This is a major development for Whangārei – can you feel the excitement in the air?

This unique and ambitious project has taken many years to come to fruition, so there is tremendous excitement and anticipation ‒ not just because it is finally happening, but also because the Hundertwasser Art Centre’s remarkable architectural features are now visible behind the construction fencing.

What sort of impact do you expect the Hundertwasser Art Centre to have on Whangārei?

We’re offering a premium new cultural destination, combining an art and nature experience unlike anything else in the southern hemisphere. The Hundertwasser Art Centre will attract numerous visitors, fuelling urban vibrancy while driving social and economic growth for the region. It will
also provide New Zealand with a new national asset that helps build international tourism, once borders reopen.

Can you tell us how the Hundertwasser Art Centre came about?

In 1993, at the invitation of the Whangārei District Council, Hundertwasser chose a site at the city’s waterfront and drew a design for an art gallery. The building’s journey thereafter has been complex and often controversial, ultimately resulting in a local referendum which overwhelmingly favoured the Art Centre. Construction finally began in 2018, thanks to the initiative, generosity and dedication of many volunteers, donors and sponsors.

When will it open?

Our opening festivities are set for Friday December 3 2021, and we would love the community to come down to the waterfront and be part of the fun! The doors will open to the public the following day.

What will it look like?

The Hundertwasser Art Centre is dedicated to the legacy of painter, architectural visionary and environmentalist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It is being constructed in harmony with Hundertwasser’s philosophy, which replaces the grid system with an organic approach of “unregulated irregularities.” The design favours diversity over monotony and features an afforested rooftop with many trees and plants. Over 40,000 individually cleaned and recycled bricks and three kilometres of recycled timber were used in the building’s construction. Hundreds of thousands of hand-laid tiles clad the exterior and interior of the building. It will have exhibitions by Hundertwasser and prominent Māori artists. Visitors will discover outdoor sculptures, a museum store, learning centre, theatre and a café-restaurant with a terrace overlooking the waterfront.

How many galleries will there be?

There will be a gallery featuring artworks by Hundertwasser, and another with exhibitions of artwork by leading Māori artists in the Wairau Māori Art Gallery. A sculpture garden on the rooftop and surrounds will present new and exciting works by recognised and emerging New Zealand artists.

There is a roof garden included in the design. Can you tell us the thinking behind that?

Hundertwasser believed in living life in harmony with nature and the restoration of the natural world. The rooftop will have 4,000 locally-grown plants including native trees, fruit trees and plants with medicinal qualities. It will be home to one of the rarest (and possibly the loneliest!) plants in the world – the Three Kings Kaikōmako, with just a sole plant remaining in the wild on one of the remote islands north of Cape Rēinga. Tawapou Coastal Natives nursery has propagated the plant from a cutting and is also growing all the other plants for the roof, which are generously donated.

Can you tell us about the Wairau Māori Art Gallery?

Wairau Māori Art Gallery provides a permanent exhibition space for contemporary Māori art – a powerful form of expression that recognises, values and contributes to the unique bicultural character of Aotearoa New Zealand. It will be the national home of contemporary Māori art. The diversity of Māori art practices today will be showcased in exhibits of nationally and internationally acclaimed art. We are excited to be working with some of the country’s leading Māori art curators such as Nigel Borrell, who will conceive and deliver the programme of exhibitions.

Will it cost to visit the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery?

As we receive no local or national government support for our operations, we are obliged to charge an entry fee in order to maintain the programming and operation of the building, and most importantly, to deliver an outstanding experience for visitors.

What is your background?

I have a background in business in the creative arts sector, across all aspects of marketing, from broad strategy to design and branding, as well as the business of sales. Prior to joining the project in 2019, I was Industry Director for the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada, which also runs a year-round cinema complex, hospitality and event facility. I was previously Head of Marketing at Screen Australia where I oversaw the positioning of the Australian film industry domestically and abroad. I did the same for the New Zealand screen industry, where on behalf of the New Zealand Film Commission I handled international sales and marketing of such films as Taika Waititi’s Boy and Roger Donaldson’s The World’s Fastest Indian. I’m a local girl ‒ I grew up in Whangārei ‒ and it’s been exciting to return to Northland after many years away. It’s a really special place with stunning beaches, magical weather and lovely people.

There has been a phenomenal amount of community involvement in this project. Will those who helped get the museum built have special privileges?

Thousands of people have played an essential role in bringing the project to fruition and, so far, it’s employed over 500 people on the construction. We acknowledge the key players, without whom we simply couldn’t have made it and are working on a membership plan to provide benefits and opportunities for our many friends and supporters.

What will the opening party be like?

The biggest celebration Whangārei has ever seen! We are working on plans for events to take place throughout the day. It’s going to be a very special occasion for many, many people.

Reported by Kathryn Webster for our AA Directions Autumn 2021 issue

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