Plans for art hub on hold for now

Ambitious plans to establish a Dunedin arts hub in the Octagon Athenaeum building have been put on hold for the immediate future, as work continues on the historic building.

In a statement released this week, Dunedin Arts Hub project director Allan Baddock and director Scott Muir said it had been decided to wait until complex issues with upgrading the building were resolved, so that the development of a hub could proceed ''with greater certainty''.

Contacted by The Star, Mr Baddock said there had been a huge amount of interest in the concept of an arts hub, which had been very positive.

''It shows that the concept has strong support in the arts community, which has been great,'' he said.

''However, as that interest can't be met at the moment, it has been decided to put the arts hub project as we originally envisaged it on hold.''

Contacted by The Star, Dunedin developer and Athenaeum building owner Lawrie Forbes reiterated his commitment to the arts in Dunedin, but said time was needed to bring the fabric of the building up to modern standards.

Mr Forbes said his focus for this year was on having fire safety and earthquake strengthening reports done on the building, as well as an archaeological assessment.

He had set aside about $50,000 for this complex work, which was being done in close consultation with Heritage New Zealand (formerly the Historic Places Trust).

The Athenaeum building has a Category 1 historic places classification.

''Assessing and upgrading the building is a complex process, which has to be approached very carefully,'' Mr Forbes said.

As soon as any large-scale building work started in the building, new government regulations around fire and earthquake safety would be triggered.

''There is a whole new complexity to the process now.''

The first thing on his agenda was to fix problems with the building's rainwater systems, to ensure that ''the water goes to the right places'', he said.

While assessment and upgrading work continued, Mr Forbes was committed to working with the arts community to use the Athenaeum building as much as possible.

At present, this included ongoing drama classes and events in the theatre, with future events to include vintage film screenings, and Dunedin Medieval Society activities.

''The concept of an arts hub remains on the cards, down the track, but at the moment we have to be pragmatic,'' Mr Forbes said.

The effort invested in the project during the past 18 months had been fruitful, as it had helped to raise awareness in the community of the ''rare treasure'' sitting in the Octagon, Mr Baddock said.

''Hopefully, between us all we've awoken the city and the arts community to a possibility and time will see it become a reality.''


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