Museum in peril


Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum could be history if a “daunting” $3.5 million isn’t stumped up for earthquake-strengthening and restoration work.

The museum’s former Bank of New Zealand building and stables, both built in 1875, which house many of its displays, meet only about 15 per cent of the building code and, by law, must be quake-strengthened.

The deadline’s 2026, but director David Clarke says they’re getting in early to beat a “bow-wave” of funding applications for other deficient buildings.

Work to lift the buildings to 69 per cent of the code is due to start next February.

That means the funding needs to be raised this year, Clarke says, or the museum may have to close.

Other museums, like Invercargill’s, have already closed for similar reasons.

“We don’t want to go the same way. We hear all this stuff about this district being a cultural desert — here’s one of the few cultural facilities in the district.

“We’re trying to build art centres, but we need to look after the cultural facilities we’ve already got.”

Clarke emphasises the museum, which has occupied its current site since 1955, belongs to the district, rather than only Arrowtown.

He says it doesn’t just house the district’s historical objects, photos, early council records and oral histories, as you might expect, but also has a full-time education programme, which local school students all experience, a research centre and a community art space.

It’s also Arrowtown’s information centre, and a leading visitor attraction — admissions and retail sales fund the museum. It also runs the township’s historic Post Office across the road.

The museum, Clarke says, is “the hub of the community — if this closes, what does [the main street] become, a row of restaurants and shops?”

He likens quake-strengthening to buying underpants — “you know you’ve got to do it, but it’s not really where you want to spend all your money, you’d sooner spend it on the flowery shirt”.

He says about half the estimated $3.5m will be spent on restoration work — like removing the roof and putting back parapets — and swapping out some of the displays, as well as installing a lift for wheelchair access.

The original building was Arrowtown’s grandest, and again will be, Clarke says.

He admits raising the money is “a pretty daunting project”.

“For an institution that’s just got a membership base of 400 local people, how do you do it?”

He’s hoping for funding from the local council, community trusts, Lotteries Commission, local philanthropists and possibly the government’s tourism infrastructure fund.

However, in some cases they’ll need a third of the funding in hand before they can apply — “we need to get council perhaps to guarantee that million”.

Clarke says the museum’s so far kicked in $200,000 on consultants, and plans to spend another $350,000.

Museum projects manager Jane Peasey notes they tick a lot of funding boxes — we’re educational, heritage, community”.

Clarke: “We’re hoping that people with some money will look favourably upon this project as a way of saving the museum.”

He adds that an account’s been set up, and donations are tax-deductible.

Meanwhile, test drilling’s been taking place this week.