those works were valuable and on loan to us from other institutions, they were in our care.”

So he told Civil Defence, it was not going to be possible.

“What I said is: ‘No we’re not prepared to do that. That’s just not a responsible solution.’ And I said I would have a team here first thing in the morning to de-install the exhibition properly,” he said.

He said that’s exactly what happened.

“We took it down ourselves and it was the most sensible outcome. There’s a way to
move paintings, particularly when they don’t belong to


  1. Being part of the S&R Reaction to this, I am quite annoying that he left it until morning. We needed a Command and Control center immediately and the only thing he could think of is Property, not lives. I would of understand it if he arranged a team to take it down immediately but what he did was part of the issue why we had some issues with response times.