Top artist wants Queenstown public gallery

Glaring omission: Artist Grahame Sydney wants a public art gallery for Queenstown

A top Kiwi artist is calling for a public art gallery in the resort.

Grahame Sydney, best known for his landscapes of Central Otago, says it’s a glaring omission in Queenstown’s calling card.

He’s pitching the idea of a purpose-built gallery paid for by wealthy art-lovers with support from City Hall.

But while the idea gets a theoretical thumbs-up from local mayor Jim Boult, he says there can’t be an assumption people will want to stump up cash. Sydney, who lives in the remote Cambrian Valley between Alexandra and Ranfurly, says the resort would reap cultural and financial rewards.

There are a number of existing commercial galleries in the Wakatipu. However, Sydney thinks a new public gallery would attract a different audience.

“It [would] add a cultural dimension to a community which is utterly lacking in the Lakes.

“It has occurred to me for some years now that when you are getting the tourist numbers and attention Queenstown gets, the one glaring omission is an art and cultural side.

“When I think of the number of intelligent and sophisticated people now living in that area, or who have come to it, and who have to travel a very long way to view a touring art exhibition or the great works that New Zealand holds.

“It is a real tragedy.”

The closest for art-lovers is Invercargill or Dunedin.

Once up and running it could host national tours as well as its own collection.

Sydney suggests Dalefield or Arrowtown as the perfect location and believes architects would jump at the chance to design it.

“I would much rather see a beautiful bit of attractive, maybe stimulating, maybe controversial architecture which becomes the art gallery for the region. Queenstown shouldn’t just be selling itself on adventure tourism – it could add the sophisticated, cultural side and be a much more complete package.”

There could also be a winery, restaurant or theatre tagged on to bolster numbers through the door.

He hasn’t done the sums but doesn’t think it needs to be “terribly expensive”.

He’s spoken informally to a few people with healthy bank accounts, who are supportive, and he wants to have a chat with Boult to test the water.

Boult says the issue’s been raised as part of council’s downtown masterplan, but, if funding and support was secured for a location outside the CBD, council would consider it.

“Personally it is something I would like but I am conscious of the cost of such facilities. But if Grahame has some innovative ideas around funding then I am really happy to have discussion with him.”

Boult says Sydney’s not the first to raise the idea of benefactors funding developments – something he says is a “worthwhile consideration”.

“But we have got to be careful that we just assume people with money coming here automatically want to put money into things.”

Philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar says there’s merit in the idea – but pitches upgrading Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum, to enable it to host national tours, as an alternative.

Edgar believes a public gallery would easily cost $10 million.

“Starting from square one you have an awful lot of overheads. It’s a wonderful idea but you are talking serious money.”