The Story

In 1993, Hundertwasser was invited by the Mayor of Whangarei to design an art centre for the city. He chose the former Northland Harbour Board building in the Town Basin (corner Quayside and Riverside) and made a number of visits to study the building and sketch his ideas.

More than 20 years after inception, the HUNDERTWASSER ART CENTRE with Wairau Maori Art Gallery project is now in the final pre-construction stages.

Now a fully community-led project, the completed art centre is scheduled to open by 2020. Fundraising is currently underway.

The story of the art centre has been complex and often controversial. Below is a brief history of the various phases of the project.

Project History

The project was revived in 2008 after Whangarei District Council bought the building and Councillor Kahu Sutherland and chief executive Mark Simpson travelled to Vienna to win the support of the Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation.

The Foundation not only retrieved the artist’s original drawings and architectural concept from its archive, but also persuaded Heinz Springmann, an architect on many Hundertwasser projects, to produce plans for Whangarei District Council faithfully capturing the artist’s vision.

Whangarei District Council committed a total of $8 million to the project over three years and began assessing seismic strengthening of the proposed building. The total cost of the build at that stage was expected to be $13 million and private and public donations were sought to raise at least $5 million.

In 2014, however, newly elected councillors voted “That all previous motions and/or commitments on the Hundertwasser Art Centre be rescinded.”

The PNT Proposal & the WDC Referendum

After the disappointment in mid 2014 of the Whangarei District Council withdrawing their support for the original Hundertwasser Art Centre (despite $5m having been raised and the project’s inclusion district’s Long Term Plan), a group of local citizens decided to find a way to build it on their own.

They formed Prosper Northland Trust and started the complex process of re-building relationships and scoping the project from scratch.

In September 2014 the WDC asked the public to submit proposals for the eventual use of the former Harbour Board building in the Town Basin. Prosper Northland jumped at the chance to put forward their revised vision for the project and made their submission along with 21 others.

The PNT Hundertwasser proposal scored the highest points against the WDC matrix used to evaluate the projects. At a meeting to decide which project to proceed with, the WDC instead voted to take the final decision to a public binding referendum in March 2015. The options proposed for referendum were:

Option A. Habourside (a marine museum project, which scored 2nd on the matrix)
Option B. the Hundertwasser Wairau Maori Art Gallery
Option C. demolition of the building

Delayed until June 2015, the hotly contested referendum resulted in a landslide win for the Hundertwasser project, which received more than 50% of the total vote (with Option C coming 2nd and Option A a distant 3rd). The art centre finally had a public mandate and the community support it needed to proceed.

Fundraising period

After the referendum success PNT formed a team of volunteers in collaboration with Whangarei Art Museum Trust and the Wairau Māori Art Gallery Board to raise the required funds for the project to proceed.

The project team was required to reach the target of $16.25 million by the end of June 2017 for the project to proceed. In addition they were required to secure a $2 million underwrite of Operating Costs. On meeting these conditions they had until June 2018 to secure a building contract which could be fully funded by the amount raised.  In order to ensure funds raised would be sufficient for the third condition the project team commissioned core sampling and undertook engineering due diligence and re-costing. Based on this work they revised the cost estimate up to $20,97 million.

The team met the first 2 conditions by the June 30th 2017 deadline, raising the full $20.97 million to fund the estimated cost. The building contract condition is being worked on.

We are not aware of any similar New Zealand project where an entirely volunteer team has raised such a significant amount of money.. We estimate over 30,000 hours have been donated to the project by over 200 people. Over the 2 year fundraising period, 30 volunteers were involved on a daily/weekly basis, contributing approximately 275 hours between them;equivalent to 5.4 full time employees. A much larger group of volunteers has been involved in specific activities and special events.