Centre of Contemporary Art

Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA, formerly the Canterbury Society of Arts) is a curated art gallery in the central city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Centre of Contemporary Art
The CoCA gallery
General information
Architectural stylemodernist
LocationChristchurch Central City
Address66 Gloucester Street, Christchurch
Coordinates43°31′48″S 172°37′55″E
Construction started1968
Renovation costNZ$4.1 m
OwnerCSA Charitable Trust
Design and construction
Architecture firmMinson, Henning Hansen

The gallery is administered by the Canterbury Society of Arts (CSA) Charitable Trust. Quarterly seasonal exhibitions are overseen by a curatorium of experts from New Zealand and overseas, headed by new Director and Principal Curator Paula Orrell.[1] The gallery is focused on curating and commissioning artwork, rather than simply acquiring collections.


The Canterbury Society of Arts

CoCA began in 1880 as the Canterbury Society of Arts (CSA). It was the first organisation to exhibit and collect artworks in Christchurch, and quickly became the most influential and dynamic arts society in New Zealand. Its first exhibition was held in 1881 at Christchurch Boys' High School, in what later became part of the Christchurch Arts Centre.[2] The CSA played an essential role in New Zealand's burgeoning arts scene. In the 1930s it exhibited the works of “The Group”; a collection of artists including the eminent New Zealand painters Rita Angus, Evelyn Page and Doris Lusk.[3] The CSA found its first permanent home in 1890 in a building especially designed for it by society member and acclaimed New Zealand architect Benjamin Mountfort (1825–1898) – the Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery. This was a prime example of the function and form of Gothic Revival in New Zealand architecture. A second neighbouring gallery, in the more conservatively favoured Venetian Gothic style, was added in 1894 by Richard Dacre Harman. Both buildings were on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust register until their demolition following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.[4]

Gloucester Street and CoCA

In 1968 the CSA moved to larger premises at 66 Gloucester Street. The purpose-built gallery is a major example of the 'Christchurch Style' of modernist buildings designed by Canterbury's avant-garde architects in the post-war period. The building was honoured by two New Zealand Institute of Architects awards. In the years following this move, the gallery thrived and was renowned for housing some of the most progressive and innovative exhibitions in New Zealand's history of art. The CSA helped launch the careers of local New Zealand artists including Neil Dawson, Bruce Edgar, Ross Marwick, and Boyd Webb, who had their inaugural exhibitions there in June 1971.[5]

In 1996, the CSA gallery was rebranded CoCA Centre of Contemporary Art, the name it is known by today.

Earthquake and recovery

Like many prominent buildings in Christchurch, the CoCA gallery was damaged in the February earthquakes of 2011. In 2013 a "rescue squad of volunteers, former gallery staff on contract and experts from Te Papa recovered all the artworks trapped in the building, including everything on display at the time and the gallery's collection".[6] Four million dollars has been spent on repairs, strengthening and refurbishment of the building.

Future and refocus

CoCA reopened on 13 February 2016 in its restored and modernised gallery space on Gloucester Street.[7] The gallery was closed again temporarily after the 2016 Christchurch earthquake struck the day after the reopening.[8]


  1. "New CoCA director". The Big Idea. 13 April 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  2. "Register Record : Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery (Former)". Quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz. Archived from the original on 19 February 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  3. Elisabeth Louise C'Ailceta Cooke. "The Group 1927–1977 : an annotated bibliography" (PDF). Christchurchcitylibraries.com. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  4. "Register Records for the former Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery, 282–286 Durham Street, Christchurch". Quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  5. "A clear future for COCA". Stuff.co.nz. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  6. Charlie Gates (15 November 2013). "Funds sought to speed CoCA reopening". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  7. "CoCA – Centre of Contemporary Art". Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2006.
  8. "Jitters, but little damage in CBD". The Press. 15 February 2016. p. A3.