18 May 2018

Southland Museum remains shuttered despite $40m arts boost

7:13 pm on 18 May 2018

Invercargill's museum will remain closed for years despite a $40 million cash injection for arts and heritage projects in the southern city.

Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

Southland Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Supplied/Facebook/Southland Museum and Art Gallery

The $40m in funding, part of Invercargill City Council's 10-year plan, would be staggered over the coming decade in the hope of reinvigorating arts and culture.

The decision was made just over a month after Southland Museum and Art Gallery was forced to close due to earthquake risk, a move widely condemned by the city's residents.

Supporters of the new spending said it would lead to a cultural renaissance in Southland, but critics said it should not be a matter of one or the other - and the museum should stay open in the meantime.

Cherie Chapman, one of a small but growing band of residents protesting the closure, said legislation allowed the museum to remain open, but the council had ignored that option.

"It's appalling that we can't open the museum now," she said.

"I do not understand, and none of us do, why they haven't re-opened the museum, given the legislation allows them to do that," she said.

"It's disappointing that this council has decided that they're going to keep the museum closed and drip-feed money into [it]."

The council has moved forward the planned redevelopment of the museum, however, with work due to begin in five years.

It also approved funding for the Living Dinosaurs Experience to house the facility's tuatara.

The money would also fund an art centre and redevelopment of Anderson Park, the city's art gallery, which closed in 2014.

Invercargill's public art gallery, Anderson Park, has been closed since 2014.

Invercargill's public art gallery, Anderson Park, has been closed since 2014. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Ms Chapman said the museum should remain open while the other facilities took shape.

The issue might cost some councillors their seats in next year's election, she said.

"I know that some senior members, some long-term Invercargillites, are really angry... It will have a huge backlash."

Invercargill's long-serving mayor Tim Shadbolt welcomed the challenge.

"Protest is a privilege and a delight and just part of that decision-making process," he said.

"If those people run for council or for the mayoralty - good on them. And they will then face the ultimate test of whether their ideas represent the masses of the people or not."

The council's plan was ambitious and would address the imbalance between sport and art in the city, he said.

It would result in a complete change of the city's heritage landscape in the next decade - including a redeveloped museum, which he hoped would open in 10 years.

"We are looking at a real renaissance in terms of the arts in this city and I think we will be able to achieve it," he said.

The plan was welcomed by Venture Southland, which said arts and culture would help bring tourists from Invercargill's doorstep, in Fiordland and Queenstown, to the city.

Development on the facilities will be staggered, starting with the Living Dinosaurs facility and Anderson Park in the 2019-2020 financial year.