New name and update: Waitaki Museum & Archive Te Whare Taoka o Waitaki

New name and update: Waitaki Museum & Archive Te Whare Taoka o Waitaki

Along with the exciting news about moving to Level 2, we announce our new name and introduce our new brand to the Waitaki Community. We plan to open our refreshed permanent exhibitions later this year, with more to come in 2021. Read on for a more detailed update

On 18 February this year, the Waitaki District Council approved a  name change for the North Otago Museum and Waitaki District Archive. The change reflects a renewed commitment to biculturalism across our community and country and better reflects the museum’s representation of the whole of the Waitaki. It heralds a new phase for the Waitaki Museum & ​Archive, because at that same meeting the Council agreed to continue with the Cultural Facilities Development Project to Stage Two.

Gallery/Museum/Archive Director Jane Macknight says: “The Council decision is wonderful because it ​represents very concrete and positive recognition by Council of the public value and community role of the Waitaki District’s cultural institutions.”

In 2016 the Council approved the cultural facilities development project (CFDP) with the vision of combining the Gallery, Museum and Archive into one operation on one site – an extended Forrester Gallery. In 2017 following significant staffing changes and a new government offering additional regional project funding opportunities, Councillors decided to place the CFDP on hold.

Jane Macknight says that despite the hold on the CDFP project from late 2017 through 2019 the project gave the Museum the mandate it needed to address some very real and significant deficits and shortcomings: “When I commenced in the role in 2014, I discovered that the existing exhibition displays were at least 20 years old, and in my view rather out of date. I also discovered that the museum collection was not fully digitally catalogued. What we have been able to do since we closed the main museum displays in April 2016, is to rehouse, restore and conserve collection objects, complete a full digital database, clarify our collection significances and strengths and redirect our collecting programme. This is an incredible result in a relatively short time frame especially for our small but dedicated team.”

One example of a positive outcome of this work has been a funded collaborative research project with Otago University and Iwi into what is probably the Museum’s most significant single collection – the Willetts Collection of first settlement artefacts from the Waitaki River mouth.

Another positive outcome was the February 2019 decision by Council to focus on retaining current operating sites for the Gallery and Museum/Archive and allocate loan ($420,000) and depreciation ($385,000) funding to the refurbishment of the museum building and the creation of a new permanent exhibition space on the ground floor, due to open in May 2020 prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns. People and Culture Group Manager, Lisa Baillie says: “We experienced some smaller delays in the project as a result of the gallery closure in December 2018 due to asbestos and mould issues that were discovered during the refurbishment process. However, the COVID-19 lockdown is causing us significant and ongoing delays in terms of supplies, access to specialist consultants and timing of services and we are unable at this stage to forecast our new opening date.”

While this delay to the reopening of the Museum main permanent exhibition space is a blow to staff it is not all bad news. Jane Macknight says: “Over the last year and half we have delivered our collections online project offering access to the Museum, Archive and Gallery collections from If you haven’t visited yet, it is really worth a look.

We have also provided regular updates and insights into our exhibition development processes in website blogs by Curator Chloe Searle. We continued to present temporary exhibitions andeducational programmes on and offsite throughout this time including a collaboration with South Canterbury Museum’s education team.”

Museum staff look forward to being able to welcome the public, including school groups, into the new exhibition space as soon as possible. Visitors to the new exhibition will be able to explore the Waitaki District through three main themes: Our Land, Empire and Waitaki Taoka (treasures). Museum Curator Chloe Searle says: “The first two themes are explored in detail in Museum blogs and in our collections online for anyone who wants an early look. A key focus of for the design of the space is its ability to provide flexible and hands-on learning for all ages, whether visiting alone or in a group, self-led or supervised by museum staff.”

And this is not the only good news, on 18 February 2020, the Council also agreed to continue with the Cultural Facilities Development Project (CFDP2020) with a Stage 2 development for the Museum and Archive, which will refurbish and upgrade the entire Museum building with: a refreshed temporary gallery/education classroom space, updated Archive reference and workroom, refurbished museum collection storage and two new exhibition spaces on the first floor accessible by lift. Jane Macknight says: “Stage 2 is in the very early stages of planning and will need to generate significant loan funding for its estimated budget of $1,435,000. It is tremendously exciting to consider the potential of utilizing first floor spaces which have been closed to public access for many years”.

This same decision by Councillors also approved a stage two project for the Forrester Gallery, which would include a lift, additional touring exhibition spaces and an education space. The Gallery is due to reopen to the public on 13 June 2020 after stage one upgrades and refurbishment.


Ingrid Cole