Central venue boost for performing arts

A new home for performing arts in central Dunedin is being billed as a foundation stone for developing the city’s artistic infrastructure, but concerns remain about the viability of the sector.

The venue in Princes St will seat up to 120 people and will be managed by the Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust, which pitched the project as a ‘‘pilot’’ to maintain audience engagement and meet ‘‘immediate need’’ while the city council  continues investigating larger performance spaces in the city.

Looking forward to using a ‘‘pilot performance venue’’ in Dunedin is playwright and Ake Ake...
Looking forward to using a ‘‘pilot performance venue’’ in Dunedin is playwright and Ake Ake Theatre Company artistic director Jessica Latton. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH

Trust director Gareth McMillan said Te Whare o Rukutia would be ‘‘a home for our artists, as we work through the development and engagement with our community to see what we need to build for the future’’.

‘‘This is the tonic the city needs,’’ he said.

The trust is to move its office from Princes St to George St, allowing the Dunedin Community Gallery to take that space and freeing up the gallery area for the new performance venue.

The gallery and performance venue would be side by side.

The Dunedin City Council has budgeted $17.1 million in the next 10 years on developing a mid-sized theatre.

That was the estimated cost for building it at the Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institute in the Octagon, although the site has not been confirmed.

Te Whare o Rukutia is considered to be a separate development and led by the arts sector.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said Dunedin needed a range of performing arts venues, of varied size and specification.

‘‘Being professionally managed and programmed by the Dunedin Fringe will make this a real asset to Dunedin audiences and to local and touring practitioners alike.’’

Groups such as Prospect Park Productions, Dunedin Arts Festival and Stage South helped shape the project in the past year and Mr McMillan said the trust would now engage with the public more broadly.

Consultation has started and will involve people and entities wanting to participate in the development of the venue through its pilot stage. 

The development was a surprise to Athenaeum building owner Lawrie Forbes and New Athenaeum Theatre general manager Ellie Swann.

Mr Forbes said he had not heard from the council lately.

Ms Swann said she wished the council well with seeking to supplement the city's dynamic theatre scene, but noted performing arts groups had to compete for funding.

‘‘We hope all funders continue to look towards the wide range of artists and organisations active in Otepoti.’’

Prospect Park Productions co-director H-J Kilkelly said the group supported work to boost opportunities for performing arts practitioners.

Te Whare o Rukutia would complement venues such as The New Athenaeum, The Playhouse, Mayfair and the Regent.

However, the sector faced ongoing challenges, she said.

‘‘Investment must be equitable across a range of organisations.’’

Funders of Te Whare o Rukutia include Creative New Zealand, the Otago Community Trust and Alexander McMillan Trust.

Creative New Zealand arts development senior manager Cath Cardiff said the project would keep the performing arts visible and accessible in Dunedin.

• Te Whare o Rukutia translates to The House of Rukutia, a traditional exponent of kapa haka and renowned for performing arts.

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