'Gradual evolution' instead of 'big bang'

Otago Museum in Dunedin. Photo by Peter McIntosh
Otago Museum in Dunedin. Photo by Peter McIntosh
Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin has no regrets about opting for ''gradual evolution'' rather than a ''big bang'' approach to the museum's redevelopment as the museum's 150th anniversary draws near. 

A proposal approved in principle by a previous Otago Museum Trust Board would have resulted in a major redevelopment, costing up to $30 million, to mark the 150th anniversary in 2018.

It is understood this redevelopment would have added two upper storeys to the main museum complex.

Former Otago Museum Trust Board chairwoman Margaret Collins said recently she was ''disappointed'' the earlier-proposed large-scale redevelopment was not being pursued at this stage.

But Dr Griffin said the somewhat less spectacular evolutionary approach being proposed would still inject about $15 million into the museum complex through several phased redevelopment projects in the lead-up to the anniversary.

The planned changes, including a multimillion-dollar upgrade of the museum entry area, and associated open store area, would bring more of a ''wow'' factor to entering the museum.

''I'm certainly not disappointed. I'm very excited about the future,'' Dr Griffin said.

Asked about the ''big bang'' major redevelopment approach, he said ''times have changed''.

Given the costs of such projects, it would be ''unrealistic'' for the museum to promote a ''massive capital project''.

The changes would also deliver a major, but affordable refreshment, modernisation and transformation of the museum, he said.

He was confident the changes - together with a series of collection-linked senior staffing appointments and other internal changes - would bring the museum closer to his vision of the museum as a place which inspired both young and old.

The planning work put into the earlier proposed redevelopment had not been wasted, he said.

But times had changed and the current economic climate was no longer suited to raising the large amount of money previously proposed for the redevelopment.

Recent extensive consultation with the community and museum stakeholders showed the community wanted more focus on the museum's collections themselves, and more access to collections and redevelopment of the museum's galleries.

His priority was meeting those needs, not on simply adding costly ''bricks and mortar''.

Nevertheless, the planned multi-stage redevelopment - starting with an about $3 million redevelopment of the museum's Discovery World science centre - would bring many positive benefits to the museum and its visitors.

A series of other gallery upgrades were also planned, including the Tangata Whenua gallery and the People of the World gallery.

A mix of fundraising and internal sources, including reserves, would be used to fund Discovery World.

A new planetarium able to seat more than 50 people was also being considered as part of the science centre redevelopment mix.

Dr Griffin said the museum would be using some reserves funding for redeveloping the science centre and ''we have some reserves specifically ring-fenced for the Tangata Whenua redevelopment''.

''As with all of our future developments, any additional money we need to fund the gallery will come from non-DCC sources,'' he said.

''It's been seven years since Discovery World was last updated. It has a lot to offer right now, but with the new technologies and interactive designs that have sprung up, the time is right for a redevelopment.''

Some of the planned changes include an additional 378sq m of gallery space, a new design style, an updated laboratory area, and a theatre area devoted to live science-based shows, workshops and demonstrations.

He emphasised that Dunedin's museums and galleries played a key role in the city's economy and ''collectively we serve over a million visitors annually''.

The city's museums and galleries, including the Otago Museum, helped attract more visitors to the city, encouraged them to stay longer, and helped retain existing residents by adding to the city's cultural vibrancy, he said.

''As someone who lives in Dunedin, I know that having access to museums and galleries, many of which don't charge for admission, is a big plus.

''There's something going on in or around the city every day, which is a huge plus when you are considering what makes Dunedin such a great place to live.''

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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