Wanganui aims to complete a major redevelopment of its iconic Sarjeant Gallery – the star among the city’s important heritage buildings – in time for the 1919 centenary celebrations of the striking white domed building that sits on Queens Park hill overlooking the city centre.
Mayor Annette Main says the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui is one of New Zealand’s oldest purpose-built art galleries. It is regarded as a leading collecting and exhibiting institution and is home to one of this country’s most significant art collections, spanning four centuries and numbering just under 8000 works.
However, the Category 1 heritage building is under serious threat of earthquake damage with a rating of less than 5 percent of the National Building Standard. Since closing its doors in March 2014, staff have been moving the collection to safe, modern storage at the temporary Sarjeant on the Quay gallery near the city’s picturesque river front. The spacious premises have hosted a series of stunning exhibitions and functions, with further display space available at the nearby visitor i-Site.
Mayor Main is a member of the Sarjeant Trust Board tasked with finding approximately $34 million to earthquake-proof the Queens Park building as part of a project that aims to significantly increase the gallery and function space while also providing a café with views towards Mt Ruapehu.
She says the ambitious project has Central Government backing with the Ministry for Arts, Culture and Heritage allocating $10 million, providing the fundraising matches that amount. Former Minister Chris Finlayson has been an enthusiastic supporter and fundraising champions are reaching out to other sources including Lotteries Commission, corporates and philanthropic organisations and individuals who recognise the national significance of the Sarjeant and its collection.
Locally and nationally people, businesses and organisations including schools are signing up for a Thousand Stars grass roots campaign to raise $1 million through regular automatic payments.
“Whanganui has a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for the arts with more than 100 artists taking part in the annual Artists Open Studios weekends this year. We expect the redevelopment to double Sarjeant visitor numbers to as many as 80,000 a year and to attract international exhibitions, making Whanganui an essential stop on an arts trail between Wellington and New Plymouth,” says Mayor Main.
“The construction phase will also provide a significant economic boost for the district.”
In order to future-proof the gallery, the council has agreed to provide $4 million towards the seismic strengthen costs, which account for about half the total needed for the project. It will be sourced from debt funding to be repaid from a special earthquake strengthening rate introduced last year to help cover the costs of protecting the district’s significant collection of heritage buildings.
Base isolators and new in-situ concrete walls will lock the external Oamaru stone wall facings together, returning the building to its original form. It will commemorate the late Sir Archie Taiaroa, who Mayor Main says was a loved and respected kaumatua and an inspirational leader of the Whanganui people.
The two-level Warren & Mahoney designed extension will connect with the original building through a fully glazed entry foyer and bridge. New exhibition spaces will be on the upper level with the ground floor housing a shop and café, auditorium and a function room.
Mayor Main says there’s a sense of urgency driving the fundraising with the project scheduled to go out to tender in early 2017 and construction commencing later that year.
“We want to celebrate the Sarjeant’s centenary on September 6 2019 with a grand reopening of this wonderful facility,” she says. “It’s important for Wanganui and it’s important for New Zealand’s cultural heritage and identity so we expect significant financial support from many sources.”
Western Aspect showing the connection between the new wing and the Existing Building. Images: Warren and Mahoney