Regional | Arts

Hundertwasser Art Centre may need ratepayer bailout

Whangārei ratepayers could be forced to pay up to keep the Hundertwasser Art Centre open.

The art centre opened to much fanfare and promises of hundreds of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars spent in the local economy.

But the expected visitors haven’t shown up and that has put a huge financial strain on the centre, which is expected to run out of money in 2025.

The seeds of the art centre were first planted way back in 1993 when famed Austrian artist-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed a dedicated arts centre for Whangārei.

In 2012, following Hundertwasser’s death, the project gathered steam, with support for the project in high places, including then deputy mayor, Phil Halse.

Dr Joost de Bruin, who helps run the centre, says the visitors have shown up, just not in the way the centre had hoped.

Looking but not buying

“Ko te raruraru mā mātou, mā te whare, ka haere mai te tokomaha ki te mātakitaki ki te whare nei, engari, kāore i haere mai ki te hoko tīkiti.”

“The problem for us is a lot of people come to view the centre but not many buy tickets.”

“I tēnei raumati i kite ahau, ia rā, ia rā, ngā tūruhi nō tāwāhi.”

“This summer, I have seen visitors from overseas every day.”

Meanwhile, local cultural centre Hihiaua says those promises have fallen flat and the $33 million price tag could have been used better.

According to Janet Hetaraka, the crowds have not come this summer.

‘Always sceptical of those numbers’

“I think the latest count was, for summer, something like 13,000 people.”

Hetaraka says it was a controversial start to the centre, and regardless of the impacts of Covid-19 and local weather events on the city of Whangārei, the decision to go ahead with the centre was controversial.

“All of the expectations of the planners of the Hundertwasser were to bring 120,000 international visitors to Whangārei every year. We were always sceptical of that number and we didn’t certainly plan our facility here at Hihiaua based on that.”

Regardless of the financial difficulties over at the Hundertwasser Art Center, Hetaraka believes this is an exciting time for Hihiaua.

“It gives us a chance to refresh. We are about the revitalisation of mātauranga Māori and we are here to serve that community.”